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  • Growing the evidence for "what works" in Immersive Learning

    The field of Immersive Learning is emerging out of research in Computer Science, Game Design, UX, the Learning Sciences, and all areas for applying Immersive Learning in context.  The iLRNetwork calls all immersive learning researchers to apply their diverse expertise to participate in the design, development, and growth of the body of evidence around "what works" for Immersive Learning.

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    1. Immersion

      1. Many scholars assume an intuitive understanding of the concept of “immersion”, without even citing a definition [1]. This intuitive understanding was originally expressed by Murray’s analogy to being submerged in water, a “sensation of being surrounded by a completely other reality” [2]. Scholars across technology-centered fields of study have adopted this perspective and developed it into two main theoretical views, both employed by diverse groups of authors. The first is the concept of immersion as an attribute, quality, or characteristic of a technological system [3]. The second view focuses on the participants’ response to being surrounded or submerged [4]. However, outside the field of technology, and prior to its preoccupation with immersion, other fields have been discussing this topic: learning sciences, psychology, literature studies, the arts, etc. These fields discussed how narratives, engagement, psychological flow and other factors have contributed to immersion as a phenomenon [5]. Over 20 years have passed since the two technological-centered theoretical views debuted, yet the scholarly activity in the field of immersive learning research has neither embraced a definition nor combined it with the concurrent non-technological views. In the field of cognitive science, Slater may have come the closest by acknowledging the role of narrative, not just the technology attributes [3]. This fragmented perspective on immersion is reflected in the current literature reviews published in the field, with many of them simply selecting a definition without explanation, evidence, or critical appraisal [1], often intertwined or synonymous with other concepts such as presence, involvement, flow and engagement [5]. This has short-circuited the impact of the reviews as they have not been successful in bridging theoretical perspectives on immersion with current research results, and thus have not been able to highlight the gap in the existing research: Many do not even cite other previous reviews [6].

      2. More recently there have been significant efforts to develop a comprehensive definition of immersion. The research team of Nilsson and colleagues from Denmark performed an exhaustive, interdisciplinary review of the definitions of immersion in order to develop a three-dimensional taxonomy, which they illustrate with the “immersion cube” diagram [5]. The immersion cube provides a theoretical structure for understanding immersion in three different dimensions: system immersion, narrative immersion, and challenge-based immersion. The experienced immersion is thus understood as the nexus of these dimensions. The cube can be used to measure and visually display an interpretation of immersion as varying levels of the three dimensions. The system immersion dimension reflects the properties of the system, which comprises Slater’s definition [9] and simultaneously highlights it as unidimensional. The narrative immersion dimension reflects the “degree of mental absorption or intense preoccupation with the story, the diegetic space, and the characters inhabiting this space” (id., p. 114). This highlights content-based immersion (system and narrative) as bidimensional. Finally, challenge-based immersion reflects “a user’s mental absorption brought about by the experience of challenges requiring mental or sensorimotor skills” (p. 116). This extrudes the agency of the immersed as an essential dimension of the immersion phenomenon.

      3. These dimensions comprise the diversity of other aspects employed in the field. For instance, challenge-based immersion includes aspects such as what Adams [7] described as strategic immersion (optimization of choices, rather than meaning, e.g., focusing on winning a game rather than following the storyline) and tactical immersion, which occurs when attention is absorbed reacting to obstacles or enjoyment – an interpretation which is extremely like Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow [8]. Presence is another major parallel concept related to immersion. Described as the feeling of “being there” [8], this psychological state is more extensive than that. Alternative views include Lombard and Ditton’s [9] definition of presence as the perception of non-mediation, Biocca’s [10] contribution of presence as arising from a mental imagery space, Slater [11] and Waterworth & Waterworth’s attentional perspective on presence as emphasis on perception of stimuli [12], and Riva et al.’s [13] view of presence as a biological and cultural mechanic for self-making sense of sensorial input. Nilsson et al. [5] discussed how these four views on presence are related to the three dimensions of system, narrative, and challenge-based immersion. Slater’s emphasis on measurability of presence maps to the concept of system immersion, for instance; the self-making from sensory input is related to the combined dimensions of challenge-based immersion and narrative immersion. The three-dimensional view of immersion integrates these diverse perspectives on presence, from an alternative theoretical viewpoint.

      4. Although Nillson and colleagues provided this clarity towards our understanding of immersion, they did not define it. That pragmatic contribution was provided by Agrawal, Simon, and Bech [14], who although without being aware of Nillson et al.’s work did reach an identical conclusion from the extant literature and synthesized it as “a phenomenon experienced by an individual when (...) in a state of deep mental involvement in which (...) cognitive processes (...) cause a shift in (...) attentional state such that one may experience disassociation from the awareness of the physical world” (p. 5). Their definition thus supplies a practical component to complement the immersion cube taxonomic framework. Thus, the ontological roots of the Knowledge Tree include both Agrawal et al.’s definition and Nilsson et al.’s immersion cube.


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