Meaningful Training with Virtual Reality

May 29, 2019

Andy Beall

Meaningful Training with Virtual Reality

In the world of training, there's a huge divide between rote learning and meaningful learning. Too often, rote learning is used and then meaningful training is expected. While VR excels at providing the nutrients for meaningful learning, the use of VR by itself doesn't protect a training program from poor execution.

To put it concisely, rote learning leads to a training regimen that leaves the trainee at best with an ability to recall information. But beyond that, the trainee will have no ability to use what has been learned to solve new problems. In short, without meaningful learning the trainee will lack the ability to transfer the knowledge into future situations.

According to Mayer (2002), modern learning theory includes six categories of learning processes. There is one category that results from rote learning, and this is the category of remember. In comparison, there are 5 remaining of meaningful learning, including understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create.

So, how is VR unique in its ability to engage trainees in meaningful learning? It isn't. But too often traditional learning fails to supply what VR can provide so easily, such as learning by doing, evoking presence and a sense of place, providing arousing and emotional experiences, and combine rich 3D visualizations with rich 3D sound.  

WorldViz has nearly two decades experience designing and building virtual experiences for training and research. Furthermore, our experts can help you implement protocols that not only deploy your goals but provide definitive user studies that allow you to record and demonstrate the results of meaningful learning.

Learning - speed & accuracy

Time to completion is an important measure of task performance, and when controlled  for against constant accuracy level, it provides a simple measurement of learned skills over time. Virtual reality is ideally suited because of its tight control for measuring both speed and accuracy of human performers. Moreover and notwithstanding the tight control of learning stimulus and environment, virtual reality offers the richness of the environment and manipulatable objects that can approach the fidelity found in the real world.

The learning process can be revealed by a learning curve that exposes how time to completion (of a task or set of tasks) decreases over time. See the figure below. With a virtual reality simulation, it is possible to capture and record different phases of tasks completion, thus allowing a fine-grained analysis of different learning components and identifying areas of difficulty. By recording this information across all users, the trainer can easily collect of large corpus of data that characterizes the overall learning performance.

Learning: Time-to-Completion Decreases Over Time

Example methods made easy with VR:

- Trainees time-to-completion from start to finish can be measured with high resolution through VR motion tracking system. By marking relevant task sub-assemblies, a fine-grained analysis of where learning rate differs can be analyzed.

- Over time, it's expected that time-to-completion decreases along a predictable curve. By monitoring and ensuring that accuracy rates remain relatively constant (i.e., trainees don't try and game the system and get low times but low accuracy), performance across trainees can be effectively compared.

- Furthermore, the training curves between different learning mediums, for example between real-world environments and virtual reality-based environments, can be meaningfully compared. This can often show that virtual reality environments exhibit increased learning rates, often attributed to the fact that a trainee's attention is more tightly focused on the training material.

Mastery - retention, understanding and creation

Once a task has been trained, it's critical to understand the depth of training, and this can be determined through measurement of retention. After an individual experiences an initial training regimen, it is typical for performance to decay over time unless the individual has an opportunity to retrain or refresh their knowledge. With a single training exposure, the "forgetting curve" is steep and nearly all training knowledge can quickly be lost (Finkenbinder, 1913). With temporally spaced review exposures, the forgetting function flattens and knowledge can become more permanently retained.

With virtual reality-based training, it is possible to quickly and efficiently give trainee bursts of review material in brief exposures and at the same time one can measure where on the forgetting curve the trainee is. From these measurements, the trainer can judge quickly judge the effectiveness of training for group or particular individuals.

But beyond retention, can trainees adapt to conditions that may not have been covered during the formal training. Individuals ability to adapt and perform reasonably varies. Virtual reality is an ideal testbed for examining these perturbations and their effects on performance. Perturbations can be the suddenly omission of expected environment or manipulatable objects, or the sudden addition of unexpected environment factors or rearrangement of manipulable objects. Similar to measuring the learning for forgetting curves, the virtual reality system can monitor time to completion and accuracy when a trainee is suddenly presented with a novel stimulus condition. Besides measuring a trainee's ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli, the process can be used to train coping strategies and inform the trainee how to prioritize tasks in spite of non-optimal conditions.


Please check out our manufacturing and defense pages for examples of WorldViz VR training solutions.

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Mayer, R. E. (2002). Rote versus meaningful learning. Theory into Practice, 41, 226–232.

Finkenbinder, E.O. (1913) The curve of forgetting. The American Journal of Psychology 24: 8–32