Immersive learning technologies refers to the use of digital virtual worlds where real people are represented by avatars and can interact with their virtual environment as well as with one another. Immersive learning technology is seen by some to be a fad or gimmick that only distracts from “real” learning and educational pursuits (Scopes, p.4) while others believe that this platform provides a way for social learning to occur, especially if learning is not classroom based (Scopes, p.6). Although likely not appropriate for all learning, immersive technology seems to be particularly suited for the emotional learning domain. While the other domains (cognitive, dextrous and social) seem to be achievable without immersive technology (although it can be used for these domains, too), effectiveness in the emotional domain is much more elusive. Immersive technology may be a valuable tool in this regard.
Because immersive technology allows students to participate in ways that would be impossible or unlikely in the “real” world, they can respond emotionally to experiences, as if they were actually occurring. Immersive technology can allow students to role play, peregrination (or travel virtually), simulate, mesh (connect for designed purpose or outcome) and evaluate as part of learning (Scopes, p.9). Several examples of emotional learning are provided by Scopes. One is a gender role reversal assignment in a social sciences class where students were required to interact with others in a virtual world assuming the gender opposite their own (Scopes 18-20). Students reported that this was a superior experience even to a real life gender reversal experience (Scopes, p.19-20). Another example that seems to effectively address the emotional domain is one where students peregrinate (travel) to a Darfur camp in Second Life (SL), “…where unregulated government causes suffering and misery to its people who struggle with starvation and disease due to the lack of essential resources (bringing) awareness to the learners that this sort of thing is still occurring” (Scopes, p. 20).
This is where what may seem like a gimmick can be leveraged for real learning. “Emotion is essential to learning…and should not be underestimated or misunderstood as a trend, or as merely the “E” in “SEL” or social-emotional learning” (Lahey, 2016). Dr. Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California says, “It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things that you don’t care about” (Lahey, 2016).
Although it would take quite a bit of effort to figure out how to apply this technology to some subjects, if the result were increased caring and therefore learning, it would be worth the effort. Students in science might travel to virtual environments ravaged by deforestation, pollution, or the future results of climate change thus engaging their emotional response to the plight of people suffering as a result and encouraging them to think deeply about the causes and solutions of these problems. The potential to reach students on an emotional level encourages me to investigate beyond my first experience with virtual environments which left me frustrated and discouraged. Whether this was due to my own inexperience or the current sophistication of these platforms is unclear (although it is probably some combination of the two). I am hopeful that, with time, these platforms will be designed by companies that make educational products and that they will be safe, available and user-friendly.
Another promising learning technology, for different reasons, is mobile learning technology, or m-learning. Mobile learning may be no more than portable e-learning, meaning an e-learning platform that is designed for smaller screens with less powerful processing. While this is very important for improving access to education, m-learning has the potential to offer learning that differs pedagogically from other forms of learning. If designed as such, m-learning can be quite suited to the constructivist approach, providing a non-teacher centered experience structured by the learner (Ferreira et. al., 2013). With such a design, students would, “…assist each other and directly interact with teachers or instructors. All individuals involved (would) lean on each other and learn together” (Ferreira et. al., p. 67-68).
One characteristic of m-learning may distinguish it from other types of learning by providing “continuity and connectivity among contexts- for instance, while the student moves through a certain area or along an event”. Location information, timing information or both can help to personalize learning above and beyond that possible with e-learning. Platforms that can read and respond to such information could make a significant difference.
My experience with m-learning thus far has been along the lines of portable e-learning. Although I do not think this is revolutionary, it does provide learning that is situational, spontaneous, and provides some increased control and autonomy (Ferreira et. al., 2013). Platforms that allow the “non-coder” to develop m-learning (such as EasyGenerator, AppyPie, MobinCube, etc.) are limited to providing content and simple quizzes that provide relatively simple, non-personalized feedback. Although they do not provide a way to develop experiences that are pedagogically unique, they are easy to use and are a good stepping stone into m-learning development.
Ferreira, J. B., Klein, A. Z., Freitas, A., Schlemmer, E. (2013). Mobile learning: Definition, uses and challenges. Cutting Edge Technologies in Higher Education, 6D, 47-82.
Lahey, J. (2016, May 4). To Help Students learn, Engage the Emotions. The New York Times. Retrieved December 09, 2016, from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/04/to-help-students-learn-engage-the-emotions/?_r=0
Scopes, L. (2011). Cybergogy of learning archetypes and learning domains: Practical pedagogy for 3D immersive virtual worlds. Cutting Edge Technologies in Higher Education, 4, 3-28. doi:10.1108