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How does learning and knowledge retention differ when using Virtual Reality (VR) compared to traditional educational methods?

Created by: Dana Omer
It is no surprise that students these days are requiring more and more stimulation to stay engaged. Some may call this a challenge and blame it on the video games and hyper-realistic cartoons and movies, stating that students are not staying engaged in the classroom because they are only interested in flashing lights, bright colors, and fast-paced action. But others might say that immersing students in a hyper-stimulated educational environment could actually provide better learning opportunities and stronger knowledge retention.
Rote memorization versus meaningful learning: One of the most traditional forms of learning in the primary grades is the process of rote memorization. Rote memorization is a method of learning involving memorizing material through repetition. While this skill comes in handy for quick calculations, it doesn’t teach students how to learn, it only teaches them to memorize. According to the International Journal of Current Science Research and Review, “The biggest problem is that in learning this subject (math), individuals can develop a rote learning mind set. In essence this means that the children have stopped trying to make sense of what they are taught or asked to do in mathematics; they just sit there waiting for the teacher to tell them what to do with a particular type of question.” (Jeet, et al., 2023) They no longer want to understand, they only want to get the teachers approval. Sadly, many students have learned that getting good grades only requires you to memorize the procedures that the teacher wants you to remember, and doesn’t actually require that you know what you are doing. Meaningful learning provides opportunities for problem solving and critical thinking, a skill that is crucial in our ever growing technological world. By creating joyful and meaningful experiences, teachers are teaching children how to learn, and not just to memorize material, a skill that is life-long.
Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and VR. Teachers have made huge strides to change education and to personalize learning, recognizing the needs of diverse learners. Virtual reality is a new and effective way to diversify learning so that we are meeting the needs of all students of all learning abilities. Virtual reality even makes experiences possible for students with disabilities who may have never had an opportunity like this otherwise. VR also supports Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which states that there are 8 main learning styles and that people learn best in one of those styles. The 8 styles include visual learning (learns well with pictures), linguistic learning (good with words), logical-mathematical (good with logic and numbers), body-kinesthetic (handles objects skillfully), musical (understands music), interpersonal (works well with people), intrapersonal (very self-aware), and naturalistic (understands nature). For instance, visual learners do best when they watch something being modeled or have picture instructions before they attempt the skill on their own. VR meets the needs of all 8 different intelligences. “Instruction designed to help students learn material in multiple ways can trigger their confidence to develop areas in which they are not as strong” (niu.edu, 2020). It will not be an easy transition for those that are brand new to VR, but by following small, manageable steps, we can make learning equitable, accessible, and engaging for all.
The Backwards Design Model and VR. Backward Design is a model of lesson planning that prioritizes the intended learning outcomes instead of the topics to be covered (Anderson, 2001). The design has three stages:
1. Identify desired results
2. Determine acceptable evidence
3. Plan learning activities
Teachers can follow this design model when planning VR activities. For instance, in math, if the desired result is that students learn that dividing numbers is the process of taking a whole number and sharing it among groups, then acceptable evidence might be that given a whole number, students can demonstrate how to break the number apart and share it equally among groups and identify that the amount shared is the quotient. Some activities you could plan for this could include a virtual reality environment of a farm where their avatar has just harvested a randomized number of eggs from their chickens and now must divide them up equally between a randomized number of baskets. This activity would successfully prepare students to meet the desired outcome of understanding that division is the relationship between parts to a whole.
The SAMR Model and VR. The SAMR model is a powerful conceptual tool used for technology integration. The model lays out 4 tiers of online learning which are:
1. Substitution:
2. Augmentation
3. Modification
4. Redefinition
Studies have shown that “Students in classes where this kind of mastery is embedded find more novel and immersive uses for technology” (Terada, 2020). They go on to be creators and innovative thinkers. For educators who are just beginning to use VR in their classrooms, the first step may be to substitute your lecture with a virtual slideshow. Students enter a virtual classroom as a teacher avatar takes them through an interactive and engaging slideshow. When ready to take the next step, educators can consider augmenting technology in the virtual world by allowing students to add comments to the slideshow. These are simplistic first steps for easing into the VR world in education. For more advanced VR users, they may be ready to redefine education by implementing an entire lesson, practice activity, and assessment, all within a virtual environment, using only virtual tools.


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