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Spain Research Reveals Benefits of VR Language Learning

One of the ways Immerse ensures that our platform and learning experiences are effective is by partnering with Research Partners from universities who conduct impartial academic studies to look at whether and how using Immerse benefits language learning.

This blog shares some exciting findings from a study conducted by an international team of Research Partners: Drs. Randall Sadler & Tricia Thrasher from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Melinda Dooly from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

These researchers worked collaboratively with a middle school teacher, Mónica López Vera, who is based in a city in the Barcelona metropolitan area, to carry out their project. 

In their study, the researchers used Immerse to teach English remotely to middle schoolers in Barcelona, exploring how VR lessons in Immerse benefited students’ vocabulary development, oral proficiency, anxiety, motivation, and technological competencies.

The findings were very encouraging, and the researchers even found that students performed better on speaking tasks in VR compared to similar in-person activities done in the classroom!

What did the study involve?

In the spring of 2022, Drs. Sadler, Thrasher, and Dooly worked alongside Mónica López Vera to conduct a 10-week pilot study with 25 6th graders studying English as a Foreign Language at a middle school just outside of Barcelona, Spain.

The researchers’ goal was to test the use of Immerse in the middle school classroom and evaluate how it impacted the students’ learning. 

You can see an image of the students using Immerse below:

Throughout the 10-week period, small groups of students alternated every other week between completing tasks in Immerse and working in ‘stations’ in the classroom. 

Drs. Sadler and Thrasher taught 6 students at a time in VR using Immerse, while Dr. Melinda Dooly and Monica Lopez Vera had other students work on similar activities in the classroom. This allowed the researchers to compare students’ performance on classroom tasks to their performance on VR tasks. The design of the activities (both VR and face-to-face) centered around language learning objectives such as giving descriptions and talking about routines and hobbies.

Students had VR lessons in 4 different Immerse settings: the Grand Hall, the Art Studio, the Garage, and the Home. 

Dr. Dooly and Monica also engaged students in reflections activities immediately following their VR experiences to explore students’ perceptions of Immerse and how it impacted their English language learning.

All of the students’ interactions in VR and the classroom were audio and video recorded so the researchers could analyze the data. 

Findings 

The researchers found several things when analyzing the data, notably that: 

  • Students were found to produce language at a B1 CEFR level (low intermediate) in VR compared to at an A2 level (high beginner) during comparable classroom tasks – even though the classroom activities happened after the VR activities. This is quite impressive given that these students were only expected to have a A1-A2 level in English!
  • Vocabulary learned by the students while they were in VR was later used in the classroom. For example, students learned adjectives while playing a Guess Who game in the Art Gallery that they later used in their classroom tasks. This aligns with previous research that has shown learning vocabulary in VR leads to better retention. 
  • Being in VR also allowed students to practice aspects of the language such as words that communicate relative position, such as “over here, up there”,  that are harder to practice in the classroom. It also gave them the opportunity to interact in more realistic, highly contextualized environments.  
  • Students learned unplanned vocabulary and expressions that arose spontaneously and naturally during their interactions with the teachers in VR.
  • Students were more motivated and less anxious in VR. Highly anxious students spoke up more in the VR activities compared to the classroom. 

What did the students have to say about their experience? 

  • During the reflection activities, students said they really enjoyed learning in VR and thought it was an interesting way to get to interact with the native-speaking teachers who were on the other side of the world. “It’s not the way we normally do a class! (...) When you are ‘inside’ you can do more things and use more English. (...) We were dancing in front of the mirror with the teacher and he said ‘super coolio’. I didn’t know what that meant but I thought it was good”.
  • Students also said that they were exposed to new vocabulary through the detailed, interactive VR environments and noticed that this let them learn new words. “It’s a good form [way] to learn words”. Students listed words they would not usually see in class, such as ‘bull’s eye’, sword, thrown and other words directly associated with the environments and the activities. 
  • Students were more motivated to use English rather than Spanish in VR and even came up with strategies for doing it. For example, they created and signed contracts where they pledged to use specific English expressions while in Immerse. An example of the decisions made by the students was to replace ‘Qué guay’ with ‘So cool!’ 

What’s next?

Given the success of their pilot study, the researchers will continue examining how Immerse impacts language learning outcomes for K-12 students. In fact, they (in collaboration with Immerse) have received research funding from Meta to be able to expand their study to include several traditionally underserved schools in the U.S. Through this grant, VR language education via Immerse will be brought to students who would normally not be able to access it. We look forward to reporting back on how it improves their learning.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can reach out to the researchers directly with any questions:

Dr. Randall Sadler rsadler@illinois.edu  

Dr. Melinda Dooly melindaann.dooly@uab.cat   

Dr. Tricia Thrasher thrasher.tricia@gmail.com