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Article by: Simon Lesné

Publishing Date: 9th March 2022

The psychology of retaining information

In the late 19th century, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus demonstrated how people retain information and named his hypothesis the ‘forgetting curve’. He stated that in traditional learning environments such as classrooms, the average learner will forget half of the information received within the first hour.

A day later, this number is up to 70%, and without any repetition of the lesson, close to 90% of the information is gone from our memory after a month. This theory still holds true today, as shown in the recent State of Learning report[1] from online learning provider Cerego, which found similar numbers in a study they conducted with their online students.

To overcome this disadvantage inherent to our brains, researchers have looked into the role played by emotions in our recollection of events and facts, and several studies[2] have highlighted the fact that we remember more of a situation when strong emotions were associated with it. One of the key feature of virtual reality is its ability to trick our brains into thinking it evolves in the real world, narrowing the gap between the subject and the medium it interacts with.

This immersion allows for a broader range of experiences where our senses and emotions are triggered in a believable way. This has been used in clinical environments in what was called therapy fear, where patients exposed to various threatening situations related to a phobia reported feelings of anxiety similar to those they experience in real conditions. The control over the environment that VR offers allowed for repeated sessions in a safe environment where patients were able to learn to overcome their fear at a faster pace than with traditional therapy[3].

Virtual learning and gamification

Digital game-based learning has been growing rapidly since the democratisation of computers and mobile devices, and virtual reality devices have already yield promising results in a vast array of VR training situations and social experiments, from helping professional athletes reach their potential[4], to demonstrating the positive effects of virtual reality simulations on the empathy, behaviour and awareness of the learners regarding endangered species or natural environments[5].

Where virtual reality shines in comparison to its digital counterparts, it is in its ability to replicate any situation or environment while placing the learner at the centre of the stage, free to navigate and interact with the virtual world almost as they would in real life. It provides a credible reproduction of a real-world simulation that can be adjusted to fit the training goal and coupled with game mechanics to keep the learner engaged: constraints of speed, of complexity, scoring system, social competition…

This freedom and control from the subject on the exploration of its environment has the advantage of enhancing visual memory compared to a two-dimensional medium[6], as well as being able to develop a muscle memory of an action that could reveal difficult or expensive to artificially reproduce solely for training purposes.

The same mechanisms can be applied in a learning environment using game-based learning, a method that combines educational content with game mechanics, helping the learners stay engaged with the content and motivated by the constant feedback loop that games create.

Costs and the potential for vr training

According to the latest Training Industry Report[7] which looks at the training expenditures of US companies of various sizes, the average cost of training for large companies was above $22,000,000 (€20,000,000) in 2020, and growing.

VR training has a wide range of potential applications across all fields of work, and the Industrial Design Consultancy expects the sector to contribute €260 billion to the global economy by the end of the decade, putting it at the forefront of the new technologies in the training and educational field.

Virtual Reality has the potential to offer efficient, adaptable and cost-effective training to a growing number of companies at a cost that keeps declining as the technology improves and the devices gain in popularity and performance.

Sources:

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