Virtual reality has great potential as an educational tool. It uniquely allows students to immerse themselves in environments and experiences that wouldn’t be accessible otherwise. From a history class experiencing how people lived 100 years ago to a science class traveling through space, the technology holds exciting possibilities. As accessibility grows, it’s necessary to understand how to set up these experiences to best facilitate learning.

A recent study examined how teacher guidance impacts student engagement and achievement in a virtual environment. Researchers divided 104 Turkish secondary students into two groups and used a winter sports learning environment developed in the Second Life 3D virtual platform. They specifically chose low-income students who likely had never done winter sports. One group went through the environment freely without guidance and the other had a teacher with them to provide additional information and support. The researchers measured behavioral, affective, and cognitive engagement as well as knowledge of winter sports.

Although students in the guided virtual experience scored slightly higher in engagement and achievement, their scores were not significantly different from those of the unguided students. For students in the guided group there was a positive correlation between their cognitive engagement and achievement; this was not the case for the unguided students. Researchers speculated that the novelty of the experience for the students might have played a role in the results. They wondered if unguided students would remain so engaged once they had been in a virtual environment multiple times and gotten used to the experience.

The findings seem to indicate that students can direct their own learning in a virtual space. However, further research is needed to understand the impact of the specifics in the environment and to see how engagement changes after multiple experiences.

Burcu Topu, F., & Goktas, Y. (2019). The effects of guided-unguided learning in 3D virtual environment on students' engagement and achievement. Computers in Human Behavior, 92, 1-10.

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