The Effects of Virtual Reality on Learning

The Effects of Virtual Reality on Learning

By Rohit Mehta

ABSTRACT

Virtual reality is a highly effective and unique complement to traditional learning methods, bringing with it solutions to common problems such as excessive reliance on certain ways of learning, the inefficacy of current attempts to include visual elements of learning in education, and the lack of appeal to students. I demonstrate how the introduction of virtual reality in a classroom setting can positively impact the quality of education as well as the appeal of education to students through a series of experiments conducted at an elementary school. I find that virtual reality is particularly useful for general questions with a visual or spatial component and that traditional learning via reading remains the more effective way to memorize figures or absorb minute details, things that aren’t as important as grasping general concepts and ideas. I also find that there exists an overwhelming preference among students for learning with a virtual reality component rather than traditional learning.

  1. INTRODUCTION

Virtual reality (VR) is a rapidly evolving technology involving interactive experiences taking place within a simulated environment, typically displayed through lens or headsets. Its popularity has especially grown over the last few years, with ventures by major companies hoping to capitalize on the public’s fascination with experiencing the world virtually through headsets [4]. The growth of VR has fostered the discovery of new applications of the technology, one such application being education. Examples of using VR for education include Google Expeditions, a venture by Google that aims to allow teachers and students to explore the world through many “Expeditions” prepared for iOS and Android devices, accessible through the Google Expeditions app [5]. In my experiments to improve classroom learning through virtual reality, I utilized Google Expeditions software to implement VR learning at a local elementary school. I will elaborate more on my methods in a later chapter.

  1. ISSUES WITH TRADITIONAL EDUCATION

Traditional education methods still utilized in most schools today are fairly straightforward, usually involving learning through reading, lectures, and annotating, intermittently accompanied by the occasional documentary. I find three fundamental issues with this type of traditional education:

I. Excessive reliance on reading or listening-based activities for learning key concepts

The overwhelmingly common method of learning in most schools today is through reading or listening. In lower grades such as those in elementary school, reading tends to primarily take place during class, accompanied by a short explanation from the teacher regarding the concept. In higher grades, reading is encouraged outside of the classroom, aided by lectures in class or in halls. Regardless of grade, however, the primary methods of learning remain constant. Reading is sometimes accompanied by annotation and is sometimes followed by classroom or group discussions, while learning through listening often manifests in the form of lectures or shorter explanations. By limiting learning by primarily holding it to one medium, students who struggle to learn by this method are disadvantaged. Although learning through reading might not be inherently inefficient or ineffective, students (especially at elementary school levels) often struggle to maintain sufficient focus to glean the expected amount of information from simply reading. Multiple students at Austin Creek Elementary School , when asked, confirmed that reading was indeed the most common method of education in their classrooms, mentioning that they encountered numerous students who faced troubles learning or paying attention in the classroom due to the overwhelmingly reading-based curriculum.

II. Relative inefficacy of most visual mediums employed

Although reading and annotating tends to be the most common method of education in sixth-grade classrooms in today’s times, attempts to educate through visual mediums are sometimes made in efforts to keep students attentive and engaged. These tend to come in the form of documentaries or movies, which unfortunately do not have much of an effect on learning. Simply speaking, there is little to no cohesion between learning through intensive reading materials and watching loosely related films that may or may not correspond to specific material covered in the reading. This is not to undermine the effectiveness of some visual learning aides; at Austin Creek Elementary school, where I implemented virtual reality learning, fifth and sixth-grade classrooms often use Most Mack, a website that provides interactive lessons on various scientific subjects such as photosynthesis, biodiversity, and cells, as seen in their unit library [1]. However, besides this, there seems to be no other visual medium that significantly contributes to learning in the sixth-grade classroom. The mesh between the material gleaned via reading and the material discovered through visual means is severely lacking, and most visual means used does not directly correlate with the class curriculum.

III. Little to no appeal to students, resulting in lack of engagement or immersion

The third problem with traditional education is more of a result of the previous two; the lack of focus, enjoyment, and immersion in students studying via traditional methods is striking and can be hypothesized to be a direct product of an overwhelming focus on one medium of teaching and little to no correlation in material between mediums. Students all prefer to learn in different ways. Learning through reading may technically be the most effective way for their brains to digest information, but it isn’t necessarily what the students enjoy or prefer doing. Some of the sixteen essential habits of mind for students as described by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick include gathering data through all senses (or expanding methods of learning) and responding with wonderment and awe [3]. I found these essential habits to be largely underrepresented in the traditional curriculum that placed an emphasis on learning through one medium and neglected the need to consider student enjoyment and engagement. The awe with learning that should be present during the education of every student and the holistic method of teaching that should be exposed to every student is very much missing in schools today. Instead of focusing on specific statistics and details, the focus should be on broad, general ideas and key concepts.

 

III. HOW VIRTUAL REALITY POSITIVELY IMPACTS EDUCATION

As detailed in chapter two, there are many issues with the existing state of education. In this chapter, I propose the utilization of virtual reality to curb or completely solve these problems, along with proof of the effectiveness of virtual reality education in a sixth-grade classroom setting.

I. An overview

As previously described, virtual reality involves interactive experiences taking place within a simulated environment. Learning through virtual reality can be accomplished by simply taking the class on “virtual field trips” to geographical places for history or geography subjects, inside the human body for science subjects, and to outer space for social studies. However, I propose a more holistic method of learning through virtual reality: combining virtual field trips with a brief written piece to complement the virtual aspect of learning. I examine how this initiative solves or improves upon the three major problems with traditional education:

  1. There is no longer an overwhelming reliance on reading or listening-based activities because of the importance of the visual aspect of virtual reality in the proposed method of education. Reading is not completely eliminated in this system of education, but it is nowhere near as encompassing.
  2. The problem of visual mediums of learning not aligning with the primary mediums (reading/listening) is completely eradicated, as brief written pieces are written as supplements to the visual medium of virtual reality rather than separately created. Additionally, the proposed method of education makes the visual medium the most influential and most prominent, leaving no question about its efficacy.
  3. Although experimental data that proves the very point that students enjoy learning primarily through a visual medium such as virtual reality to traditional learning through reading will be laid out later this chapter, I can comment without hesitation that some of the 16 essential habits such as bringing wonderment and awe and gathering data through all the senses are more than fulfilled by the proposed education method [3]. There is no question that virtual reality, whose definition itself includes interactive experiences, is more engaging for students than simply reading or listening to lectures. Again, experimental data will be used to ensure that this is the case later in this chapter.

II. The specifics: how does virtual reality impact the quality of education?

Here, I will go into the specifics of the experimental data I gathered from the Austin Creek Elementary school sixth-grade classes, and how this data answers the question of how virtual reality education may differ from traditional education.

The Experiment

The experiment was conducted at the sixth-grade classes at Austin Creek Elementary School in Santa Rosa, California. There were two classes; Class 1 had 31 students, and Class 2 had 27 students, meaning that a total of 58 students took part in the experiment. The structure of the experiment was simple. Two topics were selected by me from the list of virtual field trips available on Google Expeditions: The Great Barrier Reef and US Monuments [2]. Class 1 experienced The Great Barrier Reef in VR, and Class 2 experienced US Monuments in VR. For each of these topics, I constructed quizzes that tested various things such as the ability of students to remember minute details, general ideas, and visual characteristics such as the material that a famous monument was made with. The quizzes included questions in multiple choice form and in free response form. Along with this, I condensed the information on each virtual field trip into three paragraphs or so, thus creating the “control,” or representation of traditional learning, of the experiment. These paragraph-form condensations clearly stated the answers to each of the questions on the quizzes, and were identical to the VR field trip in terms of content. Both quizzes were administered to both classes; this way, I was able to compare the performance of Class 1 (who experienced The Great Barrier Reef in VR) to that of Class 2 (who read about The Great Barrier Reef) and vice versa. In addition to quizzes that tested for understanding of content, I administered a short questionnaire intended to gauge the interest level and to formulate a stance on whether students actually preferred VR learning to traditional learning. I will first take a look at the results from the content quizzes.

 

How is learning and understanding affected by virtual reality learning?

To answer this question, I will examine the data from the experiments. In the administered quizzes, there were three distinct types of questions, the details of which are covered below.

Question Categories

  1. General question - this type of question merely tests something significant (vital to the main idea of the lesson) that was covered in the lesson without asking for specific figures or details, and is not a visual question.

An example: VR students would be told that the majority of Great Wall was made by the Ming Dynasty and traditional students would read about it. A general question would be: What dynasty built the majority of the Great Wall of China?

  1. Visual question - this type of question tests a subject that may be more easily answered with visual cues or immersion in the environment of the subject. The subject in this type of question is often just as vital to the main idea of the lesson as the subject of a general question.

An example: VR students would be able to see The Great Wall of China from space, while traditional students would read that it is possible to see the Wall from space. All students would later be tested with a visual question like so: Can the Great Wall of China be seen from space?

  1. Specific question - this type of question asks for a specific detail or figure that was covered in the lesson but was not necessarily the main idea of the lesson.

An example: VR students would see the Great Wall and would be told that it is about 5,500 miles long, while traditional students would read the same thing. A specific question would be: How many miles long is the Great Wall?

 

Now, let us dive into the data. I will analyze the data question-by-question, comparing the performances of the two classes and then relating questions within the same category to each other. I will use equation 1 to relate the results of class 1 to class 2.

Equation 1:

Virtual Reality Performance Rating (VRPR) = % of class 1 that answered correctly - % of class 2 that answered correctly

  1. The Great Barrier Reef


Question by question analysis

Q1: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were mostly met, as the performances of the two classes were within 9.6% of each other, giving this question a VRPR of -9.6. However, the traditional class had the slight edge.

Q2: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the performances of the two classes were within merely 2.3% of each other, giving this question a VRPR of -2.3.

Q3: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were mostly met, as the performances of the two classes were within 11.1% of each other, giving this question a VRPR of 11.1. However, the VR class had the slight edge, getting an impressive 100% on this question.

Q4: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the performances of the two classes were within 7.9% of each other, giving this question a VRPR of 7.9.

Q5: This question was a category 2 (visual) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who experienced VR than students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the VR class outperformed the traditionally taught class by a whopping 43.7%, giving this question a VRPR of 43.7. Only 3 out of 27 students taught traditionally were able to answer this question correctly.

Q6: This question was a category 2 (visual) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who experienced VR than students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the VR class outperformed the traditionally taught class by 32.6%, giving this question a VRPR of 32.6. Only 3 out of 27 students taught traditionally were able to answer this question correctly.

Q7: This question was a category 3 (specific) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who students who read about it than students who experienced VR. My expectations were met, as the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class by a whopping 49.1%, giving this question a VRPR of -49.1. Only 2 out of 31 students taught with VR were able to answer this question correctly.

Q8: This question was a category 2 (visual) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who experienced VR than students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the VR class outperformed the traditionally taught class by 23.1%, giving this question a VRPR of 23.1.

Q9: This question was a category 2 (visual) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who experienced VR than students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the VR class outperformed the traditionally taught class by 43.2%, giving this question a VRPR of 43.2.

Q10: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were mostly met, as the performances of the two classes were within 8.0% of each other, giving this question a VRPR of 8.0. However, the VR class had the slight edge.

 

Categorical comparisons

Category 1 had an absolute average VRPR of (|-9.6| + |-2.3| + |11.1| + |7.9| + |8.0|)/5 = 7.78. To ascertain whether the VR class or the traditionally taught class did better, we use  Equation 2:

Positive/negative VRPR = sum of all positive/negative VRPR values

Taken without the absolute value, the total negative VRPR (-9.6 - 2.3) is less in magnitude than the total positive VRPR (11.1 + 7.9 + 8.0), which means the VR class outperformed the traditional class on Category 1 questions.

Category 2 had an average VRPR of (43.7 + 32.6 + 23.1 + 43.2)/4 = 35.65 (we can ignore absolute value because all the VRPR values were positive). A positive VRPR indicates that the VR class outperformed the traditional class on Category 2 questions.

Category 3 had an average VRPR of -49.1 (there was only 1 Category 3 question). A negative VRPR indicates that the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class on Category 3 questions.

 

What do these results prove?

The results of the experiments conducted using the Great Barrier Reef lessons indicate a strong correspondence between learning using VR and students doing significantly better on category 2 questions. Category 1 questions are also answered with better accuracy by VR students, although to a less dominant extent. Category 3 questions, on the other hand, are overwhelmingly easier for students taught traditionally. All three results corroborate my hypothesis that virtual reality is particularly useful for general questions with a visual or spatial component, and that traditional learning via reading remains the more effective way to memorize figures or absorb minute details, things that aren’t as important as grasping general concepts and ideas.

 

  1. US Monuments

 

Question by question analysis

Q1: This question was a category 3 (specific) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who students who read about it than students who experienced VR. My expectations were met, as the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class by 8.3%, giving this question a VRPR of -8.3.

Q2: This question was a category 3 (specific) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who students who read about it than students who experienced VR. My expectations were met, as the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class by 23.6%, giving this question a VRPR of -23.6.

Q3: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were not accurate, as the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class by 35.4%, giving this question a VRPR of -35.4. This was a surprising outlier in the data since I had expected the general knowledge question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by both classes.

Q4: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the performances of the two classes were within 1.7% of each other, giving this question a VRPR of 1.7.

Q5: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were more than met, as the traditionally taught class and the VR class performed almost identically, differing by only 0.5% with a VRPR of -0.5.

Q6: This question was a category 1 (general) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a similar rate by students who experienced VR and students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the VR class and the traditionally taught class were within  only 0.8% of each other, giving this question a VRPR of 0.8.

Q7: This question was a category 2 (visual) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who experienced VR than students who read about it. My expectations were not met, as the VR class performed worse than the traditionally taught class by -4.9%, giving this question a VRPR of -4.9.

Q8: This question was a category 3 (specific) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who students who read about it than students who experienced VR. My expectations were met, as the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class by 1.7%, giving this question a VRPR of -1.7.

Q9: This question was a category 2 (visual) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who experienced VR than students who read about it. My expectations were met, as the VR class outperformed the traditionally taught class by 4%, giving this question a VRPR of 4.

Q10: This question was a category 2 (visual) question, meaning I had hypothesized this question to be answered correctly at a higher rate by students who experienced VR than students who read about it. My expectations were more than met, as the VR class outperformed the traditionally taught class by a whopping 20.7%, giving this question a VRPR of 20.7.

 

Categorical comparisons

Category 1 had an absolute average VRPR of (|-35.4| + |1.7| + |-0.5| + |0.8|)/4 = 9.6. To ascertain whether the VR class or the traditionally taught class did better, we use Equation 2. Taken without the absolute value, the total negative VRPR (-35.4 - 0.5) is greater in magnitude than the total positive VRPR (1.7 + 0.8), which means the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class on Category 1 questions.

Category 2 had an absolute average VRPR of (|-4.9| + |4| + |20.7|)/3 = 9.67. Taken without absolute value, the total negative VRPR (-4.9) is less in magnitude than the total positive VRPR (4 + 20.7), which means that the VR class outperformed the traditional class on Category 2 questions.

Category 3 had an absolute average VRPR of (|-8.3| + |-23.6| + |-1.7|)/3 = 11.2. Taken without absolute value, the total negative VRPR was -11.2, indicating that the traditionally taught class outperformed the VR class on Category 3 questions.

 

What do these results prove?

The results of the experiments conducted using the US Monuments lessons indicate a strong correspondence between learning traditionally and students doing significantly better on category 3 questions and between learning with VR and students doing better on category 2 questions. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef data which showed that VR students also did marginally better on Category 1 questions, traditionally taught students did much better on these Category 1 questions, the VRPR particularly helped by Question 3, which asked for the state in which Mount Rushmore was located. Such a discrepancy on such a general question is bizarre and must be chalked up as an outlier. Without the outlier, the absolute value VRPR of Category 1 questions was only 1.0, and the net VRPR was only 0.4, meaning VR students did better. These results mostly corroborate those found with the Great Barrier Reef data and reaffirm my theory that virtual reality aids visual and general learning, while traditional learning may still be the way to go for minute details.

 

III. How much do students enjoy learning with virtual reality?

In addition to collecting data on academic performance, I administered a short questionnaire to students to determine the extent to which they preferred VR learning to traditional learning and how much they enjoyed it. There were 4 questions in this short questionnaire, listed below.

Question 1: On a scale of 1 to 5, how easy was it to learn and understand the subject with virtual reality?

Question 2: On a scale of 1 to 5, how much did you enjoy learning about US Monuments/Great Barrier Reef with virtual reality?

Question 3: On a scale of 1 to 5, how much would you like to have virtual reality incorporated into your curriculum in the future?

Question 4: Describe briefly what you liked most about the virtual reality session in your classroom.

Because question 4 is not a quantitative question, I will simply list some sample responses. For questions 1-3, the data is shown below.

 

Here are some takeaways from this data:

  • The vast majority of students in both classes selected 4 or 5 on a scale of 5 for all 3 questions.
  • Overall, question 1 was the lowest rated from 1 to 5 of the three questions. This was precisely what I had expected, as simply using VR is not enough to learn and fully understand the subject. Rather, I propose that VR and traditional learning should be combined.

 

  1. CONCLUSION

Traditional education, with an overwhelming reliance on select mediums of learning, low-quality efforts at maintaining a diversity of learning methods, and a lack of focus on enjoyment to complement learning, has ample room for improvement. However, an abrupt shift to pure visual learning through virtual reality would compromise the quality of education far too much. It is important for education to maintain a healthy balance of mediums of learning, as each medium has its faults and its virtues. Thus, I propose the introduction of virtual reality into the elementary school curriculum, starting with the sixth grade, to complement the existing methods of education. Such a change will not only boost student satisfaction and engagement but will greatly aid students who identify more as visual learners than traditional learners.

REFERENCES

[1] Available online: https://mosamack.com/ (accessed on 22 July 2018).

[2] [Expeditions] - List of available Expeditions. Available online: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1m3y5woWEOwpSGlTJGVRBTuE3fMlsoVrL1jJjcakxSQ4/ (accessed on 22 May 2018).

[3] Perkins, D.; Costa, A.L.; Kallick, B.; Anderson, J.; Hyerle, D.; Seidel, S.; Abrams, J.; Sommers, W.A.; Zimmerman, D.P.; Hargett, M.P.; Gayle, M.E.; Schnorr, C.; Piercy, T.D.; Simmons, B.; Tabor, B.; Brace, S.; Lawrence, M.; Latti, A.; Skerritt, N.; Hard, E.; Edlund, K.; In Learning and leading with habits of mind: 16 essential characteristics for success; Costa, A.L., Kallick, B.; Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development: Alexandria, VA, USA, 2008; pp 30-33, ISBN 978-141-660-741-0.

[4] Sawant, A. Virtual Reality (VR) Market to Perceive a Voluminous Growth Escalating at 57% CAGR with $45 Billion by 2027. Available online: https://www.reuters.com/brandfeatures/venture-capital/article?id=32702 (accessed on 15 June 2018).

[5] What is Expeditions? - Expeditions Help. Available online: https://support.google.com/edu/expeditions/answer/6335093?hl=en (accessed on 17 June 2018).

 

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *