Virtual reality gets students moving and learning by inspiring the senses

Immersive virtual reality is changing the way students think, comprehend, express themselves and create texts by using their whole bodies, according to ACU research.

A new study of 47 primary school students aged 10-11 found students’ senses were expanded through a much larger range of body movements when using VR technology, compared with those used during conventional writing and drawing.

“These movements activate the brain in ways that are very different to when students are seated at a desk and involves the orchestration of multiple senses for high learning engagement,” lead author Professor Kathy Mills, of ACU’s Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education (ILSTE), said.

“Children can be surrounded by multiple modes, like words, images and sounds, making a far more engaging environment than working only from textbooks at a desk, or viewing a screen at the front of a room from a desk.”

In the Australian Research Council-funded study published in Written Communication, students using VR equipment recorded a range of fine motor and larger movements of their heads, hands and feet while creating 3D digital paintings representing different moods using Google tilt brush.

The students were able to virtually walk inside their paintings, immersing their brains and bodies in their work. The technology has also been used by ACU researchers to bring history to life in schools, including through the exploration of Greek myths and the creation of Roman pottery.

Professor Mills, who led the study supported by fellow ACU researchers Associate Professor Laura Scholes and Alinta Brown, said the sensory nature of VR represented a significant shift away from traditional teaching of text creation and communication.

“In Australia, teachers from prep to year 12 are required by the national curriculum to help students communicate using multiple modes – images, words, music, and movement,” she said.

“Our research has shown the important benefits for immersive learning using or making simulations that support students to create narratives, to show their knowledge of history and culture, and to communicate their ideas in three dimensions.”

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