Does VR help to learn? Well, this app doesn’t seem to.

I have to admit: despite the fact that I get sick every time I’m using virtual reality goggles, I really think VR and augmented reality (AR) is just impressive. But… does it help learning. It is too early to tell, but this study by Makransky et al that I found via a tweet by Paul Kirschner is pretty clear: in this study VR doesn’t improve learning . The study is extra interesting as it looks at some important principles for learning such as the redundancy principle (Mayer was involved in the study), and while the students did get more motivated, the learning was not better (even worse). Do note that the the amount of participants was pretty low: 52 (22 males and 30 females) students from a large European university.

Also interesting is to know what application the researchers were using:

The virtual simulation used in this experiment was on the topic of mammalian transient protein expression and was developed by the simulation development company, Labster. It was designed to facilitate learning within the field of biology at a university level by allowing the user to virtually work through the procedures in a lab by using and interacting with the relevant lab equipment and by teaching the essential content through an inquiry-based learning approach.

In short:


  • The consequences of adding immersive virtual reality to a simulation was examined.
  • The impact of the level of immersion on the redundancy principle was investigated.
  • EEG was used to obtain a direct measure of cognitive processing during learning.
  • Students reported higher presence but learned less in the immersive VR condition.
  • Students also had higher cognitive load based on EEG in the immersive VR condition.

Abstract of the study:

Virtual reality (VR) is predicted to create a paradigm shift in education and training, but there is little empirical evidence of its educational value. The main objectives of this study were to determine the consequences of adding immersive VR to virtual learning simulations, and to investigate whether the principles of multimedia learning generalize to immersive VR. Furthermore, electroencephalogram (EEG) was used to obtain a direct measure of cognitive processing during learning. A sample of 52 university students participated in a 2 × 2 experimental cross-panel design wherein students learned from a science simulation via a desktop display (PC) or a head-mounted display (VR); and the simulations contained on-screen text or on-screen text with narration. Across both text versions, students reported being more present in the VR condition (d = 1.30); but they learned less (d = 0.80), and had significantly higher cognitive load based on the EEG measure (d = 0.59). In spite of its motivating properties (as reflected in presence ratings), learning science in VR may overload and distract the learner (as reflected in EEG measures of cognitive load), resulting in less opportunity to build learning outcomes (as reflected in poorer learning outcome test performance).


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