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Maria C R Harrington, Dept. of Comput. Sci., Slippery Rock Univ., Slippery Rock, PA, USA
Over the past 20 years, there has been a debate on the effectiveness of virtual reality used for learning with young children, producing many ideas but little empirical proof. This empirical study compared learning activity in situ of a real environment (Real) and a desktop virtual reality (Virtual) environment, built with video game technology, for discovery-based learning. The experiences were in the form of two field trips featuring statistically identical wildflower reserves. While the results support that the Real is superior for learning activity, they also show that the Virtual is useful for priming and reinforcing in-curriculum material, or for situations when the real environment is inaccessible. Offering the Virtual first primes for learning activity in the Real; if used second, it reinforces the Real experience, as supporting evidence shows significant transfer effects. Thus, the Virtual may serve educational goals, if used appropriately, and can come close to the Real. As informal learning environments, such as field trips and video games, are accepted as motivational, an attitudinal survey was conducted postexperiences to capture motivational factors at play, to aid in comparison and contrast, and to provide context to the empirical results on learning activity in situ; however, more work is needed.

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Index Terms:
virtual reality,computer aided instruction,computer games,informal learning environments,virtual trillium trails,virtual reality used,learning activity,video game technology,discovery-based learning,Biological system modeling,Solid modeling,Software,Virtual environment,Games,Environmental factors,user interfaces.,Child-computer-environment interaction,child-computer interface,discovery-based learning,educational simulation,evaluation/methodology,serious games,human factors in software design,human-computer interaction,human information processing,informal learning,intrinsic learning,salient events,simulation,modeling,visualization,software psychology,virtual reality,user-centered design
Citation:
Maria C R Harrington, "Empirical Evidence of Priming, Transfer, Reinforcement, and Learning in the Real and Virtual Trillium Trails," IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 175-186, April-June 2011, doi:10.1109/TLT.2010.20
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