What is Immersive Learning? The future of Online Learning

30 May

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What is Immersive Learning? The future of Online Learning

Immersive learning may have been around for several decades, but technology has taken it to another level. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have transformed immersive education into an interactive, real-world digital experience.

People have long used immersive learning to master skills. Think of emergency evacuation practices or firefighters perfecting their skills with controlled fires. However, AR and VR realistically simulate real-world situations in a safe, engaging digital environment. Unlike the classroom, participants are not passive spectators. Instead, they practice and apply their skills as close to the real world as possible.

AR and VR have opened up a whole new world of learning opportunities in corporate and educational settings.

This post takes a close look at immersive learning environments. We explore the technology and how it is being used to enhance digital learning.

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What is Immersive Learning, and how is it used?

Immersive education has its roots in behavioural science, and the simple idea is that practice makes perfect. People learn best from doing. Repetition allows us to perfect skills and improves knowledge retention. Immersive role-playing and simulations have long been staples in learning and development programmes worldwide. 

Immersive learning is used for developing hard skills. It could be teaching situational awareness, operational processes, and health and safety procedures. Think technical skills like constructing a product or learning to fly a plane.

It’s also used to hone a variety of soft skills used in customer service or leadership development. For example, how to deal with a demanding customer or lead a discussion with a poor-performing team member.

However, it’s not always possible to replicate real-world scenarios in learning and development environments. Often, they lack realism and aren’t always scalable.

For example, a medical student practising a complicated surgery on a living patient is inherently risky. And that’s where technology makes all the difference. VR immerses the trainee surgeon into a virtual world. All the student needs to do is put on a headset to be transformed into an environment identical to real life. The medical student can perform the surgery safely and risk-free.

Thanks to immersive learning, participants can work in the job without being on the job.And research tells us this approach significantly impacts students’ ability to learn and retain information. A study from PwC found VR learners completed training up to four times faster than their classroom counterparts. They were also more focused during training and were 40% more confident about applying what they had learned in the workplace.

The technology behind Immersive Learning

What makes technology-powered immersive learning so compelling is the feeling that you are really there in the virtual environment. Achieving this level of reality requires input from a range of fields, including:

Participants also need the right kit. Learners use a headset, desktop device or mobile app to enter the virtual environment. Technology takes the user to a realistic online version of the physical world. Instead of people, learners interact with virtual human avatars and use digital twins or virtual copies of tools and elements in the real world.

With VR, it’s possible to recreate pretty much any environment or task. And learners have the sensation of being physically present in that virtual world, making it an impactful and engaging experience.

And the arrival of the metaverse is set to be a game-changer. When the physical and virtual worlds merge in the metaverse, opportunities to create exciting learning opportunities will explode. Learners and educators will be able to move around, engage and interact with each other and digital twins in different online environments. The sky really is the limit. And participants can do all this from the comfort of their real-world couches.  

VR vs AR

We have talked a lot about AR and VR, but what do they mean? Let’s clear up any confusion.

VR is an entirely immersive experience that’s accessed through a headset. VR headsets can be combined with headphones or hand controllers to help you navigate your way.

When you have a VR headset, you can look around and see and hear just like you would in reality. Users feel like they are in that situation emotionally and mentally, making it a uniquely powerful tool.  

Learn more about VR in Learning & Development.

By contrast, AR blends and enhances parts of the real world with digital content. Users use a mobile device to access videos, images, and 3D models projected on top of real-life environments. The mobile game Pokémon Go is a well-known example of AR in action.  

AR is more accessible than VR because you don’t need special equipment like a headset. A smartphone is all that’s required to trigger the AR experience.

Learn more about AR in Learning & Development

How to build Immersive Learning environments

Undoubtedly, technology-driven immersive learning is an exciting, transformative opportunity. It’s tempting to dive straight in. However, building immersive learning environments from scratch can be time-consuming and challenging.

Selecting the right technology is the first step. Things to consider here include how much physical space you have and your available time and budget. And make sure the immersive technology will help you achieve the desired learning outcomes. Introducing VR or AR just for the sake of it could quickly become expensive and ineffective if it doesn’t support learning objectives.

And remember, an immersive learning experience will differ from traditional classroom-based content. The learner has much more control, so you must carefully plan, prepare and preempt all scenarios.

Furthermore, keep the learner’s needs front of mind. Users are likely to have different tech capabilities. Those with gaming experience will no doubt embrace immersive learning as a fun and engaging tool. However, others may not be so comfortable with the technology. A good rule of thumb is to keep sessions short at 15-20 minutes.

In addition, some learners may have disabilities or limitations and will use assistive technologies. Ensuring your content is accessible to all requires significant time and resources.

How Immersive Learning enhances Digital Learning

When it comes to digital learning, immersive education takes the experience to another level. It provides endless opportunities for learners to bring their knowledge to life in real-world environments. Instead of being passive receivers of information, students actively participate in practice-based learning.

And the benefits continue beyond there. A massive advantage of immersive education is that it blocks out reality. Learners are more focused on learning and can concentrate on the task at hand. There are no open tabs or notification pings to distract them. Fewer distractions and a more engaging all-round experience mean learners will retain new knowledge and skills better.

And because AR and VR mirror real situations in the physical world, people can learn from their mistakes in a safe, risk-free environment.

Merge those benefits with the anytime, anywhere, self-directed pace of digital learning, and you have a powerful combination.

Read more about Immersive Learning and The Metaverse

How Immersive Learning is used in education today

Corporate trainers and education professionals creatively use immersive learning environments to supercharge the student experience.

Immersive soft skills learning uses AR and VR so participants can practice conversational skills with virtual people. A medical student can experience having difficult discussions with patients. And a manager can conduct a disciplinary meeting with a direct report. College students can practice a variety of job interviews, helping them to put their best foot forward. Whatever the case, the learner is in charge and repeats the simulation as often as needed.

It’s a similar story with immersive hard skills training. Learners practice performing complex processes or technical tasks at their own pace. And without the high cost, logistical challenges and risks they would face in the real world.

It’s a win, win for the organisation and the student.

Immersive Learning training and practice

AR and VR-powered learning is at the cutting edge of practice. And the Digital Learning Institute is at the forefront with our Professional Certificate in Immersive Learning. Aimed at instructional designers in corporate or educational settings, our accredited program is leading the way. Learn how to build and create immersive education experiences using simulations, AR and VR. It’s a fast-changing and evolving field. However, our certificate incorporates the very latest best practice and immersive tools.

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