Keys to a Constructivist Multisensory VR Experience

Adam Hersko-RonaTas ’18

Reviewing 53 empirical studies from a decade’s worth of research on educational virtual environments (EVEs), Mikropoulos and Natsis argue that VR technologies themselves do not directly induce learning but can generate scenarios and tasks that naturally result in learning.

Mikropoulos and Natsis maintain that positive learning outcomes are the result of designing EVEs with first-order experiences, natural semantics, size, transduction, reification, autonomy, and presence in mind. VR is a unique amalgam of educational technologies because it provides 3D spatial representations, multisensory channels for user interaction, immersion, and intuitive interactivity through manipulation in real time. This interactivity results in “presence,” a characteristic central to the immersive nature of VR.

First-order experiences refer to EVE’s exploitation of free navigation and first-person points of view, placing the user at the “center” of the experience.

Natural semantics means the use of simplified models for concepts and avoiding the use of convoluted symbolisms.

Size is important because it allows users to shift physical size to explore the virtual world on various scales (e.g. from atom to solar system).

Transduction takes place in the form of extending user capability to “feel” data in ways that would otherwise be unobtainable by their sensory modalities.

Reification, similar to natural semantics, occurs when abstract concepts are translated into perceptible representations within the virtual world.

Autonomy refers to the notion of generating virtual worlds that can stand alone without user interaction (meaning the environment “feels” like a removed space that could exist even without the user’s presence).

Almost all of the studies reviewed incorporated most, if not all, of these elements; moreover, the primary learning theory openly embraced by these studies was constructivism, relying on the notion that people construct individual understandings of their environment through experience and reflection. The authors conclude by calling for a “goal-based scenario approach” in future applications of EVEs.

Source: Educational virtual environments: A ten-year review of empirical research