What is Gamified VR Learning?

Gaming isn’t just for children, across the UK 86% of people aged 16-69 years played computer games in the past year. Virtual Reality is giving rise to a powerful and all immersive learning experience, innovating education and training today. Over the summer The VR Hive caught up with Dr Thomas Hainey and Dr Marco Gilardi, of the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) to get the low down on gamified learning.

What is gamified learning and when did you first encounter the concept?

[Marco]: ‘Gamified learning is the use of games, or gamification to create learner engagement to somewhat improve the learning experience and type of learning the learner can do. I probably first encountered gamified learning in 2013/2014 when I was working as a Media Developer down at Sussex. I had to learn some coding, so in the game if you wrote the correct code a character would progress

[Thomas]: ‘Digitalised gamified learning has been around since the 1970’s. I first became aware of it in 1992, in an Atari ST when I was 12 years old. My mother decided to buy me a computer, on this computer there was an ability to make a quiz. In amongst the quiz, if you answered the questions correctly you had the ability to save a princess from a dragon which was exogenous to the game.’

What are the benefits of using gamified approaches in education?

[Marco]: ‘Gamification in general touches a lot of elements, the first one is giving meaning to the experience in terms of what the student is learning. Secondly, giving the student ownership over their learning, in terms of the material and what they are learning. Gamification has a lot of benefits that are not easy to implement. But if you don’t implement gamification correctly, you don’t get those benefits.’

[Thomas]: ‘I think some of the main advantages of using gamified learning in Virtual Reality, centres on bringing experiential learning and presence into the learning experience. Furthermore, young people are used to technology and this form of learning can support intrinsic motivation, improve self-esteem and confidence by way of exposing learners to simulation before they are exposed to the real world. One of the main benefits, is the way in which games that are well thought out are suitable for the learning process. Technology is ubiquitous today, so tapping into this is advantageous though requires some thought around instructional design to ensure gamified learning has real value.’

How does VR gamified learning translate across into further education and collaborative learning?

[Marco]: ‘In order to have a good VR experience you need to have a narrative, goals and put the user of the experience at the centre of the learning. When you are creating a game, it is important to identify progression points, for the game to be meaningful. If you fail to create these features, you have a novelty game rather than meaningful gamified VR learning which won’t engage students properly. There won’t be any real added value provided to the learning.

In terms of collaboration, VR provides students with opportunities for physical collaboration which you could not produce using other forms of learning. Firstly, VR requires the user to interact and move in a natural way with other people akin to in person learning. This is very important, particularly in industrial training where learners are required to replicate real world interactions in VR. Gamified learning offers an additional layer of engagement, that is not possible in any other learning format.’

[Thomas]: ‘I’ve always thought single player games must be empirically evaluated first, as collaborative VR learning is more complex. In terms of collaboration, war games in VR offer high degrees of military training in which groups of troops go into a battle simulation without the injury. It is relatively immersive and realistic, perhaps but not fully aligned to a real battle scenario in terms of battle injuries and physical demands placed on the body during such exertion. But such an experience does enable soldiers, or employees from large organisations the opportunity to work collaboratively with purpose. ‘

How do you think gamified learning could support student engagement?

[Marco]:’ In terms of VR, a recent paper from the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that VR is a great tool to engage the learner, rather than improve learning. The paper notes gamified VR learning adds an additional layer of engagement, though to augment learning you need to couple it with other forms of learning activities. For example, after the students had engaged with VR they then completed an activity related to their learning which showed this created improvement in the learning.

Without aligning VR into the classroom carefully, this specific paper linked the effect of having a VR experience to watching a video – there is absolutely no difference. VR is great, it creates engagement, but the learning needs to be developed with other forms of learning in the classroom. It is not possible to just throw the VR into the classroom, it needs to have scaffolding to support embedding.

Gamified learning will support students to engage, especially if learners are technological this can be a motivation element to allow them to engage with the material.’

[Thomas]: ‘If you look at Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, as well as learning style there are, by nature a diverse range of different learners with different learning preferences. All we’re really doing here, is providing an alternative to traditional learning – Some learners will be keen to engage with it, yet for others this won’t be the right fit. It’s better to have a range of approaches to learning, to support equal opportunities of learning.’

Are there any drawbacks to gamified learning?

[Marco]: ‘The main barrier for institutions is whether, or not the institution is willing to invest. But the general trend is that they don’t perceive the technology as mature enough to invest yet, so there are barriers in providing the correct resources outside of headsets. For example, space to safely use VR, the training content required.

There is a need for institutions to recognise this technology is here to stay and it is not just a fad. If you look just recently in 2020 there has been a boom in VR, so commercially the technology is accelerating, and I see this being adopted on a consumer level to a greater level over the next 5 years. It will become as ubiquitous as the mobile phone.

There needs to be a little bit more adventure from the management of institutions and foresight about the technology and wider world. If you speak with management in education, many think that Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is cutting edge technology. But the time of MOOC has come and gone now, it is dust and further innovation is needed.’

[Thomas]: ‘There are absolutely drawbacks, when you look at introducing gamified learning and VR into learning some teachers may lack the self-efficacy and confidence to engage with the technology. Also, the cost of VR, regardless of what people say it is a bit of an elitist technology which not everyone can afford. 

There are also barriers in terms of varying attitudes towards VR and gamified learning, mature learners may not be as receptive to this approach compared with digital natives because of a lack of digital confidence and familiarity with the technology. 

Yet this can be overcome, by exposing learners to technology in a supportive framework to eliminate technological fear.’

Are there any best practice guidelines for educators to refer to assist them in getting started with VR gamified learning?

[Marco]: ‘Well, design for your audience is the first best practice for your audience. Understanding what you want your students to learn, through gamification is important and needs to be done in a way, that is effective. If you just adding a badge or adding a score to the experience that’s not gamification. You need to develop the game from the beginning, integrating this into the classroom and into the learning you want to achieve otherwise it is meaningless.’

[Thomas]: ‘I think starting with the learning outcomes is the best way to go, to realise that all of these technologies have their application or sort of optimal application. In my mind I would say it’s very good in terms of procedural knowledge, when it comes to medical training, military training or learning procedures for industry. But you have to consider the application, it isn’t realistic to use VR to teach an entire syllabus or course. This technology has its place, but it’s important to think about what learning it targets and how it will work in tandem with traditional learning as well. At the end of the day, it is an alternative teaching aid which can enrich the teaching and learning experience.’ 

How can gamified learning be made accessible for students e.g., digital poverty, special education needs, sensory impairment, physical impairments?

[Marco]: ‘It’s important to design for your audience, to gain an understanding of user need. For example, if you’re wanting the experience to be accessible by a wheelchair user, you need to ensure the experience is designed for someone who might seated throughout the experience. If someone with dyslexia is accessing the experience, then there needs to be an option to change the fonts, background and size of text. 

Always put the user at the centre of the design and think about what are the barriers that might prevent, or reduce access e.g. How will someone who is colour blind, experience the session? Create alternative colour schemes that will work. The goal with designing accessible experiences is to create a universal design, which is hugely complex but adding in small adaptions can improve the accessibility of a game.

In terms of technological accessibility, this is a little more complex as VR is still not everywhere. Institutions and management need to recognise the value of VR, to look at making the investment. Technology companies also need to look at designing for multiple platforms, not just VR e.g., mobile, or desktop PC even though the experience may not the same it will be inclusive.’

[Thomas]: ‘I would say that research is key, to understand the users. The problem lies in the rapid evolution of technology, it is difficult to keep pace to allow for thorough research and design for accessibility. Too often there isn’t enough consideration around accessibility and inclusivity, instead products are produced and put out there hoping people will buy the product. Though I think it is important to continuously include accessibility into the design process , it’s no different than thinking about equality, diversity and inclusion more widely.’

Where does ethics sit in gamified VR learning in terms of education and training?

[Marco]: ‘Reverting back to Thomas’ point, reference misleading learning this really depends on how the learning experience is designed and how much scrutiny there is around the learning experience. For instance, the European Agency for Space and Aviation are certifying pilots that have trained in VR only. That is because the flight simulator has been designed and scrutinised very carefully, so that the actual experience is comparable to that in the cockpit. So, there is a level of responsibility on the developer and the training agency, to ensure VR training is fit for purpose in this sense.

In terms of other ethics, we can open Pandora’s Box when we think about all the data captured in the training that needs to be transparent. Even though I own an Oculus I have absolutely no idea what sort if data Facebook is getting from me, when I use the device. Is it recording my movements? – I don’t know.

That is very concerning, as a Stanford study showed you can identify a person by how they use VR. Not only that, but you can also tell whether the person has other physical conditions which creates great privacy concerns. Especially where the headset is used in the work environment , as the headset can know whether someone is physically fit. Even though the person may not want to disclose this information. 

There are a lot of ethical issues that need to be addressed, there needs to be a lot of scrutiny in terms of how VR uses data and how this is divulged. In the same way ethics is getting into AI at, the same needs to be applied in VR.’

[Thomas]: ‘We need to be exceptionally careful about being misleading and not just providing a whole technological application, that just make people think they have acquired the skills to perform a task in the real world. For example, learning to play piano in VR but not recognising your skills will need development to replicate this in the real world.

I looked at the war games in virtual reality and it is all very well having , access to an improvised training exercise where no one gets hurt. Which is absolutely fine. I happen to have been involved in a real battle exercise and it is nothing like that at all, it’s chaotic, noisy and disorientating but these elements don’t necessarily translate into VR. But they do provide a good starting point for young people, to give them some insight into these types of real-world experiences which may motivate them into these different careers.

I think there are exciting experiences, they do need to be explored to understand how effective these are and what impact these might have on people. We also have to be mindful of people who don’t react to VR particularly well, for example people with autism who might become too absorbed in this, or people might experience nausea. There are major ethical issues when it comes to inclusivity and providing learners with choice, we can’t force VR on to people as the only form or choice of learning.’

Do you have any closing remarks?

[Thomas]: ‘I think effective gamified learning, needs to be pedagogically effective , sound and have a purpose to it. It’s not just there for the sake of it. But these different technologies are exciting to work and experiment with. Cynical people might say the world is getting worse, though really it is getting far better.

People have far more opportunities nowadays, compared to 30 years ago because of technology. But we need to be careful with how we’re implementing and using technology. I think there will always be a place for a teacher, lecturer, mentor working in tandem with technology and best practice as far as we can go.’ If you would like to find out more about VR gamified learning, or just VR in education in general get in touch: info@thevrhive.com.


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