An exploration of immersive learning: what are the main categories and how to apply them in the right way?

September 11, 2020

If content is king, immersive learning is queen.

Thanks to new and emerging technologies, this new generation of learning has developed in the world of corporate training. It creates opportunities to elevate and bridge the gap in workplace learning with the combination of theory and practicality. It enables learners to engage learning at a greater depth, to experience a more memorable and meaningful experience. At the end of this article, you will understand immersive learning, its advantages and you will be able to identify the best fit for your organisation and its learners.

Understanding immersive learning

As Albert Einstein famously stated “Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information” and immersive learning couldn’t agree with him more. 

It’s a learning technique that uses an artificial or simulated environment which is very close or similar to reality. It recreates real-life situations in which we need to make decisions, actively learn and practice skills, processes and actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions. Immersive learning uses a variety of technologies including simulation-based learning, game-based learning,  interactive 360° video or image and all of the extended or cross reality (XR) technologies, anything that optimises how our brain learns. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most talked about immersive learning techniques.

1. Simulation-based learning

Simulation is a program that allows the learner to perform certain real-life tasks correctly, to learn by doing in order to fine-tune their skills. A similar method was used in 1970 when Ken Mattingly worked out last-minute solutions from the space capsule simulator on Earth at NASA during the Apollo 13 mission to bring back the three astronauts from the dark side of the moon.

Simulations can be applied for almost every single industry and it starts to become more of a common practice in industries where it could be a matter of life or death, or where errors could be rather expensive, from automotive manufacturing, construction, aviation, aerospace, healthcare, chemical to pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. To provide various perspectives use the “two ways to learn” method alternately - learning from the choices of others or learn from your own choices. At the end you may want to share some findings and show your learners the different outcomes of each scenario.

2. Game-based learning

Gamified digital learning modules are another great way to keep learners engaged since games are challenging and motivating learners to play and learn them more and more. Using leaderboards can be a huge driver for learners to collect points, to compete with their fellow employees, to be recognised and to gain tangible rewards.

3. Augmented reality/Virtual reality (AR/VR)

AR/VR technology is one of the most immersive techniques since it engages learners, without having the limitations of reality such as location, failure, risk and time. It is also very realistic as it grabs the audience visually, aurally and physically. VR provides for learners a 100% virtual world, while AR uses the real world as the main body and enhances the reality with digital technology.

Walmart is a great example - they brought 17,000 VR headsets and trained employees in an immersed in-store setting, in which they were experiencing pressurised customer related situations for Black Friday and showed the students the right way to handle certain scenarios. VR could be pricey but if you are looking for a simple and more affordable VR headset option you may want to go with Google Cardboard just for the price of $6 per unit. (SG$ 8, € 5) You can also reduce your spending and support repetitive learning by repurposing existing assets such as recorded webinars or 360° videos that can be viewed in your immersive training.

4. 360° image/video/audio

Since users are expecting more and more, an unexpected innovation has been driven by Virtual Reality, the birth of the 360° image. By leaving behind the standard static imagery, 360° photo allows the viewer to capture, to interact and to explore entire scenes and landscapes, in a single shot, which adds another layer of engagement for the audiences. This technique is already used on social media and on Google Maps but it can be a perfect alternative for retailers, hotels and restaurants. Whilst 360° video is a great way for your learners to fully experience and comprehend geographical locations for example showing them your office during onboarding, by giving them a tour in your latest retail store, product showroom, amusement park, or museums.

Just always make sure to test it properly on different devices to ensure that it looks great, no matter what your user is using to view it. Another level of innovative immersion layer is to involve auditory sense contribution via holophonics or ambisonics. The 360° audio maps out sound at any point or distance from your ears demonstrating how we hear and place sounds.

5. Mixed reality/cinematic reality (MR/CR)

The other two great attention grabbers under the umbrella category of extended or cross reality (XR) where “X” is a variable, the "radical unknown" which encourage creators to work (in) between the spectrum of AR/CR/MR/VR.

MR merges the real world with the virtual world to produce the emergence of a new visual environment where in real time your learners can interact with physical and digital objects. While CR is AR on steroids, with hyper-realistic and cinematic-quality details. XR allows new joiners or recruiters a chance to “try out” or “test” any job in advance. To encourage participation never restrict your learners especially if your training requires exploration rather give your learners the control and enable them to learn on their own. However, keep in mind to set clear expectations and goals, to use feasible options which are also aligned with your objectives and with the flow of your story.

The benefits of immersive learning

There are endless aspects for using immersive learning technology. The Chinese philosopher Confucius expressed his belief in the importance of learning from experience when he wrote: "I hear and I forget/I see and I remember/I do and I understand" These ancient words have now become more apposite than ever when we seek for the relevance of immersive learning. 

One of its greatest powers is quality improvement to transform boring training into an experience. On top of it, it entirely eliminates the gap between theory and practice since it is as realistic as real life. Since it is super interactive, learners have to use all of their senses, as a result the attention rate is 100% and your learning content becomes 5 times more engaging than any other solution. The memory retention rate is much higher (75-90%) compared to any other learning methodology due to the combination of learning by practicing and repetitive learning. Learners can also perform real world trials and can make wrong decisions without any serious real-life consequences. Correspondingly, you reach an exceptional ROI result which can be tracked and justified by enriched analytics and data (behavioral, head, eye and gesture tracking, heatmaps).

The rise of immersive learning

Immersive learning is fluid and undoubtedly revolutionising the world of learning. It is an unstoppable technology which dynamically develops, reinvents itself and rapidly shifts from niche to mainstream use.

An increasing number of companies are already implementing immersive learning, due to the increased proportion of millennials and generation z in the workplace. These new generations are pushing companies to adapt to their work life preferences, which are likely to be tech focused and geographically independent. 

For this reason, don't be afraid to be more adventurous and gutsy as you can easily build your momentum by sharing the user success stories with the rest of the organisation in the form of internal events, testimonials, and promotional videos. This way you can reach your ROI target, roll-out more learners and assure continuous participation. Immersive learning provides a vivid learning experience that has the ability to simultaneously serve the learners and the organisations by delivering the right content for each learner to achieve the desired learning outcomes. It’s a sensory experience where all the 5 senses are required from vision, sound to touch for a greater reach of learners. Immersive technology is a revolutionist with an ultimate goal to shake, disrupt and reform the field of learning.