May 12, 2021

Virtual Reality: The Secret to Successful Online & Hybrid Learning

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Our uphill struggle with online and hybrid-learning during Covid-19 has been unimaginably hard for teachers and students alike. But it’s not because this style of teaching is intrinsically tough. It’s because we’ve been using the wrong tool.

During the pandemic we became problem-solvers. We found the interim solutions to get the job done. And we all tip our hats to the inspiring developers and product teams at companies like Microsoft, Google Classrooms and Zoom, who, frankly, also did an incredible job facilitating education in such a difficult time. 

But, when all you have is Teams, everything looks like a conference. These types of platforms are simply not designed for communicative language teaching. 

Now we’re tired, our students are tired, and it’s time to move on. 

The challenges we’re facing in ELT distance learning

In speaking to teachers, reading the reporting and studying the research, we’ve seen that there are a number of concerning issues with the way online education (of all types) is being managed mid-pandemic:

1. Negative effects of screen time on health

There’s probably no need to convince you that too much screen time is a bad thing. It can mess up our sleep patterns, strain our eyes, and make us feel anxious. But, it can be even worse for young people: 

Excessive screen time has been associated with a variety of concerns for children, such as obesity, mood swings, and aggressive behavior, and has been found to negatively impact attention span and language and cognitive development (Carson & Janssen, 2012).

We are all doing our best to give students the learning experiences they deserve. Yet there’s no doubt that staring at a computer for a full school day is counterproductive - and potentially a health hazard.

2. A drop in attention 

Student attention and focus are key factors in achieving learning objectives. Unfortunately, many instructors are struggling to keep interaction from disappearing. Our 2D screens are isolating us, putting too much distance between us and our learners. 

The study The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on ESL Learners and TESOL Practitioners in the United States found that students are also struggling to adapt:

The transition to online instruction was more challenging for the students than the teachers. Results also show that during the pandemic students experienced less language development for speaking than for writing. (Hartshorn & McMurry, 2020)

If effects on language development like these are indeed widespread, then current online learning mediums are unsustainable.

3. Lower test scores

On top of this, it appears that test scores are dropping in a number of subjects. Specifically, English Language Learners are in great danger of losing fluency and are falling further behind because of the pandemic. 

This is likely down to a combination of lost learning, too much screen time, and an inadequate study environment. Teachers inevitably feel like they are failing their students (you really aren’t) and the students themselves feel disappointed or frustrated. 

Equitable planning for future success will be the only way to improve the future outlook.

VR: A long term solution for effective language teaching

We know from years of research on language learning that communicative practice has the greatest long term impact on creating fluency. 

As Luis Miguel Dos Santos writes,

“the CLT [communicative language teaching] approach usually increases the overall teaching and learning interests of students…" he states, going on to say that students become "the protagonists instead of the audiences.”

In our view, it’s essential that our students move from being relatively passive consumers of our online lessons to active participants - just as they would in a physical classroom.

Of course, language learning requires knowledge of key concepts, grammar and vocabulary. And students constantly need opportunities to clarify and learn new information before practicing and moving towards fluency. This can happen in flipped classrooms and in conferencing platforms, but without the opportunity to communicate interactively with others, little meaningful progress can happen. 

That’s why we’d like to open a dialogue about Virtual Reality language learning. 

Immerse offers a whole new way for learning English

It's time to consider how the technological tools that will help - rather than hinder - language teachers in providing the most effective learning experiences for students. Immerse and VR learning are a viable solution, designed specifically for distance, blended and hybrid language learning.

Whether your students are looking back at you from a computer screen, sitting in front of you in the classroom - or a mixture of both - there are a number of benefits in teaching English in VR:

1. Instant engagement and a feeling of presence

In putting on a headset, your students are instantly transported to a new, high-tech and immersive learning environment. Matching your lesson’s communicative context perfectly, you can deliver classes that immediately engage students and make them feel like they are in the presence of their classmates and teacher - even if they’re not. For students who are studying with you face-to-face, they now have a new, engaging and interactive environment to learn in. They also have an avatar to communicate through, and a lot of fun and engaging activities to participate in. 

2. More tactile and kinesthetic learning

Students can move around the virtual space, speak to their classmates, pick up and interact with virtual realia and even change their appearance to match the roles they are playing. As a kinesthetic learning experience, it is leaps and bounds ahead of the 2D flatscreen and can be more engaging than a real-world classroom. Students effectively escape the ubiquitous classroom role-play to feel like they are really learning by communicating in the context of a virtual cafe. 

3. Intuitive controls

In the Immerse Virtual Language Experience Platform, students have all the controls in their hands. Communication is as simple as speaking, and instructions appear, like magic, on their wrists, or on a white board in the virtual space.  

4. Distraction free

Online, distractions abound - teachers have no control over social media messages or emails, and they can’t see if their students are chatting privately or even playing games. In the real-world classroom, smart phones can get in the way and students can fall into bad habits. In VR, however, the experience is entirely different - there are no distractions in the classroom, students are unable to look away to check messages - and any gossiping can be cut short with a quick mute from the teacher!

5. Lower teacher talk time

Having students in an adaptable virtual classroom that matches the theme of the lesson, means there’s less scene setting and instruction required. Moreover, having the opportunity to directly pass instructions to teams and individual students means you need to clarify less. All this leads to lower teacher talk time and more communication opportunities for the students. 

6. Easier classroom management and planning

The Immerse platform instantly positions the teacher as leader. As we’ve mentioned, there are fewer distractions, selective muting, easy distribution of roles and instructions, and a more engaging space for students. At the same time, you can rally students so that they move to where they should be in the space. 

Looking beyond Covid-19

Immerse was built for English language teachers long before Covid-19 ever surfaced. As such, it has been designed to enhance real-world and online English language classrooms - and we truly believe that it is the way forward. Whatever your style of teaching, it can help you offer your students a more active, engaging and effective learning experience - for many years to come. 

Want to learn more? Book a strategy call to learn how you can integrate VR into your English language programs. 

To learn how Immerse can improve your students’ learning outcomes, download our white paper: "Demystifying the Digital Realm".

Christian Rowe
Christian Rowe is the Chief Revenue Officer at Immerse. He loves unearthing new ways to help people grow, educating markets about new possibilities, and leveraging cutting-edge technology to help make human transformation possible.

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