June 30, 2021

Developing 21st Century Skills through Virtual Reality English Language Learning

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Artificially intelligent machines, automatized warehouses, digital nomads...the job market is a very different place today than it was just a few years ago. As a result, those in school and university are facing a working environment that demands supreme adaptability. 

What’s more, we have a lack of talent in the workforce. According to Deloitte, the skills gap in manufacturing alone “may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028, with a potential economic impact of 2.5 trillion.”

Future career success will depend on a 21st century growth mindset. Continual professional development is no longer optional, it is necessary to stay on top of the changes happening around us. 

As Canadian President Justin Trudeau said in the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, “The pace of change has never been this fast, yet it will never be this slow again.” 

The question for us at Immerse is how will we help international educators prepare their students for such an unpredictable future of work?

VR learning is engaging and motivational. It is also an effective way to enhance the teaching and learning experience. One study by PwC's Emerging Technology Groupon trained 1,600 new managers on inclusive leadership. It revealed that VR training was “52 percent more cost-effective and four times faster than classroom training.”

But what about ELT? Can we help our students develop the essential 21st century skills they need to be successful in the future?

Let’s see how a VR learning experience can give your students the learning autonomy they need to flourish in an ever-changing world. 

21st century skills for an unpredictable future of work

VR language learning builds a variety of key competencies. These skills will be valuable both now and in the future as learners move into or accelerate in their careers. 

Developing collaboration and leadership skills in virtual reality

Leadership and collaboration skills have always been important in the workplace. And there’s no question that good team players are highly valued members of any company. 

However, we’re seeing more people joining the gig economy, increasing amounts of remote work, and even hybrid offices (where some people work online and others face-to-face). This makes collaboration even more important. 

Leaders and teammates increasingly need to be skilled at working both synchronously and asynchronously, sharing ideas, being accountable and taking responsibility. 

VR language learning in Immerse is collaborative at heart. It bridges the gap between students who are in the classroom and online. Students are given avatars, roles and tasks - and, depending on the lesson, are often encouraged to work together to complete projects. In this way, they learn how to be leaders and team players in a supportive and engaging environment.  

Building communication skills in virtual reality learning environments

With fewer face-to-face interactions in the workplace, communication skills are becoming more sought after. Career success, for the majority, will depend on seamless communication. It will be especially important for ESL employees who will likely have to work with native and non-native English speakers all around the world. 

Good communication, however, does not come down to a single skill. Rather, it is a combination of abilities. It encapsulates listening or reading comprehension, non-verbal communication, clarity of ideas in speech and writing, confidence, empathy, respect, register, and more. 

Many of these communicative attributes can be learned, practiced and perfected in a VR language learning environment.

More realistic than performing role plays from a course book, immersive VR learning experiences transport the students into a space that naturally facilitates language production. A flipped classroom approach, for example, can equip students with the information they need for a class. And then, when they come to participate in a VR classroom space, they can develop language production and communication skills under the watchful eye of a teacher. 

Unleashing creativity in a supportive learning environment

As companies seek cost savings and greater productivity, the workforce will see a huge amount of automation. Artificial intelligence will help people make decisions, analyze huge data sets, and complete routine tasks. This potentially puts unskilled workers’ jobs at risk

On the brighter side, automation will free up time and space for more creative work. 

Creativity sits at the top of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. It’s a higher order thinking skill that shows students can do more than just recall information, but also understand it and use it in a new way. And, rather than being an innate, elusive talent, creativity is largely understood to be a skill that can be learned.

Immersive VR classrooms provide many more opportunities for the students to be creative. They are able to move around, explore and use virtual realia. Moreover, free communication, brainstorming, group problem-solving and task-based learning can all involve creativity. Realistic scenes set the context too, encouraging students to use their imaginations. 

As Neumann (2007) reports, an organization can “enhance collective creativity, mainly by creating and enhancing a culture of interaction among staff” - and this is exactly what a VR learning environment allows an educator to do. 

Enhancing critical thinking skills in Virtual reality

Like many of the 21st Century Skills we’ve already mentioned, critical thinking requires a number of competencies. These include analysis and interpretation, as well as inference, explanation and problem-solving. 

Studies suggest that people with strong critical thinking skills face fewer negative events in life. This is thought to be because they can spot problems on the horizon faster than those without this skill set. 

Project and task-based learning can help students develop these skills. Well designed tasks can encourage students to analyze evidence, make judgements, consider alternatives, planning and summarizing. 

Combining VR learning with asynchronous group work offline can be a powerful way to help students become strong critical thinkers. 

Developing a 21st century mindset

Flexibility, initiative and social skills are all part of a 21st century mindset. The ability to experiment, fail fast and learn from our mistakes is also a learning and development strategy championed by those who work in the world of high-tech startups. 

Classrooms all around the world offer safe spaces to practice, make mistakes and learn. However, in VR learning scenarios, there are several additional benefits:

  • Realistic scenarios paint a picture for learners. This helps them feel like they are experiencing a real-world context. 
  • Avatars make things less personal for students. While they can see and interact with their classmates, they often feel less anxious about making errors when they are producing language. This lowering of the affective filter facilitates learning and language acquisition further. 
  • Students can socialize, interact and complete their work in a distraction-free environment - without smartphones, noises or other distractions that come with online or face-to-face learning. 

The immensely important work of teachers may have become more demanding in the 21st century, but we at Immerse are determined to help support educators everywhere. 

The new world is already here, it’s time to make sure that we are giving our students the chance to develop the skills they need to thrive.

Sara Davila
Sara Davila is the Head of Efficacy and Learning for Immerse. Based in Chicago, Sara Davila is an expert on English-language learning, twenty-first century pedagogies, and teacher-training best practices. Author of numerous articles and speaker at countless conferences, Sara’s expertise spans the globe.

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