I. Virtual reality in humanities and social sciences

Virtual reality learning experience evaluation tool for instructional designers and educators


Virtual reality (VR) has been used for learning since the 1970s for flight simulation and military training. VR has been applied to create learning experiences in various fields that require complex conceptualisation, drilltraining (repetition, automation) and complex contextual problem-solving (individuals and teams). The emerging availability of low-cost, high fidelity VR environments opened new possibilities for direct learning that is both cost effective and scalable.

For the past decade, VR has transformed human-computer interface and in fact humanised it much further than ever before. Immersive experiences — either reality or fantasy based, allow us to interact with content and other people in a way that previously could only have been possible in science fiction. New outlooks on the prevailing importance of learning environments and technology enhanced learning strategies led by the educational and immersive technology research community offered new terminology to advance the discussion on immersive learning. Thus, the new terms - three- dimensional (3-D) virtual learning environments (VLEs) (Dalgarno & Lee, 2010) and virtual immersive experiences (VIEs) (Kapp & O’Driscoll, 2010) allowed for new opportunities to further and more effectively structure the academic discourse on the educational potential and applications of VR technology.

The field of VR research can be viewed in two main categories — technical solutions and applications. This study discusses technical solutions in context, but the focus of the research will be on applications, specifically VR applications for learning purposes. There is a significant body of research available on technical solutions and limitations of VR technology; however, in 2020 it is still very challenging for educators and instructional designers to find and navigate the guidelines on how VR learning experiences should be designed in order to ensure that learning objectives will be achieved. Thus, a major problem of VR learning research today seems to be the lack of understanding of the general principles that govern the process and how they are interconnected with the existing knowledge about learning, instructional strategies and curricula. With the explosive development in the field of VR learning, there is a need for systematisation of pedagogical principles that govern and facilitate learning in VR. This chapter presents a VR learning experience evaluation tool consisting of 3 macro-level criteria, 21 mezzo-level criteria and 90 sub-criteria that will highlight pivotal aspects that should be considered by instructors and educators who wish to successfully design and/ or apply VR learning experiences.

As Ron Burns concluded in the Foreword for Learning in 3-D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration (Bums in Kapp & O’Driscoll, 2010): ‘Now learning in context will become the most empowering component for learning and collaboration or humans and the human computer interface will be more naturalistic’ (p. xi). Today, with emergence of virtual learning environments, we have the opportunity to go beyond content, beyond hierarchies and set environments — classrooms or desktops — and focus on the context of learning. Contrary to the general belief that VR has changed or will completely change the way we interact, entertain and learn, the author of this article argues that VR in fact offers a possibility to create more natural extensions to existing modes of interaction, entertainment and learning. This conviction also relates to the application and effectiveness of the existing approved instructional models (Bloom’s, SOLO, ADDIE, Gagne’s, 4C ID model) in the VR environment. Furthermore, this view is shared by Oral Roberts University’s (a world pioneer in the use of VR in university programmes) vice president of technology and innovation, Michael Mathews (2017). The main benefit of introducing VR into the learning process is that there is no need to change the learning objectives and strategies; VR rather aids in achieving these objectives and amplifies (deepens) the residue and speeds up the learning process.

VR has already shown great potential; nevertheless, it is very new technology and there is much more to be understood and studied on how to use it effectively and further incorporate VR technology into our daily lives in order to harness the unique opportunities. Several authors argue that the success of VR learning relies on the quality of the chosen visualisation and interaction mode (Bryson, 1995; Erickson, 1993). The VR technology industry is exceedingly competitive and has developed with remarkable speed; nevertheless, today’s VR technologies bear several significant technical limitations, including, for some users, cybersickness or simulation sickness. Also called VR sickness, it occurs when exposure to a virtual environment causes symptoms that are similar to those of motion sickness (Kolasinski, 1995; LaViola, 2000). Other issues include the quality of lenses (including the lack of comfortable and affordable optometric solutions for VR headsets, eliminating the need to wear glasses/ lenses beneath the headset), as well as increasing need to improve the resolution and display quality and improvements in terms of latency (response) including spatial queues and haptic responses.

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