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Deep Dive Series On Immersive learning. Article 1: It’s Not What You Think


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What is immersive learning? Ask ten people this question and you’re likely to get ten different answers. In the first part of this two-part series we’ll explore a good way to think about immersive learning – one that doesn’t first focus on the technology but instead, the experience we want to create. In the second installment we’ll get into the tech details, highlighting a few different technologies and their use cases. Ready? Let’s dive in! 

The range of immersive learning technology has exploded over the past five years. While traditionally the focus has been on augmented and virtual reality, usually with headsets, the accelerated pace of development has produced a wide range of immersive technology and accompanying experiences. 

In the higher education context, immersive learning can be a means of translation, preparing students to use their knowledge and skills in the world outside of the classroom. 

Before getting into the types of technology, let’s dig a bit deeper into the types of experiences we want to create with immersive learning. In our view, immersive learning has two main components: physical and emotional.  

Physical immersion is where the learner is physically immersed in the experience. This is common with technologies such virtual reality (VR), where the learner experiences the situation as if they are physically present in it. For example, a learner taking a VR tour of Paris will feel as if they are physically visiting the city. Similarly, augmented reality technologies are likely to create physically immersive experiences, as the learner is seeing the learning object in their own physical environment.  

Emotional immersion is where the learner’s experience is so engaging that they are fully focused on the experience. More traditional technologies, such as multimedia-based games that use video and text, may offer an immersive learning experience. In these instances, the learner is not being physically immersed in an environment, but rather mentally and emotionally immersed.  

There is certainly overlap between the two categories. A physically immersive experience, such as a VR simulation of a laboratory for a science course, may also be emotionally immersive.  

Physical immersion is dependent on – and results from – the technology choices made for the course, while emotional immersion is dependent on – and results from – the design choices. 

Let’s talk about some of the more common immersive learning use cases in higher education. We’ve divided them into three broad categories: 

  1. Soft skills: Immersive learning can help students practice difficult interpersonal situations in a relatively low-risk environment.  
  2. Technical/practical skills: Immersive learning can help students get to grips with the more practical-oriented aspects of a training program.  
  3. Scene-setting: Immersive learning can help create a sense of place by immersing students within a geographically and/or culturally specific context. Scene-setting is also particularly useful in bringing fictional worlds to life, as well as bringing students to real places that they would not otherwise be able to visit.  

We can then apply these use cases to different types of immersive tech experiences: open world, narrative pathway, virtual tour and interactive video. The type and degree of immersion combined with the type of viewing device used offers distinct experiences to the learner. 

With immersive learning it’s very easy to get caught up in the actual technology of it all. But always remember you shouldn’t give up emotional immersion for a physically immersive experience. Real life isn’t like that, so why should the virtual world be any different?  

Now that we have a firm grounding on what immersive learning can be, in the next article we’ll focus on how to bring experiences to life by going over a few different technologies and their use cases. We’ll also discuss the evidence – sometimes mixed – on immersive learning in higher education. In the meantime, think about how immersive learning could best serve your faculty and students.  

Elizabeth Jahncke is Senior Learning Strategist at Hubble Studios. You can find her on LinkedIn here.

Get in touch for help with your online education solution.

Article by: Elizabeth Jahncke

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