We’ve all been in school classrooms or corporate trainings where people are zoned out, checking their phone, browsing the internet, or replying to emails. This has become so commonplace that it’s hardly even noticed anymore—it’s a given that people are going to behave that way, and the instructors have to try harder and harder to keep people engaged, becoming more entertainer than professor, or disciplinarian than teacher.
This isn’t the way that anyone learns best. No one wants to be forced to learn, or distracted, or dazzled by a show. We want to get the important information we need to know, in a way that will stick with us, and will benefit our lives in a positive way. This is where immersive learning comes in.
What is Immersive Learning?
Immersive learning is a method of learning that engages with students both virtually and physically. It is highly interactive, reproducing scenarios through which students can learn vital skills and techniques.
Immersive learning is just what it sounds like: immersive. It puts a student fully into a situation where they are surrounded by the material, working through situations that mimic real life, but are controlled and monitored to make sure that the student is always safe and secure. In this way it thrusts them into learning new skills and new ways to interact with people and things, but always in a way that is non-threatening and nurturing.
Technology is a big part of immersive learning, which we’ll talk about a little later, but immersive learning effectively builds a scaffold around the student to hold them up while they experience and practice virtual role-playing scenarios.
Now, before you get the wrong idea about the word “role-playing” (because we all have been through corporate trainings where mindless role-playing was part of the curriculum) this is more than just having you say a few lines and your coworker respond with a few lines. This is you being immersed in an environment that is made to feel and respond in as realistic a way as possible, where you are interacting with people—both real and virtual—and making real, emotional connections. It is these emotional connections that will drive you forward in your learning, because you are personally invested in the process.
How is Immersive Learning Changing the Way Students Learn?
Immersive learning, in concept, isn’t anything new. Pilots have been training in flight simulators for decades, seeing virtual worlds through their window screens and reading automated instruments that both respond to their commands but also play through certain scenarios. They talk on their headsets to virtual air-traffic controllers, and they work with their co-pilot who is going through the simulation with them.
Immersive learning is like that, but applied to a wide variety of disciplines, some which you might not be able to guess. Yes, there is immersive learning in simulators, such as construction students learning to use heavy machinery, but there is also immersive learning that teaches people how to interact with others in an office workplace, or driving a forklift, or answering phones, or dealing with conflict, or any number of other scenarios. Through the use of immersive technology, the sky is the limit in how immersive learning can take place.
What Makes Immersive Learning Better?
We’ve talked a lot about what immersive learning is, but what makes it better than regular classes or workshops. Well, there are a lot of things.
Real World, Safe Environment
Immersive learning takes place in a virtual world that mimics the real world and presents you with real world problems, but it is a safe environment where the dangers aren’t life-threatening or harmful to others (physically or mentally). You are essentially learning in a virtual bubble where you can act, respond, take actions, see how things play out, all while knowing that the things you are doing are only virtual. While yes, this does apply to flight simulators not actually killing anyone when a landing goes wrong, it also applies to a confrontation with an angry coworker who is yelling and irrational. You can learn to deal and cope with the problem in a safe space where no one is really harming you, and you are learning valuable skills.
Immersive learning is like a guided rehearsal through a difficult situation. Maybe the immersive learning is putting you on a phone call with a virtual client or customer, and you have to work your way through either a customer service complaint or a sales call. You can treat immersive learning like a rehearsal of the way this would take place in real life, so that when this does happen in real life, you’ll have rehearsed what to say, been coached through it by instructors, and be ready.
Being virtual gives you an emotional connection to a learning situation that you wouldn’t otherwise have, and studies have shown that when your learning is both intellectual and emotional, you will better internalize the information that is being presented and it will stick with you longer. By giving you an emotional connection, you are getting the point driven home in a way that you would not if you were merely going through textbooks or large-scale workshops.
Progress At Your Own Pace
In immersive learning you are literally the only person who is in control of how fast you are learning. If you need to take more time on a certain dilemma or scenario, then that is how the immersive learning will progress—at your speed.
What is Immersive Technology?
There are a number of immersive technologies and each has a role to play in immersive learning. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
In virtual reality you are literally watching a completely three-dimensional world using a digital simulation of a real-world scenario. In virtual reality you will often wear a headset, including a screen for your eyes, such as the Oculus Rift, plus earphones and a microphone. Using virtual reality to can literally experience any situation or environment that the programmers have created.
Augmented reality enhances the real world, often through using a digital device to look through and see different images appearing in the screen. For example, in augmented reality you might look through your phone at what appears to be the camera view, but objects appear in the camera that do not appear in the real world.
Mixed reality is a combination of virtual reality and augmented reality. This is often used to let virtual elements, such as people, appear in real-world environments, such as your office. The virtual reality elements can interact with you and with the environment, and you are able to interact with both as well.
3D Immersive Learning
This is where we get into simulators, such as flight simulators or construction simulators.
What Are the Benefits of Immersive Learning?
There are many benefits to immersive learning, and we’ve already talked about many of them, but here are the main points to focus on.
Immersive learning helps to free the learner from distractions, such as getting text messages during teaching experiences. Immersive learning lets you put all of the work accoutrements aside and focus on the virtual world.
We learn best when we have an emotional connection to the material and to the people around us, and being fully immersed in a virtual simulation allows you to focus on what’s going on inside your head, and on the heads of the people around you. Highly realistic learning simulations stimulate empathy much more than just reading words on a page would.
Not only is immersive learning beneficial to the learner and instructor alike, but it’s also an intriguing experience that makes learning fun, almost like a game (or, at least an experience that they have not encountered before). Students are more interested in getting into immersive learning than they ever would be about sitting around a boardroom table and watching a Powerpoint.
Because it is only you in the immersive environment, you are learning in a singular fashion. The lessons that are learned are learned by you and only by you, and you get the message deep down. You learn at your own pace, as you don’t move past a task until you analyze and master the tasks that are set before you.
With a learning experience like this, free of distractions and stimulating to so many more senses than typical workplace learning scenarios, you are much more prone to remember the things you experience and do during immersive learning sessions.
Immersive learning is a new and exciting field that is on the cutting edge of immersive technology, enabling you to learn new things in a new way. Being fully drawn into the world of virtual reality, augmented reality, and simulations, you will better recall and internalize the information that you are presented with. It’s a whole new learning experience.
Are you ready to learn more about immersive learning?