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Cognitive and Affective Mechanisms of Immersive Virtual Reality Learning Environments

  • Author(s): Parong, Jocelyn
  • Advisor(s): Mayer, Richard E
  • et al.

Students and educators value the potential use of immersive virtual reality (IVR) in the classroom to teach academic content as it may increase interest and motivation to learn, which in turn may increase learning outcomes. However, one criticism is that features of IVR, such as extraneous sounds, animations, and interactions, that are not relevant to the content of the lesson, as well as the affective arousal associated with the use of IVR, may be distracting to learning processes. To examine this distraction hypothesis, two experiments were conducted in which students viewed a biology (Experiment 1) or history (Experiment 2) lesson either in IVR or in a desktop lesson containing the same content, with or without practice questions. In both experiments, students who viewed the lesson on the desktop in a PowerPoint (Experiment 1) or an interactive video (Experiment 2) outperformed those who viewed the IVR lessons on transfer tests. The desktop lessons led to higher cognitive engagement based on EEG measures in both experiments, and less self-reported extraneous cognitive load in Experiment 1. Participants also reported more high-arousal positive emotions after the IVR lessons in both experiments, and experienced higher physiological arousal based on heart-rate measures after the IVR lessons compared to the desktop lessons in Experiment 2. The same pattern of results was found when adjunct practice questions were or were not included in the lessons. Across both experiments, mediation analyses suggest that the negative relationship between instructional media and learning outcomes can be explained by self-reported cognitive processing or emotional arousal, particularly for retention test performance. Overall, immersive environments may create high emotional arousal and cognitive distraction during learning, which leads to poorer learning outcomes than desktop environments.

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