How Has Virtual Reality Changed the Way We Retain Information?

Technology journalist Maria Korolov has claimed that the way the internet has changed how we communicate information, virtual reality will change the way we communicate experiences.

This is a pretty big deal, remember the world without the internet? Neither do I, they were dark times indeed. This week we’re taking a look at what VR has got in store for us and how it’s helping us to learn in an experience-focussed way.

We already know how gamers and, ahem, “adult industries” are getting stuck into VR, but how have other sectors started engaging with this progressive interface?

Education:

 

 

The biggest initiative in VR education has been made by Google, unsurprisingly. Their Google Expeditions have been sending schools thousands of virtual reality headsets and lesson plans so that kids are able to go on a virtual reality field trip to the depths of the Amazon rainforest, an active volcano, even the surface of the moon.

I used to get excited when we had a lesson outside on the school field, young me would lose his mind over something like this when I was at school.

These virtual reality experiences allow us to engage with environments that we’d simply never be able to in real life because of availability, cost or even feasibility.

You’ve heard of the visual, auditory and kinesthetic styles of learning, right? Well VR rolls these 3 theories into one. It’s about conveying multisensory experiences rather than just information in a way that sticks because you’re virtually living through the lesson, rather than just having it presented to you.

The ability to represent abstract topics in science or mathematics can help you understand how objects are shown in 3D space, how unseen natural processes like the water cycle work, or better ways to visualise maths problems than sticking a bit of grubby film on an overhead projector. Am I showing my age?

Check out the findings from this study done on teaching in a virtual space. Whilst not strictly VR in a headset and controllers sense, many of their findings impact what teaching in VR is capable of when it comes to conveying information.

When this course was taught in a virtual space, it:

  • Reduced potential embarrassment and apprehension – Students assumed the confidence of their virtual bodies and we more likely to chip in with questions and volunteer for role-play.
  • Revision and reinforcement of key understanding – With virtual lessons, students were freely able to dip back in to revisit and repeat lessons, retaining all the valuable group discussion. Beats BBC Bitesize right?
  • More frequent and higher quality of social interaction – Not just between teacher and students, but amongst the students themselves.
  • More freedom to explore and interact independently – Being in control of your virtual self during the lessons gave the students the ability to aid their own comprehension by studying a virtual example more closely, nothing worse than being halfway through scribbling some good notes and the teacher hits ‘next slide.’

As a result of this newfound confidence, variety and freedom in their virtual lessons, studies like this one have reported increased student motivation, improved collaboration and knowledge recall and better classroom behaviour.

Training:

Animated training videos are great because they can lay out instructions in a clear, demonstrative way with images that reinforce the lessons you’re trying to teach.

Now consider taking your training video and putting your trainee inside. You can now present all this information to them in a simulated virtual scenario. Adding this immediate and highly relevant practical experience to your training model is an incredibly powerful way to reinforce the behaviours you are trying to impart in your staff.

These training techniques are especially valuable for emergency services or the military where training in dangerous or remote conditions isn’t always possible to achieve physically.

Expensive machinery involved that you can’t afford to mess up with an inexperienced worker? What about if your training involves a difficult to reach spot like on the bed of a reservoir for hydroelectric dam maintenance? VR gives you that relatable, transferable experience in a safe and accessible way.

Medicine and therapy:

That safety and accessibility angle is why VR has been such a boon in medical and therapeutic practice over the last few years. The simulation of complex, low margin for error medical procedures is well documented, as it allows for errors to be made in the virtual space without the catastrophic consequences in real procedures.

Uniquely challenging or high risk surgery such as on a tiny baby’s heart can be practiced in VR ahead of time. Surgeons can take the 3D scans from an MRI, upload them to a  virtual reality interface and perform dangerous procedures countless times before building the confidence and technique to be able to carry it out in reality with a greater probability of success.

The armed forces saw the value in VR very quickly, adopting it early on for rehabilitation of people with brain injuries, PTSD, and other traumas.

Treatment here involves building virtual environments from footage of the conflict zones and talking to veterans to create a realistic virtual space of the source of trauma. The therapist then tries to mimic the patient’s individual trauma narrative. Having full control over the virtual experience allows therapists to gradually increase the exposure at a manageable rate.

We know that the brain is really rather good at suspending disbelief, so even though people know these aren’t real situations or people that they’re exposed to, they relate to them as if they are.

Eventually, by confronting the trauma with therapists in this way, the symptoms have been shown to diminish. This is where the strengths of VR really shine, multisensory experiences that not only convey information in a  traditional sense, but condition the brain by ‘tricking’ you into living through situations that would be nigh-impossible to replicate outside of VR.

Business:

 

 

So this is most likely a little less inspiring than saving a baby’s life or aiding in trauma recovery, but VR in business is where the money is going to be made so it’s where the innovation will be happening!

Before we were throwing balls around and shooting bad guys in VR games, this technology started off in the industrial market – the consumers weren’t ready for such a new technology.

Automobile companies used it for car design, building models that they could sit in and walk around wherever they were in the world without having to expend the physical resources on prototypes.

The oil and gas industry used virtual visualisations of geophysical data to find out the right place to sink a well.

Architects can create, share their virtual blueprints with their investors. They can even tour them around inside the virtual buildings, allowing their clients to experience what being inside the finished structure will be like years down the line.

For many other sectors, VR means virtual conferencing and virtual meetings. Think how much the internet shrank the world, well it’s getting even smaller all over again thanks to these experiences being shared from anywhere on the planet.

Too much information:

The only slightly worrying thing is that it’s going to be too powerful and too effective! Because of the immersive capabilities of VR and the seamless way that we accept information in a virtual space, who’s to say that we aren’t vulnerable to subtle manipulation?

This is a dream for marketers who want to employ more effective persuasion techniques to their customers; VR is uniquely powerful in terms of its ability to manipulate bodies and faces, and hijack a lot of the soft-wiring of how our brain makes sense of the world.

Plenty of studies on human psychology indicate how effective mimicking mannerisms and body mirroring can be in persuasion. Equally, when we share similar traits with a person (something as trivial as sharing a birthday or first name) can show a measurable increase in suggestibility.

Imagine how persuasive a virtual agent could be when they’re given access to your mannerisms and can leverage shared traits with you.

Sort of spooky but this just goes to show how mind-bogglingly powerful VR can be! It’s why VR is so compelling, because whatever is learned in these worlds hopefully will benefit how the person translates their behaviour in the real world. I know I keep coming back to it. but VR is the most influential development in sharing information since the internet, and all of us at Fudge want to get stuck in.

For more on VR, check out our ‘Is VR really the future’ post where we talk about some of the more creative implications of a future in virtual reality.
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