Experiential Learning in VR – Rehearsals for Reality

Experiential Learning in VR – Rehearsals for Reality

You fly into class today – a little late, as usual. You’re confronted by a box full of seemingly random materials and a clock running down from 15 minutes. Standing around the box, you recognize some of your classmates – from India, Australia, Sri Lanka, Lithuania to name a few. Some of their avatars look like their photos, others are way different. Anyway, you realize you just dropped in to an assessment exercise in this leadership and collaboration course. As you approach the team and the box, you notice your heart rate increases on your biofeedback panel – in fact, everyone is running pretty high. Time to take a breath, and dive in.

Iris Leung writes an article in Forbes on 16th June 2016 entitled “Mobile Learning in Asia Set to Soar with More VR and Gamified Apps for Students”.

Michael Meotti, Principal at the Ed Policy group writes a piece on 1st June 2016, emphasizing the importance of experiential learning and the use of virtual environments as a way to increase engagement, retention and impact. Demand and impact are coming together.

For learning to be truly transformational, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that it needs to include an experiential dimension, as Kolb’s famous learning cycle illustrated. Moving into the development of online learning clearly presents a challenge to an embodied experiential approach. The two-dimensional web-as-page experience cannot come close to replicating the transformational power of an in-person experience. With the advent of accessible immersive virtual reality however, that possibility draws significantly closer.

Much research has been carried out that demonstrates the transferability of skills and qualities developed in a virtual reality environment to a person’s real life (Bailenson & Blascovitch, 2011). There is also plenty of evidence to show that the brain cannot distinguish between a simulated experience and a spontaneous experience (Northoff 2014). The opportunity then is to take experiential learning design into immersive virtual worlds.

Up until now, most of the virtual campuses in for example Second Life have focused on giving students living at a distance a more interactive social experience and the delivery of lectures in a virtual lecture theatre (where the more progressive programs have used the system’s ability to give everyone a sense that the lecturer is making eye contact with them and that they are seated in the primary location in the room for learning, both of which have been demonstrated to enhance the learner’s ability to learn – Bailenson & Blascovitch (2011)). However this is still using a form of teaching that prioritizes the cognitive intelligence and focuses primarily on developing the student’s ability to recall and understand information, rather than actually apply it.

In order to develop higher-level competencies, the kind called for by 1700 leaders in IBM’s Global CEO Study (e.g. collaboration, creativity, communication, complex problem-solving, critical thinking) and go beyond basic recall and understanding, a more embodied experiential approach is necessary.

This can of course be achieved by engaging in real-life projects, yet not everyone always feels confident (and it is not always safe!) to immediately jump in at the deep end and try something out in real life. Immersive VR gives us the opportunity to create more embodied rehearsals for reality, that enable us to test out various strategies and approaches, learning from our successes and failures, before taking those lessons learned into the real world. Training in immersive VR enhances the possibility that what we have learned goes beyond a purely cognitive intelligence and includes emotional, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial and other intelligences, the development of which will stand us in far better stead as we seek to apply our learning (as well as giving learners a diversity of intelligences they can use to engage with the material – Gardner 1983).

Although being able to provide these experiences in a way that is transformational, affordable and globally accessible may be a couple of years away, there are significant signs that the technological conditions to make it possible are improving exponentially and will be with us sooner than most people expect. The addition of this dimension to online learning will enable us to equip students globally with the skills and qualities needed to successfully navigate an increasingly complex and challenging world.

Peter Merry is Chief Innovation Officer at Ubiquity University. He is the author of the book Evolutionary Leadership, and the highly-rated online course Transformational Leadership, Strategy and Governance.


Bailenson & Blascovitch (2011). Infinite Reality. New York, Harper Collins

Gardner, H (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York, Basic Books

Kolb, D (1984). Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

Leung, I (2016). Mobile Learning in Asia Set to Soar with More VR and Gamified Apps for Students. Accessed from http://www.forbes.com/sites/irisleung/2016/06/16/vr-and-gamified-apps-on-the-horizon-for-mobile-learning-in-asia

Meotti, M (2016). Talent Development and Personalization Central to Long-Term Institutional Success. Accessed from http://evolllution.com/managing-institution/higher_ed_business/talent-development-and-personalization-central-to-long-term-institutional-success/.

Northoff, G (2014). Minding the Brain. London, Palgrave McMillan

Next Generation Learning
An Integral Competency Ecology

Related Posts



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
Monday, 18 December 2017

Stay in touch!