1 June 2020

Choices in Immersive Learning Design

When designing a new immersive learning experience we find that there are a number of dichotomies or spectra  that it is helpful to talk through with a client in order to ensure that all parties have a good idea of what is driving the immersive learning design and what the experience might feel like. Often there is a lot taken for granted, a lot discounted or assumed, and its not until you start talking about all these options that some of the preconceptions on both sides emerge.

To help us talk these through with clients we've even realised them as cubes within our virtual campus so that we can go in remotely with clients and move the boxes around as we talk about them, and typically lay them out on a cost/effort vs importance floor map - the sheer act of doing that helps to create visual and spatial cues which help in recall and even help to show the thinking that is going on.

So here are what we think are some of the key dichotomies, and you can find a fuller list and discussion of the remaining items in our Immersive Learning White Paper.

- Simulation vs Serious Game

In recent years this has become the big one – to what extent do you want the immersive experience to be a “simulation” of reality (so high on accuracy), and to what extent do you want it to be game-like (and so highly motivating)? The situation gets even further confused when people start talking about “gamification”. Having been involved in games design since before the days of personal computers we know that this really all comes down to game mechanics. To us something becomes a “game” as soon as you start to introduce (or exclude) rules or features that do not exist in the real world. Those things you introduce are called game mechanics – and might range from a simple countdown timer or scoring system to highly artificial features such as power-ups and upgrades.

- Linear vs Freeform

When we first engage with tutors and learning designers who have been used to working on eLearning projects we find that they tend to come with a very linear mindset. The learning is a sequence of actions and tasks, and each screen only provides a few options as you don't want to crowd the screen or confuse the learner. Coming from a virtual worlds background we are far more used to open learning spaces with lots of possibilities – trying to get tutors and designers to “unlearn” can be hard. One of the best approaches we have found is to get them to think of a learning exercise in terms of drama, or even e-drama. In fact, it's not even scripted drama we're often after, it's improvised drama. It's telling the student: this is the scene, here are the props, the actors are going to do something and you need to respond.

- Single vs Multi User

A major design decision is whether an environment is designed to be used by a single user (so they only see themselves) or by multiple users (so everyone sees and can interact with everyone else). Obviously multi-user is essential if you are looking at team and collaborative learning, or you want staff (or actors) to role-play characters in the simulation “live”. But multi-user suggests an element of scheduling, and also requires the users to have a network connection, so doesn't give the individual learner the maximum flexibility (e.g. learning on the underground), or let them practice in private.

- Synchronous vs Asynchronous

This choice is only relevant in multi-user mode – should the environment be designed for asynchronous use – i.e. everyone uses it at their own time and pace, or for synchronous use – more like a physical world team learning session where the team (and the tutor/assessor) are all present at the same time.  In asynchronous mode we are really talking about lots of individual single-user experiences, people using the environment as and when. With synchronous mode we are talking about timetabling and co-ordination, but the benefit is that we get to practice those team tasks that it may just not be feasible to practice and rehearse in the physical world due to limitations of time or distance.

We hope that's made you think through our ideas for immersive in a new way, and don't forget to check out the white paper for more details, or contact us if you'd like to talk them through - or even play around with the box set in our virtual collaborative 3D space.

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