July 16, 2021

Locomotion as a Virtual Reality Learning Design Principle

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Imagine your students had the ability to teleport anywhere in the classroom - or anywhere in the world for that matter. Does the idea bring you out in a cold sweat? Or are you imagining the pedagogical possibilities? 

Thankfully, in Immerse, the ability to teleport, to move around and to “slide” to a new location is only available within the virtual reality (VR) scenes themselves. Learners are able to explore, interact and move almost as if they were in a physical location - and this makes them feel like they are truly present in the virtual scene. 

Movement within Immerse is a key learning design principle. It contributes to the independence and feelings of autonomy students have when it comes to interacting with objects and areas within the Immerse scenes.

According to Mina C. Johnson-Glenberg at the Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, this concept of embodiment and presence “gives a learner unprecedented personal control (agency) over the learning environment.” Locomotion is an important aspect of learning design for virtual reality, and one that can have a big impact on student success. 

Watch as Jacob Furnari, our Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, shows you this learning design principle in action:

Moving around: a fundamental learning design principle

Have you ever watched a child in an unfamiliar environment? If so, you’ll notice how they explore their surroundings. Whether it’s a new park, or a beach that they’re visiting for the first time, you’ll see them pick up different objects, explore new textures, and experiment with movement. Through trial-and-error they build sand castles, build towers, and make up games. This type of movement and play is a natural - and fundamental - part of the process of learning and exploring: 

“In play, children conceive of and interpret the real world, build on and extend their schemata and construct and reflect on new knowledge.” (Rice 2009)

Static, desk-based learning is far less engaging for children and adolescents, even though it’s a staple of education systems around the world. So, as educators, it’s important, wherever possible, to create an environment that encourages movement, play and imagination. This type of environment stimulates learner curiosity, encourages exploration, and facilitates learning:

“Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas.”

That’s why the ability to move around within a virtual reality (VR) scene is such a key part of how people play and learn. And it’s not just young learners who benefit from the opportunity to move around and explore in class. Adults also benefit from learning through movement. Consider this definition of play: 

“Play consists of an integration between mental and physical activities that take place in a meaningful context. Play is characterized by enjoyment, spontaneity, creativity, imagination and an absence of fear of failure and negative consequences.” Vygotsky (1967 cited in Bodrova & Leong 2007).

So, how can we integrate mental and physical activities in our classrooms? How do we spark enjoyment, creativity and imagination in our learners? 

All of these characteristics can be facilitated through locomotion, in a safe VR learning environment.  VR gives us the opportunity to teach in a meaningful context - and create a learning environment with no fear of failure or negative consequences. 

Let’s take a look at how locomotion works in Immerse. 

Here’s how locomotion works in within the platform

There are three different ways of moving around within the Immerse platform: 

1. Teleporting 

Learners use the thumbstick aspect of the controller to select the location they want to move towards. They can go anywhere within a scene, and explore every nook and cranny of the VR learning space.

2. Sliding

This allows students to navigate around the space more slowly, observing as they go, by moving their thumbstick on their wireless VR controller. This way, they can enjoy the rich detail in each scene. The scenes have all been designed to spark student curiosity and allow them to explore. 

Students can both teleport and slide without actually moving from their classroom seat. This means you won’t have to worry about a class full of headset-wearing students bumping into one another - but students are still getting all the benefits of moving around the learning environment in terms of engagement and exploration. 

3. Walking

However, there is another option available. If students have access to large, open spaces they can physically move around that space when wearing the headset, and that physical movement will be tracked in the virtual environment, allowing them to navigate their way around the Immerse environment.  

How you could use movement in your Immerse classroom

So, how can you make the most of this design principle when it comes to your classes? Well, it’s a great way to teach prepositions of place. In Immerse, you can really bring these prepositions to life! Let’s take a look: 

Learning objectives

  • Students will be able to understand prepositions of place to follow simple instructions 
  • Students will be able to use prepositions of place to describe and interact with a backyard barbecue scene 

Target language

  • prepositions of place 

Flipped classroom

Prior to the class, your students have been exposed to prepositions, so now it’s time to practice and produce the target language. 

Warm up: Rally your students together in a group. Then, ask them to look around, and tell you who they are standing next to, or who is standing in front of them. 

Task 1: Explore the backyard barbecue with your students. They can teleport, slide or walk around, looking around the yard and getting to know the space. Once students have had an opportunity to explore, walk around the space together and ask students to describe the locations of items in the backyard using prepositions. 

Task 2: Put your learners in pairs. Have pairs take two cards from a virtual card deck that include prepositions reviewed in class. Pairs will teleport around the VR space as a team to take pictures acting out the prepositions in different places in the backyard, using their VR Camera. Rally students together to share the pictures and describe the prepositions students performed. 

Task 3: Improve your students' use of prepositions in multiple contexts by traveling to the Shopping Center, the Kitchen, and the Resort. Set a virtual timer in each location and have Ss work in pairs to describe the location of various things in each scene. You can monitor students as they move around using the Student Manager. 

Large open spaces like the Kitchen overflow with relia for students to discover as they teleport around the space and explore. 

This type of game or playful element helps students to engage more fully with the target language. So, what could be a relatively run-of-the-mill grammar lesson suddenly becomes a playful, stimulating and deeply enjoyable learning experience for your students. 

How does this compare to a traditional lesson?

In the traditional classroom, this activity usually involves students drawing pictures of a space they are familiar with (like their rooms), or using pictures of rooms with many different types of objects. While these types of description activities can be fun, learners miss the opportunity to physically explore what is being described. But when you’re teaching prepositions of place in the VR environment, students are able to practice these prepositions by physically moving around and communicating in an authentic way, with directions that their classmates can actually follow! This is a much more effective way to practice the target language, helping students to process and remember it in a more profound way. 

Learn more

With over 30 locations, you’ll be able to offer your students a playful, active learning experience on the Immerse platform. They’ll be able to explore realistic scenes rich in detail and practice their language in authentic, engaging situations. So, have a look at what the platform has to offer, and see how virtual reality could transform your teaching! 

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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