June 16, 2021

4 myth-busting reasons why immersive VR learning is a game-changer

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Fully immersive VR is an entirely new category of English language learning and for it to be properly implemented, we need to understand how it is different. 

In the not-so-distant future, we’re going to look back on the pandemic as a watershed moment for education. It’s rare to know that you’re riding the crest of change, but there’s very little doubt in our minds that this is the case. 2020 saw a record $16.1 billion in investment for EdTech worldwide. For context, the previous year only saw $7 billion raised - and it’s 32x more investment than in 2010. 

But that’s just one marker of transformation. The real test has been in the classroom. Teachers and students everywhere know just how difficult it was to transition to online or hybrid learning. This challenging time has taught us how resilient we are and how adaptable we can be. But it has also highlighted just how lacking our education technology has been.

We’re coming out of the pandemic with a huge appetite for EdTech which serves our needs and enhances learning. We’re going to see immense change when it comes to the technology we use to learn. And immersive Virtual Reality (VR) is emerging as an entirely new method of delivering English language education. 

Virtual Reality immersion learning sits comfortably alongside online learning, blended learning, face-to-face, and hybrid classes, but there are some big differences. In order for VR to be properly understood and used, we need to understand exactly what those differences are. Our opening gambit is, then, that VR learning experiences are to online learning what smartphones are to landlines. 

Not convinced? Let’s dispel some myths and show you why VR learning really is a game-changer.

Myth one: Immersive VR is just another type of online learning

Most English Language teachers have some experience with online education. Asynchronous learning, forum chats and quizzes on Learning Management systems have been commonplace for the last two decades. More recently, with improvements to connection speed, synchronous teaching environments that offer real-time video lessons have become popular. As have platforms like Google Classroom and Zoom.

While immersive VR is innovative, digital in nature, and indeed connected, it doesn’t feel like online learning. For a start, the user is not tethered to a desktop or smartphone. There are no tabs, messages, videos, private chat boxes - or any other of the distractions associated with online learning platforms. Everything that happens in the VR learning space can be observed and is under the teacher’s control.

Moreover, VR learning is far removed from coursebook learning. The students don’t have to imagine a scenario or context, because the teacher can place them in a lesson-appropriate virtual scene. And students use an avatar, so they don’t feel as shy as they might about speaking online. 

Finally, because the class happens in a virtual space, students are able to see, hear and interact with one another. It’s almost as if they are in a physical space together.

Myth two: Immersive VR is the same as 360° VR

As an educator, you may have already experimented with 360° VR activities. Usually this involves using a smartphone in combination with (the now discontinued) Google Cardboard fold-and-view VR contraption. The student holds a piece of cardboard over their eyes and steps into a new, 3D world. Depending on the lesson, they can explore new cities, take a tour of a museum - and, in a way, feel like they’re there. 

It’s a nice, engaging concept and one that paved the way for other types of VR learning experiences. However, while it is a neat tool, the novelty soon wears off. After all, the students are simply walking around, observing a 3D photograph. It’s not interactive and it’s not fully immersive. 

The Immerse VR experience is an entirely new classroom experience. Students are active in the virtual world. Wearing an Oculus 2 VR headset and using hand controllers, they can easily pick up objects, talk to other participants, change avatars, receive teacher instructions, work in pairs or groups. In essence, the possibilities are endless. It’s engaging and exciting - and it’s also proving to be an efficacious way of learning

Myth three: Hybrid learning is the same in immersive VR

2020 was the year of social distancing and hybrid learning - that is simultaneously delivering a class to a group of online and face-to-face students. We’ve heard from teachers in academies all over the world that they’ve struggled with video quality, sound issues, clear communication, group interaction, and tech in general. In many cases, educators using conferencing platforms have had to resort to a non-communicative lecture style in order to make teaching possible. 

Nevertheless, as we noted in our article How language schools can catch up to a tech-focused future, hybrid learning is here to stay. So how can we improve the experience of hybrid learning for teachers and students? 

Immersive VR learning can deliver an utterly seamless hybrid class experience. It doesn’t matter an iota if your students are in the same room as you or are a thousand miles away. Learners can interact with each other in the same virtual learning space. In essence, it feels like a high-tech face-to-face classroom. Immersive VR is, by definition, communicative and (when required) a naturally hybrid learning space.

Myth four: Immersive VR is just about gamification

Gamification has been a buzzword in ELT for several years. Teachers have long added gamified elements into their classes to help with motivation, classroom management, and language acquisition. 

Gamification also lies at the heart of self-directed learning platforms like Duolingo, Busuu, Babbel and Memrise. It’s therefore no surprise that many people associate immersive VR with gamification. After all, VR has, almost since its inception, been associated with gaming and exciting experiences. Even if you haven’t played a VR game, you’ve probably seen people flying planes, exploring haunted houses, and being blown away by the intensity of the experience. 

The Immerse platform, however, is far removed from VR gaming platforms and self-directed gamification apps. It is designed exclusively for English language learning. And while you can play language learning games and add gamified elements to your teaching practice in immersive VR, there is no need to step too far outside what you would do regularly in your real-world classroom. 

Myth five: Planning and Classroom Management is harder in VR

There’s always a learning curve when it comes to working with any new technology. Planning online classes, using synchronous video and managing hybrid groups is a big challenge. It can take far longer than planning a regular class. This is because there are additional factors to consider, including how to monitor, practice and present target language, how to deliver instructions, how to manage group work and handouts, and so on. 

Immersive VR language lessons, as we’ve already mentioned, happen in one space. This means there’s less to take into account when planning. What’s more, our intuitive planning hub feature in the Virtual Language Experience Platform makes selecting lesson objectives and building (and saving) your VR lessons and activities fast and effective. 

What’s next for ELT EdTech?

Straddling the worlds of online classes, hybrid learning and face-to-face instruction, fully immersive VR is going to set a new benchmark for engaging language acquisition. As more early adopters recognize the value in this new approach to teaching, it will not initially replace what has gone before, but it will define its own category of learning. And as things evolve, the possibilities and potential for language learning will be endless. We hope you’ll join us on this journey of discovery! 

Christian Rowe
Christian Rowe is the Chief Revenue Officer at Immerse. He loves unearthing new ways to help people grow, educating markets about new possibilities, and leveraging cutting-edge technology to help make human transformation possible.

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