The Promises and Challenges of Immersive Education

The Promises and Challenges of Immersive Education

Jacquelyn F. Morie (All These Worlds, LLC, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2433-6.ch017
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This chapter covers immersive media as an educational tool, from its origins as a simulation training device for military applications to more recent examples of how it is being used in education and training today. Educational immersive media provides firsthand experiential learning opportunities. Educational theorists have supported the use of experiential learning as an effective approach even before the current development of digital applications, and these ideas are mentioned briefly. A continuum of immersion is discussed to include several approaches from low cost to high-end simulation. The chapter provides several examples of the ways today's immersive education is being utilized. Benefits as well as challenges and issues of this approach are outlined. A call for future research concludes the chapter.
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“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

-Malcolm X

In the beginning—millennia ago—learning was a done by one of two methods: self-exploration in the physical world, or by being guided by someone who knew something you didn’t and wanted to share this information. Learning was embodied and immersive, relying on the direct experience of our human being within the world and with others around us. In the intervening millennia that brought us to today, we developed ways to encapsulate knowledge and wisdom, going beyond the embodied mechanisms, abstracting information to something “out there”—something external—that could be accessed indirectly. We invented writing, and books, and were able to encapsulate knowledge as a separate thing unto its own.

More recently we have devised electronic methods to capture, analyze and make knowledge and data accessible to the connected. And through our technological tools we can now bring people together in ways once unimaginable. However, these tools tend to circumvent the original immersive nature of learning and understanding in many ways. They oblige us to read, look and be alone in our quest for knowledge—interacting with a screen or book in an abstracted way.

Moving forward, we are now in an age when the very tools that connect us are becoming themselves immersive. This situation provides a unique opportunity to be able to revisit the forms of learning that supported our species in its formative years. Immersive technologies, such as the ones described in this book, are on the cusp of impacting the very way we consume and share our ever-widening forms of knowledge and understanding. In the very near future, education is poised to undergo transformation for how it is created, delivered and absorbed. Imagine a class where students across the globe can gather together without having to leave their home base and where they learn by being immersed within the lesson itself. In immersive learning scenarios, learners of all ages have the key learning objects, functions and people in the same virtual space, and experience them as embodied, spatial constructs. This is much more aligned with how humanity learned in its genesis years.

Education experts have explored the benefits of “Experiential Learning” for decades. John Dewey’s early theories introduced the idea of experiential education as opposed to learning pre-digested material or rote facts, and claimed that the quality of that experience was critical, and that in part was due to the way individuals can create meaning from their interactions with the content of the experience (Dewey, 1938).

In the 1980s Seymour Papert took this idea even further by discussing how a learner can become the very thing about which they are learning.

The gear can be used to illustrate many powerful ‘advanced’ mathematical ideas, such as groups or relative motion. But it does more than this. As well as connecting with the formal knowledge of mathematics, it also connects with the “body knowledge,” the sensorimotor schemata of a child. You can be the gear, you can understand how it turns by projecting yourself into its place and turning with it. It is this double relationship—both abstract and sensory—that gives the gear the power to carry powerful mathematics into the mind. (Papert, 1980, p. 2).

Virtual reality and immersive scenarios can facilitate a learner becoming that gear. One of the most engaging, informative and memorable virtual experiences I have encountered was being a particle in a particle accelerator (though extremely slowed down to meet my mere human perceptual constraints). “I” (my point of view) was whizzed through the accelerator and I came away with a new understanding of the twists and turns of the journey. This was on a Department of Energy (DOE) island in the virtual world Second Life (Bojanova and Pang, 2011, p. 223), itself a hotbed of instructional experimentation from about 2006 through roughly 2014.1 It was this first-person viewpoint transporting me into the mode of being that particle that enabled a deeper understanding of the concepts involved.

According to Christian Itin, Experiential Learning consists of: “1) action that creates an experience, 2) reflection on the action and experience, 3) abstractions drawn from the reflection, and 4) application of the abstraction to a new experience or action” (Itin, 1999; p. 91).

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