Emotional engagement in immersive learning: Case studies and findings

Emotional engagement in immersive learning: Case studies and findings

2019 is the year the industry get serious about immersive learning.

VR, AR, MR, 360° video and simulations are all set to go mainstream for learning and development.

In this new blog, Senior Consultant Olivia Lory-Kay explores immersive’s unique potential for eliciting emotional responses from engaged learners.

The hardware powering immersive learning has been streamlined and many of the barriers separating immersive tech from the everyday workplaces and office spaces are disappearing. Simultaneously, the benefits and advantages are becoming ever clearer.

This awareness is being felt throughout L&D, with 30% of learning leaders using immersive learning games and simulations today, up 10% from two years ago, and 15% aiming to invest in AR during 2019-20.

We’re seeing more requests from clients for projects that feature immersive digital experiences at the heart of the learning blend. Although most are currently around hard skills within physical environments – safety training, technical product info etc. – we’re most excited about the potential for using immersive in learning for innovation, leadership, collaboration and other soft skills.

Until recently there hasn’t been much research into how these technologies work in terms of emotional impact and behavioural change. There are still a lot of unknowns, but reliable case study data on the way immersive tech can affect the learner’s lived experience is beginning to emerge.

Case studies

Emotional resonance could be where immersive exceeds all projections. Back in 2015 VR was heralded as an ‘empathy machine’ in discussions around Chris Milk and Gabo Arora’s film, Clouds over Sidra. This is a 360° immersive film following the experiences of a 12-year-old girl, Sidra in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan.

Unicef adopted the film for its fundraising and awareness raising activities. Viewers have been known to break down in tears while watching the film and through putting viewers in Sidra’s shoes, it ended up raising $3.8 billion for the campaign, over 70 percent more than projected.

But there are questions about empathy and about transporting people into locations and experiences very far from their own. Is ‘empathy’ even the right word – do we perhaps mean compassion?

We can take more insights on the way immersive emotionally engages learners for rapid, long-lasting behaviour change from the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism’s 2018 report Walking in Another’s Virtual Shoes.

With a large sample of 180 people they tested whether immersion in 360° video content yield higher empathy and recall. They compared 360° video with traditional text-and-image content, testing both for empathy and recall over a two- and five-week period.

They found immersive film prompts higher empathetic response, and a higher likelihood of participants taking subsequent action or exploring further. Participants’ recall was also better after two and five weeks than the with static digital content.

Implications for immersive learning design

But the research also revealed some interesting points to consider for learning design. It demonstrated the importance of a trusted narrator for empathy. It showed how impact and recall are affected by learner enjoyment and familiarity with the story and subject.

Learning design theory predicts these findings, and anticipates the importance of positive reinforcement in embedding emotional response message recall.

Using our understanding of emotion to create compelling story-driven learning solutions has always been a hallmark of our design. For us, immersive learning is just another tool in our toolbox, but one with huge potential for capturing learners’ imaginations.

We are workshopping a future for immersive learning solutions at our next Learning Studio Session.

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