August 4, 2021

How VR English Classes Increase Student Motivation & Engagement

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Motivation is not a funnel that needs filling from the top. It’s more like a scale that requires two equal measures of internal and external input to remain balanced. 

Educators everywhere know that good teaching practice and encouragement are not enough to keep a student engaged in learning. Students also need a safe learning environment and an internal drive to succeed:

  • “Aspects of the learning environment can both trigger and sustain a student’s curiosity and interest in ways that support motivation and learning.” (Hidi and Renninger, 2006).
  • “Practices that engage students and influence their attitudes may increase their personal interest and intrinsic motivation over time.” Guthrie et al., (2006) 

So, teachers have a tough job. They not only need to understand an individual learner’s personal challenges and aims, but they also have to facilitate a space that is conducive to learning – and provide the appropriate level of encouragement and support.

In this article, we explore student motivation and examine how Immerse Virtual Reality (VR) English classes can support teachers in making a positive difference to a learner’s outlook and progress.

Emotional and Motivational factors in language learning

Student motivation is, of course, key to achieving learning goals. After all, it’s hard, if not impossible, to succeed in something when you don’t have a genuine interest in it. Research from Pintrich found that motivated students engage more, persist longer, achieve better results, and perform better than unmotivated students on standardized tests.

But it’s also important to understand that motivation comes from both external (extrinsic) and internal (intrinsic) sources. 

Extrinsic motivation

When a student is motivated to achieve a learning goal, it could be for extrinsic reasons. This type of motivation may, for example, come down to the desire to achieve a certain grade, the satisfaction of beating the competition, or even another kind of reward (a sticker, recognition, a good report, or even a high five). These are all factors outside of completing a task.

Intrinsic motivation

On the other hand, the student might have more intrinsic motivations. These could relate to curiosity or the desire to learn about something specific. They might relate to the satisfaction of completing a task, or the feeling of teamwork. Alternatively, a student might simply enjoy the fun and challenge of learning something new, and applying and honing their new skill.  

Motivational factors beyond a teacher’s control

It’s not just the student’s interests, task type, teacher or learning environment that have an influence on motivation. It’s worth considering other factors that can affect engagement and motivation:

For young learners, for example, parental involvement and encouragement is an important part of classroom performance. Sadly, students from lower socioeconomic conditions often have less parental support, simply because their parents have a lot less time and need to work more. This then negatively affects a student’s overall performance at school. 

At the same time, poor peer relationships and bullying can have a serious impact on a student’s academic performance and desire to learn. And no learning material, space or project can replace a teacher’s vigilance and support in these cases. 

Nevertheless, while we can’t know everything about a student’s home or school life — or indeed understand all the stresses and complications that might affect an individual’s motivation for learning — there are still a number of significant factors within our control. 

How the VR learning environment can boost motivation

The affective filter is a way of thinking about how a learner’s negative feelings act as a barrier to language learning. The metaphor comes from Krashen’s theory of second language acquisition. It argues that anxiety, stress, low confidence, and lack of motivation all contribute to increasing the affective filter. 

By carefully considering how the learning environment, classroom management and teaching practices combine, we can work to lower the affective filter and therefore boost a student’s capacity to learn. 

As we outlined in our article Promising New Research From Japan Backs Immersive VR English Language Teaching, classes in VR have been shown to reduce anxiety about speaking a second language in front of classmates. 

What’s more, recent research on learning in VR from PwC, shows us that it is an incredibly effective learning tool. In fact, learners are 275% more confident about what they learned after training and nearly 4 times more emotionally connected to the content than students learning in a regular classroom. 

In both of these cases, the use of VR is a powerful tool for overcoming the affective filter and boosting a student’s ability to learn. 

The study also found that VR students were 4 times more focused than students studying online. This shows that VR has significant emotional and motivational advantages over regular classroom and online learning. 

This is also tangentially supported by educational research on second language acquisition from Krashen:

"Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding."

So, how exactly does Immerse lower the affective filter, and increase motivation and engagement? Let’s take a look: 

Presence 

As we explained in our recent article Virtual Reality: The Secret to Successful Online & Hybrid Learning, presence is the feeling of physically being immersed in a space. 

Just like in a regular classroom, Immerse students feel that they are in the same space as their teacher and classmates. This encourages students because they feel far more connected to their peers than they would in a regular online English class via Zoom or another conferencing platform. 

Rapport

Immerse is built to be interactive. Students can talk to each other through voice and text chat, and they can pick up, move and pass each other objects. Additionally, they give each other a thumbs up, recognize good work with high fives (with haptic feedback) – they can even celebrate a classmate’s success by throwing confetti! 

Together, this level of interactivity not only increases the feeling of presence, but also builds VR classroom culture and maintains rapport among students. 

Realistic surroundings

Connected to the idea of an interactive environment, Immerse harnesses realistic environments to provide context for learners. They are able to connect and practice the language they are learning with a realistic scene. This engages and motivates students because they are more easily able to see how and why this language is used in the real world. 

Personalization

When entering the  Immerse platform, students can select their own avatars using the Character Dashboard. They can either pick someone who looks like them, or find an entirely new identity!  This personalization gives the students agency and a sense of ownership – which can be motivational factors. 

What’s more, during role plays, students can change their appearance, choose different uniforms and so on. This makes VR roleplaying more fun and interesting!

Relevance

For many students, especially teenage and adult learners, understanding why you are learning something (and how it is applied) is important. 

There are a number of key 21st century skills that are developed through Immerse. Not only are these skills important for the work environment today, but they are also going to help prepare students for a tech-focused future. Honing these skills through language learning is a big motivation for many students. 

Creating a supportive and motivating environment for students

No technology, learning material, or methodology will ever replace a teacher’s positive reinforcement and classroom management skills. However, the right learning environment goes a long way to supporting student achievement and providing the external rewards they need to feel motivated and engaged.

If you’re interested in seeing how Immerse can help your learners reach their performance goals, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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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