With an increasing interest in virtual reality for education and the developments around the metaverse, Nergiz Kern is often asked by publishing and teaching professionals what makes good learning experiences in virtual reality (VR) and how to write lesson plans for immersive language learning in VR. In this blog post, Nergiz summarises the main points of her talk about using VR in the design of materials at the MaWSIG PCE in Harrogate.
What to consider when planning immersive lessons
First of all, it is important to know that these tips are for classes that take place within a virtual world shared by the learners and the teacher, and where they can do things together. This is often called multi-user VR or social VR. When educational technology moves from being just a tool to becoming the learning environment, we have to fundamentally rethink how we teach with this technology, and how we design pedagogically sound lessons for this environment.
1 Know why VR is good for language learning
Before we think about any content or activities, we first need to understand what research tells us about how virtual reality supports language learning. This will help us to match appropriate language learning pedagogies with the benefits of immersive learning in VR. Pedagogy should not be an afterthought but an integral part of developing language lessons in VR.
Fortunately, there is a lot of research now. For our purposes, we should note that the two most important features of VR are immersion and interactivity. These features enable learners to have experiences that are more like ‘real-life’ experiences than those in traditional classroom or in online lessons. The ‘real-life’ nature of VR learning means that it can and should be active, social and emotional. Learners can participate in field trips, collaborate on hands-on projects, and engage in contextualised role plays and simulations.
All of these experiences make language learning more authentic, motivational, fun and memorable, while also reducing anxiety. In this way, VR language lessons can help teachers to achieve their goals of creating more contextualised, active and experiential learning opportunities, based on task-based and problem-solving teaching approaches. Suitable pedagogical approaches to achieve this are:
- situated learning
- task-based learning
- problem-based / project-based learning
- collaborative learning
- total physical response (TPR)
- active learning
- experiential learning
- game-based learning
2 Follow a framework to achieve high immersion
Immersion can be achieved not only through the VR technology (for example the VR headset) but also through engaging users mentally, in the same way that someone can be immersed in a good book or activity. The latter, more expansive, definition of immersion is important because it does not limit the experience of immersion to a VR headset. There are many different frameworks (outlined here) that integrate the various types of immersion.
Won et al.’s (2023) conceptual framework of design features for immersive educational VR builds on previous immersion frameworks. It is clear and concise, easy to understand, and combines technological and pedagogical factors for immersive learning that can help us plan well-rounded, highly immersive VR lessons. Their framework includes four types of immersion: sensory, actional, narrative and social. Table 1 shows how these elements play an important role in the design of a good language learning experience – whether in the classroom or online.
Enyedy & Yoon (2021) explain how these four types of immersion apply to headset VR as well as desktop VR (amongst others). This is particularly important for those who cannot or do not want to use a VR headset. For example, desktop VR allows learners to experience sensory immersion through customising their avatar, and actional immersion through moving their avatar to navigate through the virtual world. Narrative immersion is experienced through the whole story line that a virtual world, scene or lesson is based on. Opportunities for agency and choice (where to go, what activities to do) are also elements of narrative immersion. And finally, an experience that offers opportunities for meeting, chatting and doing things with other learners adds social immersion. All of this can be achieved in desktop VR through careful planning.
|Conceptual Framework: Design Features for Educational IVR|
|Sensory||Representational fidelity. The presented virtual environment is representationally sound for learners to feel the virtual objects and places are authentic or real.||Graphic, sounds haptics, feedback, other senses|
|Actional||Intuitive interface design. The actions in a virtual environment feel natural and intuitive for learners to feel they are making real changes in the environment.||Interactivity Movements (physical body to experience)|
|Narrative||Engaging content and tasks. The content and tasks are relevant and meaningful for learners to feel emotionally and intellectually engaged.||Roles
|Social||Constructive support. The learners and learning are supported through social interactions.||Mediated social interactions|
|Won et al. (2023). Diverse approaches to learning with immersive virtual reality identified from a systematic review.|
Table 1: Conceptual framework of design features for immersive educational VR
3 Know the features and access options of the VR platform
Digital course authors need to familiarise themselves with the type of activities that are possible on a platform, for example, multiple-choice questions, matching activities, true/false exercises, as well as some other technical and non-technical features. The same is true for VR. Each VR platform is different. The activities that will be possible depend on these features as well as technical specifications such as how the platform can be accessed (VR headset, desktop, web browser, operating system, etc.), how many people (or avatars) can be in the same space, and so on. Here are a few other features to consider:
- level of object interactivity
- possibility and level of avatar customisation
- availability of spatial (3D) sound
- what kinds of scenes are available
- possibility of building or customising scenes
- availability of teaching tools (e.g., writing, screens, video or PDF embeds).
4 Create a checklist to integrate all elements for a successful VR learning experience
Trying to keep all of the above (in addition to the content and learning objectives) in mind can feel overwhelming, and it is easy to forget something.
Creating and following a checklist, an incomplete one of which is shown in Table 2, will help us design the right kind of learning activities without losing sight of any important elements for effective immersive language experiences.
The three areas that we need to include are:
- lesson objectives and design: This is what teachers are already familiar with from writing for any other medium. We just need to make sure that the activities are in line with the pedagogical approaches that are suitable for VR (as discussed above).
- VR affordances: This draws from the VR immersion framework.
- tools and materials: This is informed by the list of VR app or platform features.
|LOs, Lesson design||VR affordances||Tools/Materials|
|Language / Grammar / Lesson design||Sensory / Actional / Narrative|
Table 2: Checklist for a successful VR experience
Now you are ready to write the lesson plans and materials.
5 Practise writing VR lessons
As with everything, creating effective lessons for VR takes time and practice. Here are a few steps you can take to become a good VR language learning materials writer:
- Sign up for free accounts of VR platforms.
- Learn to use them.
- See what features they offer and make a list.
- Take a coursebook unit or think of a typical activity, and think about how you would teach the same lesson in VR.
- Look at your checklist. Did you include everything?
- If you have a chance, teach trial lessons.
- Join a community of practice.
- Read my blog and VR learning resources and follow me on Linkedin.
By following the steps above when creating immersive learning lessons, materials writers can become learning experience designers in the truest sense.
Above: Nergiz presenting at the 2023 MaWSIG PCE in Harrogate
Nergiz Kern is a consultant and foresight practitioner on emerging technologies and learning futures. She works with EdTech companies and learning organisations on the pedagogically sound development and implementation of technology for learning. She also provides futures workshops to create and work towards desirable futures for language learning and teaching. She has an MA in EdTech and TESOL, a postgraduate certificate in using 3D Multi-User Virtual Worlds in Education, a certificate as a futurist, and 20+ years of teaching experience.