Interview on VR cognitive load in Education

Recently Yoana Slavova and myself were interviewed by a research and consultancy company 3Rs IMMERSIVE on the use of VR in education. We shared our experiences from previous experiments and an outlook for future research. 

The interview can be found at:

Some of our discussions are:

1) What were you trying to achieve through your research?

Over the years we have worked with numerous primary and secondary schools on VR trials that aimed at improving student engagement. The novelty factor of VR can undoubtedly contribute to better student attention in classrooms. As educators in University, we wanted to know whether VR-assisted learning can reach beyond the initial “WOW effect” and improve knowledge acquisition in comparison with the conventional learning using lecture notes.

2) Your paper showed that ‘ students are less likely to recall or recognise specific details due to the additional cognitive load in VR’  – why do you think this is, can you elaborate a little bit on this?

We think the cognitive load can be attributed to the use of new technology and also how media content is developed. Several students who claimed in our research interview that they “learned a lot” from VR content struggled to recall details such as the year and location of key historical events in comparison with students who studied using just lecture notes. This indicates that students might have been overwhelmed by the VR environment and the dynamics of the content. Cognitive load is not necessarily a negative factor in education. The more attention we paid to something, the more likely it is to be remembered. The challenge is to allow learners to focus on the details that are essential to learning.

3) Did you put in place any measures to lower cognitive load beforehand? ie allowing students time to become familiar with the device or making adjustments to the design of the content within VR?

Participants were given general guidance of controls and how to navigate through the content. We expected university students to pick up the technologies quickly. We plan to carry out more studies on how to better measure the cognitive load in VR and its impact on learning.

4) Do you have any advice for VR designers as a result of your research?

There are useful design principles we can borrow from computer games design to build better VR content for education. We really need to think about different aspects including storyline, cameras, level setup, visual overlay, user controls, and multiplayer while trying to avoid overwhelming your audiences within their learning tasks. VR in education also deserves a new set of designs rules. For instance, our research shows that text content still has its unique role in learning so we can work on how to augment rich VR content with simple and legible texts as a pathway to improve learning outcome.

5) What sort of content is VR best used to teach in your opinion?

The teaching of subjects like medical sciences, geography and arts can certainly benefit from the use of VR. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see creative use of VR in any subject areas once VR developing tools and resources become more accessible to educators.

6) Are you doing any further work in this field?

Yes. We have a few VR-related projects in our team. We have been working with a secondary school on coaching sixth form students (between 16 and 18 years of age) to develop VR courseware for their younger counterparts. Understanding user’s attention is also a key area in VR research. One of our postgraduate students is experimenting with VR eye-tracking solutions in an attempt to develop content that can react to viewers attention and emotion. In education, this could mean tailored experience for each student’s needs and capabilities.

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