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Promising new research demonstrates the success and potential of VR learning

Using new technology to engage students once is easy; however, long-term engagement requires more than just gimmicky tech.

An IH Manchester teacher sharing her experience teaching English in the Immerse VR platform. Photo: Immerse

This is one of the reasons why we believe it is critical to lead with research and understand how we can make a great teaching and learning product that will help learners achieve their goals, while being truly user friendly for facilitators.

To achieve this goal, we have recently launched a series of research initiatives that explore the efficacy of VR English language learning generally, and the Immerse platform specifically. 

How VR Impacts Learners  

One of the first questions we wanted to explore was the challenge of foreign language anxiety, a well-known challenge for Japanese students and one that can frustrate progress in language learning.

“What pedagogical affordances does VR allow for and how can we ensure ease of use for educators?”

To test our hypothesis, we collaborated on a small study led by Yuki Saito, with students from Chuo University in Japan. Results from this study were extremely promising. Dr. Saito found that after five to six VR classes her students experienced a significant decrease in FLA. Additionally (and to our surprise) we noted that students also may have seen an impact on their overall speaking performance, realising an average 7% improvement in TOEIC scores in post-assessments. 

VR Affordances for Educators 

It’s challenging to fully understand the impact on learning without having quality insight into the educator experience. What pedagogical affordances does VR allow for and how can we ensure ease of use for educators?

To address this knowledge gap we have engaged in partnerships with some incredible thought leaders in the field, including International House Manchester and the University of Sheffield’s English Language Teaching Centre

Research at the ELTC has recently concluded with initial findings shared via their teacher training portal, the Training Foundry. David Read shared his experience teaching a course on blended English for Academic purposes, delivered to students in Korea and Japan.

Professor Read’s research explored the potential of VR for distance learning and his early findings demonstrated how, even when separated by thousands of miles, VR can bring learners back together again. One student noted, “It was more interesting [to] talk with other student[s] or with you (the teacher) in VR.” (Additional findings from the research will be presented this fall at upcoming conferences.) 

At IH Manchester we are examining the potential for VR as a hybrid learning solution for international education. Last year, IH Manchester published useful research on the state of hybrid learning in international education, and it continues to lead the English language sector in hybrid learning pedagogy.

This experiment will provide insight into who incorporates VR in a hybrid approach, with half the class face-to-face in Manchester engaging with their remote peers attending from around the world. We look forward to sharing the results of this research project in the fall of 2021. 

The Future of Learning Virtually 

As more users engage with virtual reality, we are committed to understanding how to best support the learning journey for all key stakeholders. To help inform educators and future students we want to provide deep insights into the principles of learning we have built into the platform to enhance the learning experience.

This includes how we use realistic situations and object interaction to help learners feel a sense of presence and agency when attending lessons in VR. 

Recently, we have begun to push the envelope for what is possible in VR, by providing more tools that allow students to create content while being fully immersed. Student cameras, notepads, and whiteboards can all work together to provide both scaffolding for learning and great freedom of expression in virtual reality.

These are exciting areas of learning design we intend to explore with future research partnerships.

Learn more about teaching English in Virtual Reality here.

About the author:

This is a sponsored post from Sara Davila, the Head of Efficacy and Learning for Immerse. Sara is a learning and language acquisition expert with over 20 years of experience in instructional design, teacher development, and 21st-century pedagogy. At Immerse, Sara brings research and practice together to develop next-generation learning experiences in virtual reality.

Immerse is a fast-growing EdTech startup headquartered in Southern California with a team of experts in VR software development and language education who together built the world’s first synchronous VR English language education platform. Immerse is a platform designed to respond to the research informed needs of high-quality language instruction.

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