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Many of us are seeking more connected, immersive ways to engage with others and Higher Education (HE) students are no exception.
Your version of immersion
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘immersive’ in relation to online learning in HE?
Maybe you think of virtual reality headsets, interactive augmented reality software, virtual fieldtrips and simulated laboratories? In a virtual world, learners can be fully immersed in a realistic replica environment, allowing them to go places and do things they couldn’t do so easily in the real world.
However, most of us won’t have access to such technology and our learning content and outcomes may not suit the pre-designed immersive experiences available. How then, can we take the idea of immersive learning experiences and apply them within our own online environments utilising the tools we have available?
One of the best ways to immerse your students is to engage them in real-world, authentic learning activities. Provide case studies based on real-life events or problems wherever possible and when setting formative or summative activities try to simulate real-life experiences as much as you can. For example:
- work with an industry/sector organisation to identify problems their staff have solved in the past and ask students to solve the same problems. The student’s approaches could be shared with the organisation for feedback and vice versa with the organisation sharing how they solved the problem
- ask students to discuss and debate real-world issues in teams where each has a dedicated role or perspective to argue for or against. The students will be forced to see the issue from another perspective and not just their own. Providing personas can be a good way for students to feel more immersed in the activity
- set group work tasks that simulate team-based approaches to solving problems and have a visible output such as a presentation, blog or video which is shared with the whole class. Having a visible, almost tangible, output to aim towards can provide a heightened sense of stakes and engagement in the task.
Assessments should always be authentic and taking the extra step to make them as real-world as possible by utilising real data, problems and debates and connecting with real-life organisations can provide an even greater sense of experiential learning and immersion.
Replicate employment activities
A key aim of HE is preparing learners for the world of employment. With rapidly shifting workplace skills and tools, it is important that students have opportunities to engage with contemporary practice at the heart of their discipline in their formative development. The use of workplace tools can help students to feel more connected to their discipline and better prepared to join it. You could try:
- utilising work-based scenarios that allow students to practice activities that will be expected of them in the workplace, such as presenting, working to tight and changing deadlines and collaborating with others in teams
- utilising tools known to be used in the workplace such as MS Teams, collaborative documents, project planning/management tools, presentation software and spreadsheets
- inviting discipline representatives to review and provide feedback. You could arrange for a representative from industry/discipline to observe presentations or review group task outputs to provide their insights for authentic feedback.
Encouraging students to utilise these tools in their group work would simulate the work environment very closely and you could even create some real-world simulation by changing the goalposts of the task (gently) to see how students respond.
Get creative with storytelling
Storytelling within HE doesn’t suit all learning outcomes and can be a difficult activity for those who are new to it. However, consider some of the common formative and summative activities used in HE, such as critically appraising and reflecting on topics or debates, and there may be a place for storytelling as an alternative, more immersive approach. For example, you could try:
- asking students to tell a story about an experience they have had rather than reflecting on their opinion or knowledge of a topic
- asking students to write a story to share with their peers of their learning journey through a course or module rather than a discussion forum
- asking students to imagine they are someone else - a key figure at the centre of a topic or debate, an employee in a given scenario, or themselves in a situation they might not have found themselves in before - and to tell the story of the topic or debate through their eyes.
Through storytelling student can learn to be creative, widen their perspective and broaden the skills with which they can demonstrate their learning and understanding. For faculty, reading the stories of students can lead to greater insights than simple reflective tasks, essays or opinion pieces and can provide a welcome change to assessment for both.
Making it happen
These strategies do not require sophisticated technology, new platforms, or licences. They can be achieved through the formulation and description of learning activities utilising your institution’s VLE and digital learning tools. For more complex approaches, you may wish to seek out support from your learning technology advisors or IT teams to help with VLE set-up details.
The key to making it happen will be spending some time thinking about how the activities of a module or course can most closely resemble the real-world through the setting of tasks, scenarios and simulated experiences that challenge students and enhance the relevance and authenticity of learning.
Find out more about how Pearson supports immersive and authentic learning experiences:
- Simulations: Our online simulations enable students to step outside of their role as a learner and inhabit another role in order to learn. Learn more
- Beyond Labz: Move your physical labs online with Beyond Labz - a virtual lab simulation which provides a practical science lab experience to students, in a realistic and sophisticated setting. Learn more
Written by John Roberts, Online Learning Consultant, Pearson UK.
Flanagan, S. (2015) “How does storytelling within higher education contribute to the learning experience of early years students?”, The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 13(2-3), pp. 162- 184. doi: 10.1921/jpts.v13i2-3.822.
Immersivelearning.news. 2021. How can VR and AR transform higher education? – Immersive Learning News. [online]
Times Higher Education (THE). 2021. Immersive tech in the classroom is exciting, but is it necessary?. Times Higher Education [online]