Remember your first school field trip to the zoo? Or browsing bones at the natural history museum? Or learning how to milk a cow at a local farm?
While most of our school experiences fade over time, a memorable field trip stands out long after the classroom lectures have been forgotten.
“Our teachers knew what they were doing when they took us on field trips,” says James McCrary, director of innovative teaching & learning at River Parishes Community College in Louisiana. “They weren’t asking us to do work. They were asking us to experience and talk about these things.”
Field trips can be powerful learning experiences whose benefits are difficult to measure and quantify. And with tightening school budgets, rising transportation costs, increasing pressure to improve standardized test scores, and the liabilities that accompany taking a group of students to a public place, these experiential learning opportunities are disappearing from many schools.
But McCrary sees a new opportunity emerging with immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, which can safely and cost-effectively transport students out of the classroom and into a learning experience that’s just as vivid and memorable in its own way.
“We can bring those types of experiences and that type of learning to more students than ever through the power of augmented and virtual reality,” he says. “For a very, very low cost prospectively, they can have an experience that will impact their learning.”
Tangible benefits of immersive learning
While some educators question whether VR in the classroom is just a shinier version of watching an educational movie, others see a host of benefits in learning with immersive technology.
Imagine the difference between reading about Earth’s tectonic plates in a textbook and holding a model of the planet in your hands — one you can take apart piece by piece to see how the plates interact with each other. Or the difference between looking at pictures taken by the Mars Rover and walking around on the surface of the red planet. Or labeling the parts of the circulatory system on a worksheet versus exploring the human body from the inside.
The power of immersive learning, many believe, lies in its ability to allow students to experience and interact with new information in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Here are three reasons to try virtual and augmented reality in your classroom or school.
1. Improved learning retention
Because VR is experiential and interactive rather passive, there’s a basis for arguing that immersive technologies can lead to better learning retention than traditional methods of learning. According to edtech expert Elliott Masie, founder of the MASIE Center, a National Training Laboratory study found that while lectures and reading produce only 5% to 10% learning retention rates, a virtual reality experience can result in 75% retention — second only to learning by teaching someone else.
“When you’re immersed in something spatial and you’re moving around and changing your perspective, the opportunity for forgetting is stayed a bit. Instead of a steep forgetting curve, you have a very shallow curve,” McCrary says. “You’re able to retain and recall information based on your experience.”
2. Making the impossible possible
While virtual reality can’t (and shouldn’t) fully replace physical field trips, its value lies in unlocking experiences that would otherwise be dangerous, impossible, counterproductive or prohibitively expensive.
“Sometimes, our students need to learn about a concept that is hard to understand or too dangerous to explore,” says educational consultant Jaime Donally. “For example, it would be difficult to observe a coral reef ecosystem in person and it would be challenging to explore the moon's three main landforms without technological assistance. In these instances, immersive technology can help teachers bypass restrictions and limitations to learning. These lesson illustrations have a clear purpose and goal for using augmented or virtual reality in the classroom.”
3. Preparing for future job training
Employers across a variety of industries are already catching on to the learning benefits of immersive technology. For example, one survey found that employees using VR can learn soft skills in a quarter of the time it would take in a classroom.
From future healthcare practitioners to Walmart’s latest hires, today’s employees are increasingly likely to encounter virtual reality at some point during their career preparation or job training. Immersive learning in schools helps prepare students for this evolving workplace.
Experiencing VR at ISTEverse
Immersive learning is all about discovery through virtual experiences. Educators who want to learn how to teach with immersive technology can explore these types of experiences at ISTEverse, a new interactive space at ISTELive 23.
ISTEverse will take educators on a guided tour of immersive learning, beginning with a Ready Room where VR newbies can learn the basics, like how to use their virtual hands and move around safely in virtual reality. In the VRcade and ARcade, attendees can sample a variety of AR and VR learning experiences across different subject areas, which will rotate throughout the conference.
“They can experience the dissection of animals, visit historic places and witness historic events like they’ve never been able to do before,” McCrary says.
ISTEverse will also feature a stage where speakers will share their experiences with virtual learning and an arena where participants can compete in VR. And for those who want to take some time out for a little self-care, there will even be a wellness area where educators can relax and enjoy a VR experience focused on mindfulness.
There will also be space for educators to connect and engage in conversations about immersive learning.
“We want to make these connections between what they’re experiencing at the conference and what they’re doing in the classroom,” McCrary says. “We think it’s going to be pretty magical.”
Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.