“You learn nothing from books, here is my virtual reality helmet”

I found this little article via Tom Bennett and – what can I say – it seems a new height in solutionism-thinking:

Games were the earliest showcases for virtual reality company Oculus VR’s technology, but its founder Palmer Luckey thinks it will have important applications for education in the future.

“I think there’s a lot of potential for virtual reality in the education industry … Classrooms are broken. Kids don’t learn the best by reading books,” he said at the Web Summit conference in Dublin.

“There’s clearly value in real-world experiences: going to do things. That’s why we have field trips. The problem is that the majority of people will never be able to do the majority of those experiences.”

Real world experiences? Before one starts shouting Rousseau (or his 21st century nephew Robinson), the man actually doesn’t mean real world experiences but virtual reality experiences such as Google is now introducing with their Google Expeditions. You can argue if real world experiences are always the best option – I’m more with Dewey, but also with Masschelein & Simons  who rather plea for a slimmed down, slower version of reality, or if you like a learning version of the reality – I do think that real life situations, e.g. internships to play an important role in the learning process. But there is something interesting happening when you look at the effect of ‘fake authentic environments’, in the sense of environments who aren’t real, but who try to emulate reality as good as possible.

Take this 2004 study by Guliker et al:

This article presents a study that provides insight in the effects of an authentic electronic learning environment on student performance and experiences. It is expected that learning in an authentic learning environment results in higher performance and improves intrinsic motivation of students. The results of this study showed, contrary to what was expected, that student who worked in an authentic environment did not perform better than students who worked in a less authentic environment. Moreover, the reported experiences with the learning environments did not differ between both groups.
But Herrington, Reeves, & Oliver, 2003 explain that there is an important distinction between authentic activities and authentic settings. From my own PhD as work in progress:

Authentic activities are the actual actions or problems that one has to do or solve in his or her later professional life. Authentic settings are contexts that reflect the ways in which knowledge and skills are used in real life. If, in their setting, a journalist school mimics an editorial office, then they strive for an authentic setting, even though giving editorial work can be performed as an authentic task without the setting.

The funny thing now is that Guliker et al. don’t find a benefit from (online) authentic settings but authentic activities do seem to work. A part of this could be explained by a concept Herrington et al. borrow from literature and movies: suspension of disbelief:

There is increasing evidence that in order to fully engage with an authentic task or problem-based scenario, students need to engage with a process that is familiar to moviegoers throughout the world – the suspension of disbelief. For example, consider the suspension of disbelief that audiences must undergo to enable them to become engaged with movies such as Star Wars, Mad Max, The Matrix, The Truman Show, and Back to the Future. Audiences need to accept the worlds that have been created, no matter how unlikely. Once the initial suspension of disbelief has occurred, it is only inconsistencies within the parameters of the plot itself that cause dissonance in the viewer. In other words, once the viewer has accepted the fundamental basis for the simulated world in which he or she is immersed, engagement with the story and message of the film is entirely feasible.

The fact that something is staged, being a ‘fake’ authentic environment can have a negative effect on the suspension of disbelief, making it harder to learn before this has happened.

Now turning back to virtual reality in the sense of Oculus Rift and other Google Cardboards: this is also by definition a staged environment, but a very immersive one as I’ve experienced myself (I’ve got an Oculus at home). But what will this mean for learning. It could go either way. Less problems with suspension of disbelief because of the immersive character or still a problem making it less good for learning? It’s hard to tell. And it’s also not clear what needs to happen inside these virtual environments for learning. This 2014 meta-study on virtual reality for learning seems to tell the effect can be positive, but… “games show higher learning gains than simulations and virtual worlds” and “With regards to the virtual world, we found that if students were repeatedly measured it deteriorates their learning outcome gains.” But these virtual worlds and realities are not even close to what’s being discussed her. Although there has been a lot of research about this theme for quite a while (I found studies dating back to 1991 e.g.) one still could wonder if everything gets more – ehm – realistic what the effect can be – both positive or negative.

So, imho, Palmer Luckey is speaking as someone who wants to sell something without science backing his story at the moment.

Also on a personal note: I do think that the idea of one medium being better than all the others for every single goal for every single kid at any moment shows that the person uttering this idea doesn’t know education at all.  Yes, you can call me old-fashioned.

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4 Comments

Filed under Education, Research, Review, Technology

4 responses to ““You learn nothing from books, here is my virtual reality helmet”

  1. Pedro,
    Nice one. On your final note:
    Clark, R. E. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media, Review of Educational Research, 53, 445-459
    Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research & Development, 42(2), 21-29. From http://www.usq.edu.au/material/unit/resource/clark/media.htm

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