What science says about learning with virtual reality; 5 studies

The positive results of PwC’s 2020 research were adopted by everyone and translated directly into other disciplines and topics. This while the research focused specifically on training soft skills. That got me thinking; what does science really say about the effectiveness of learning with virtual reality? I dug my nose into the research and listed five (of the many dozen that I read) studies.

1. Research into the trends of educational virtual reality games (2020)

This review of an empirical study dates from October 2020 and was not so much about the results but about the progress and use of educational virtual reality content.

This analysis shows that more and more use is being made of this technique and the number of scientific publications has increased from 1 to 14 since 2014. The most frequently discussed topics are related to healthcare, safety training and physics.

The least popular topic was language learning. The research concludes that the value of VR lies mainly in its immersive nature and that virtual reality can have a positive impact on students’ learning ability.

Conclusion: The use of and research into virtual reality for education is increasing and can have a positive impact on learning ability.

2. The effectiveness of learning with virtual reality (2015)

This 2015 analysis examined no fewer than 22 different reports into the effectiveness of learning with virtual and augmented reality. These are not only recent studies, but also studies from before 2000.

The conclusion is that most studies show that with immersive technology you learn faster and more effectively and the information is better remembered. Moreover, immersion in virtual reality provides an increased “flow”.

This research indicates that “simulator sickness” is an issue. The advent of better VR equipment since 2015 has significantly reduced this problem.

Conclusion: With virtual reality you learn faster and more effectively and you remember information better.

3. Virtual memory palaces: immersion helps recall (2016)

This study from 2016 in which the title aptly reflects the result; immersion helps with remembering. This discusses the so-called “method of loci” in which one navigates an imagined structure to retrieve information

The visual style of learning that virtual reality offers appears to be an excellent tool for this. When recalling information, the group that started working in virtual reality turned out to remember information better than those who did that day via a desktop screen.

4. Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement

In this 2018 study, 99 participants were involved and three learning methods were compared; traditional (with a book) VR and video (passive learning method). All three used the same teaching material and participants were given a knowledge test before and after participation.

This research showed that participants in the vr method were able to retain information better than learning through a book or video. An additional advantage was that negative emotions decreased with virtual reality while they increased with the more traditional learning method.

5. The Advantage of VR: How Virtual Reality Redefines Soft Skills Training (2020)

This 2020 study by PwC addressed the question of whether soft-skill training with virtual reality is more efficient and cheaper than traditional learning methods such as classroom teaching and e-learning. For months, new managers were taught soft-skill at 12 locations. The group that followed the so-called V-learning trajectory clearly performed better than the other groups.

For example, they had 275% more self-confidence and were 3.75 times more involved in the curriculum. The focus was also four times as high and the speed was also four times higher. The costs of V learning were found to be equal to classroom for 374 participants and equal to e-learning for 1950 participants.

Conclusion: Learning soft skills with Virtual Reality is faster, more effective and (on scale) cheaper.

Insights and conclusion

The studies that I have come across are almost all positive about VR as a learning tool, where the comments seem mainly technical and financial in nature. This issue seems to be overcome by the rapid progress that technology is making.

The costs will be lower and the possibilities more extensive. When I started 2012, you lost about 250 euros for an Oculus DK1 + PC, now you can already get started for 10% of that amount.

I see virtual reality as a learning tool that connects theory and practice. No replacement yet, in most cases an addition, but definitely an enrichment!

Tim Nijland
Tim Nijland
Enthusiasm, knowledge and a lot of passion. My main focus is everything XR related but anything in the realm of new technology makes my heart beat faster. I love to share my thoughts and talk about the many use cases of XR. Feel free to contact me at tim@vrowl.nl
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