Training Industry Magazine - March/April 2019 - 11
SCIENCE OF LEARNING
SRINI PILLAY, M.D.
CAN VIRTUAL REALITY
ENHANCE THE BRAIN'S
CAPACITY TO LEARN?
Gone are the days where learning was
simply a matter of remembering what
was spoken in a classroom. Facts that are
simply heard or read have limited halflives in our memory circuits, while those
that are felt or experienced last longer.
Modern technology like virtual reality
(VR) can offer learners the capacity
to experience information. And when
they do, they can understand situations
deeply and remember them vividly.
Take for example a 2018 study
conducted by computational social
scientist David Markowitz and his
colleagues. These investigators explored
whether immersive virtual reality
was effective for teaching people the
consequences of climate change. They
found that after experiencing immersive
VR, people acquired new knowledge
about climate science and, in some cases,
displayed improved attitudes toward
the environment after VR exposure. The
analyses also revealed that the more
time people spent in this environment,
the more they learned.
VR CAN OFFER
Contrary to popular belief, new
technologies may actually make us more
human than less human. By offering
powerful experiences, virtual reality may
make us more empathetic, altruistic and
understanding toward each other. In
2018, cognitive scientists Daniel
Żuromski and his colleagues explained
that "digital humanism" is a reality. When
you're immersed in an environment,
you really "get it." You see things from
another person's point of view, and
this perspective lasts. If a learner is not
predisposed to helping others, they may
benefit from immersive technology.
Imagine the consequences of applying
this research to toxic bosses and office
conflicts. While words may fall on deaf
ears, showing people what it feels like to
walk in someone else's shoes could help
learners develop skills conducive to a
peaceful work environment.
VR can also help you see how self-image
affects the way you interact with others.
For instance, people given attractive
avatars have shown to be more
confident interacting in the virtual world
than those given unattractive avatars. In
a 2017 study led by computer scientist
Ye Pan, self-avatars helped people learn
soft skills like trust and co-operation.
In the brain, VR is effective at promoting
learning by helping users feel the
learning "in their bones." In 2019,
Giuseppe Riva and his colleagues
explained that this phenomenon called
"embodied simulation" joins the mind
and body when learning. When the
mind and body come together, people
feel more internally coherent and can
navigate the world and control their
bodies effectively. Think of how effective
this strategy can be in corporations
where people feel burned out or
disengaged. This mind-body coherence
could be just what employees need.
In many ways, engaging the mind and
body in VR is similar to mindfulness
or meditation and can be used as
In the real world, people encounter
more than just words. They have to deal
with distractions in the environment.
VR offers people the ability to face
challenges that approximate those in the
real world. In VR settings, learners can
experience their reactions to disruptions
more intimately. Imagine you have to
stand on stage to give a presentation
to the board. Practicing this in a VR
environment while seeing a simulation
of your heart racing can give you the
necessary insights to conquer your fears.
Of course, as with most technology, you
want to ensure that you moderate your
exposure to simulated realities. You don't
want to have these simulations replace
reality, like how a child may try to swipe
right on an actual book because of
isolated exposure to Kindle texts. Since
VR is likely to work in some instances
but not others, it's best to implement
and test those applications that provide
potential high-yield with little risk.
Applications that boost self-confidence,
environmental sensitivity, trust, cooperation, engagement and resilience
are likely to be a good investment in
Dr. Srini Pillay is the CEO of NeuroBusiness
Group. He is also assistant professor (parttime) at Harvard Medical School and
teaches in the executive education programs
at Harvard Business School and Duke CE.
T RAIN IN G I N DU STR Y M AGAZ INE - TRAINING IN ANOTHER DIMENSION 20 1 9 I WWW. T RAI NINGINDU S T RY . C OM/ MAGAZ I NE
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Training Industry Magazine - March/April 2019