The State of Extended Reality Technologies in Language Education and Research

The State of Extended Reality Technologies in Language Education and Research

Alex Barrett, Austin Pack
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8981-6.ch002
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Despite making headway in the entertainment sector, extended reality (XR) remains an experimental technology in many educational contexts. This chapter moves to enrich the understanding of XR for language researchers and educators with a review of the most current established theories, frameworks, and research. An exploration of recommended avenues for future research from recently published articles in VR for education will be discussed to provide readers with an outline of the current research conditions and suggested ways forward. The chapter concludes with an inspection of language learners' experiences using a high-immersion VR system for the purposes of learning paragraph structure. Trends in VR education and research point towards increasingly sustainable applications of the technology in the classroom with identified linguistic and affective benefits. As VR continues to evolve and its applications in language learning become more sophisticated, educators and researchers will need to stay acquainted with the prevailing usages. This chapter aims to assist in that endeavor.
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In his book Crossing the Chasm, Moore (2014) makes the case that technology undergoes an adoption life cycle wherein five psychographic groups accept or reject the adoption of a technology. These groups are labelled as innovators and early adopters at the forefront, followed by early and late majority, and finally laggards (Figure 1). Moore argues that there is a chasm between early adopters and the early majority where many innovative technologies succumb before they can be adopted by the early majority. In order for a technology to be embraced by society, the early adopters must narrow that gap between themselves and the early majority.

Extended reality (XR) technologies are arguably at different points within Moore’s bell curve. Virtual reality (VR) technology, for example, now a major commercial industry, is predicted to add $1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030 (PwC “Seeing is Believing” report, 2019). Commercially, VR technology can be understood as being in transition between the early adopters and the early majority portions of Moore’s technology adoption life cycle. When it comes to the application of XR technology to language learning purposes, however, XR technologies, including VR, are still clearly in the innovator and early adoption stages; it remains to be seen if these technologies will survive the chasm. As Lan (2020a) notes, “there is a considerable amount of potential in VR language learning, but more empirical evidence (both positive and negative) is needed to guide its direction in order to fully realize the huge possibilities” (p. 10).

Figure 1.

A depiction of the technology adoption bell curve described by Moore (2014).


The goal of learning a new language is a lofty one. It requires no small amount of time and effort to become competent in communicating in a second language (L2). Educators and researchers have long attempted to identify the essential ingredients that facilitate successful language learning. Piaget’s (1964) theory on cognitive development and Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory (1978) are two educational theories that have strongly impacted language educators’ and researchers’ understanding of how a second language is optimally learned.

These theories have given rise to constructivism, which has been described as “an approach to learning that holds that people actively construct or make their own knowledge and that reality is determined by the experiences of the learner” (Elliott et al., 2000, p. 256). Central to constructivism are the ideas that: (1) knowledge is constructed (i.e. new knowledge is built on the foundation of previous knowledge); (2) learning is a process and the learner must be active for successful learning to occur; (3) knowledge is socially constructed and as such interaction with others is important; (4) learning occurs in the mind as learners internalize and process information from their environmental and social contexts; (5) because learning occurs in the mind and is built upon previous knowledge, learning is also personal (the same learning activity will not necessarily equate to all students constructing the same knowledge). These principles of constructivism can be seen as influencing common language teaching methodologies such as communicative language teaching, which places an emphasis on learner autonomy, the social nature of learning languages, the exploration of meaning, the development of creative and critical thinking skills, and the idea that students learn in different ways (Jacobs & Farrell, 2003; Richards, 2006).

Researchers are increasingly taking advantage of the suitability of XR technologies to align with constructivism (Girvan & Savage, 2019; Huang et al., 2010; Radianti et al., 2020). A growing body of literature suggests that XR technologies may afford language learners with opportunities for both linguistic and affective gains. Lan (2020b) has argued that the unique qualities of VR, such as immersion, interaction, and imagination, can assist in facilitating language acquisition as virtual learning environments may provide realistic experiences in which learners actively participate in language tasks by means of social interaction. According to Lan’s framework of language learning in VR, through innovative instructional design, learning tasks, and virtual immersion, language learners can experience a state of flow in which they have a sense of control of their environment and remain focused on language-specific goals.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Immersive Technology: Any technology that affords an immersive experience; typically associated with AR and VR.

Immersion: The quality of feeling surrounded and included in something, such as a story, a virtual environment, or a physical medium like water.

Chasm: A perceived gap between people who adopt a new technology early and the majority of people who may or may not choose to adopt it.

Virtual Worlds: Large 3D digital environments that can accommodate multiple users simultaneously, typically accessed through PCs or gaming platforms.

Augmented Reality (AR): Technology that provides an overlay of digital elements on the real world, often viewed through smartphones and tablets but also wearable see-through visors.

Extended Reality (XR): Any digitally immersive addition to or replacement of reality; usually provided by technology through the addition of digital elements or a completely synthetic environment.

Virtual Reality (VR): A technology that provides a synthetic environment that is immersive, interactive, and stimulates imagination, often associated with head-mounted display goggles that completely block out the real world.

Mixed Reality (MR): Any state in between reality and a completely virtual environment, exclusive.

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