Monday, August 7, 2017

Virtual Reality Makes Our Stories Even More Real - Tip #144

Virtual Reality (VR) is quickly becoming the next great medium. It is a medium by which its users are transported into other worlds, times, and spaces. The medium, in a sense, tricks the brain into thinking it is experiencing many different senses making it possible for users to experience places or something that they might not otherwise experience. Why does VR promise to impact our lives as uniquely as other mediums such as literature, radio, television, the movies, and the internet? What does it have in common to these other mediums and why can we relate it to storytelling?

“It is a deeply personal experience”

VR is just that; a personal experience that is able to expand a user’s perception and suspend belief. It lights up our senses and makes the imaginable real. Though each of the mediums mentioned above had made a lasting effect on the way in which we live and function globally today, VR activates the mind in a completely different way. Just as a good book relies on the language centers of our brains, music relies on the sound systems of our brains, both are limited to their specific communicative realm. VR does something different. It does rely greatly on the visual and sound centers of the brain, but not more so than a television show or movie that stands as a well-produced and coherent sensory experience. What VR achieves is absolute immersion.
So how does it relate to storytelling?

When we are truly immersed into something, there appears to be no separation between the user and the experience. There is no storyteller. Our experience is no different than if we had actually lived that experience ourselves. Our emotional and physical responses would be no different from our response in the real world.
This is why VR is so effective and what it shares with other life-changing mediums. The more we are immersed in the story, engaging as many senses as we can, the more we both experience and desire it. How do we then bring this concept into how we develop training and learning?

Step away from traditional storytelling and into the future

We all love a good story. We sit passively and watch, listen, or both to someone’s retelling of events and experiences. It has been proven to be a successful learning strategy that has increased engagement, recall, and retention of concepts. In my blog, “Can you Explain the “Fiscal Cliff Crisis” to an Eight year old?” I summarize a study completed by Lonnie Bryant and Renard Harris, stating:

“By incorporating a storytelling presentation, results from student performance reveal that a significant proportion of students have an increased recollection of the material covered. It was also found that this positive outcome was not related to the type of class but rather the increased interest in the lecture.”
What is interesting is that the use of storytelling was really in a “traditional storytelling” sense and it garnered positive results. Learners can understand and identify with the story, however, cannot be truly immersed in the experience. Why? It goes back to the VR world and how it essentially takes out the “go between” and injects the participant fully. How then, can we utilize storytelling as a completely immersive experience within our development practices?

Say goodbye to the go-between

Infuse the learner as the creator of the story. Think back; do you remember a time when you hurt yourself?
  • What were you doing before getting hurt?
  • What happened that caused you to hurt yourself?
  • Where were you?
  • What did you see? What did you smell? What did you hear?
  • How did your body respond? What were you thinking, feeling, or experiencing?
  • Who or what was around you?
  • What can you compare the pain to?
  • How and when did you get out of the situation?
  • What will you always remember?

Could you feel this event like it happened yesterday? Did your body begin to echo how it felt? Did you begin to connect emotionally? This is how we are immersed in a story, engaged, and at times, moved.
Say hello to the new learner experience

Learners can be immersed into the content through storytelling when they become part of the story. The only way to really engage the learner in this multi-sensory way is to have them as creators of the story. It is ingrained into our neurological system that when we recall most events, our bodies physically respond in the manner in which the event was experienced. Recall is multisensory. It stimulates an emotional connection and can lead to the moment of full immersion.

We achieve this by creating periods within our storytelling where we pause and let learners connect by allowing them to infuse their own connections to the story. Not all of the story is given, just enough to have learners pursue themselves in the story to shape the path toward that moment of full immersion.


We improve the opportunity for learning when we engage our learners into the fully immersive experience that storytelling must offer by giving space for them to be creators of the story. From the learner’s perspective, when the story is no longer yours and becomes my story - I am fully immersed in that experience; therefore, I learn.

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Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

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