16 Ways to Increase Student Motivation with XR

Written by JC Gonzalez

Instructors at all levels struggle with ways to increase student motivation. Each year, more people are buying VR headsets for entertainment while the technology remains an untapped resource at every level of the education system. We often fail to realize that when it comes to motivating students, we should begin by understanding what students enjoy. 

One thing we learned from the fast shift everyone was forced to make thanks to COVID-19, was that students adapt quickly. A McKinsey & Company survey found “88 percent of students believe AR/VR will make learning more entertaining.” Now that most learners and instructors have adapted to online teaching, it’s time to look forward as education technology continues to evolve. 

Extended reality, XR for short, will change how we educate and train learners around the world. XR is made up of three discrete technologies: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). 

As technology evolves, XR will become more prevalent in our everyday lives. The technology is already here and using it can help you increase your students’ motivation. Here are 17 ways to increase student motivation with XR. 

Increase student motivation through the excitement of virtual reality
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No. 1: Use the Excitement of VR to Your Advantage

VR in Gaming

The initial public push of virtual reality decades ago revolved around gaming and movies. This hooked many young people then and it did so again with the new generation of virtual reality. 

The difference today is dramatic compared to what was possible 50 years ago in the early stages of VR. The graphics and sound are stronger, which opens games up to imaginative storytelling because there are few visual and aural limitations. 

The biggest change is the networking capabilities of today. Gaming is not something you do alone in your room against “the computer.” Today, gaming is a social event where people from all over the world can play as if they were in the same place. 

The most popular video games can earn more than movie blockbusters. For example, Marketwatch reports Grand Theft Auto V has earned over $6 billion. Add virtual reality and you have an exciting environment that feels almost real. 

Gaming is key to VR, Gaming is used in education, VR gamification can be used to increase student motivation
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Gaming in Learning

While video game detractors had loud voices as gaming grew, now we’re seeing the benefits that come from growing up with video games. Study International lists three key benefits, the first of which is improving cognitive abilities. 

“[Gaming] provides a host of benefits to your brain. Some of these include: enhanced visual processing, quick thinking and response, efficiency in neural processing, and increased creativity.”

The education community has taken note of these benefits and is already adopting it to boost student motivation. Children in kindergarten and first grade are learning on tablets using apps that treat homework like a game. In higher ed, schools are adding gamification to their student apps

Learners Are Excited by the Possibilities of VR

One of the biggest buzzwords of 2021 was “metaverse.” The metaverse is the concept of each of us entering the internet and navigating it as a real place to explore rather than one to search and view through a computer monitor. 

If learners are excited by VR, then instructors can take advantage of that very excitement and introduce VR into their lessons in small amounts. For example, students can visit National Geographic and experience 360-degree videos discussing several areas of interest. One video brings students to a coral reef and shows them its beauty. It also educates students on the problem coral reefs face due to the effects of climate change. 

No. 2: Minimize Passive Learning to Increase Motivation

The Problem with Passive Learning

Chances are if you’re reading this, a large portion of your own education included passive learning. This is when you sit in a classroom listening and watching the instructor as they share the information you’re expected to learn. You likely also have a textbook and other supporting reading material to help support the lecture. 

Passive learning is partially to blame for a lack of motivation
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The trouble with this method of learning is that once the lesson or section is over, traditionally marked by an exam, you are likely to forget the material. This is why when a final exam comes up, you have to again study all the material that was covered throughout the term. 

Memorization Is Not Learning

For years, the focus was on grades. This is how we measured learning. What we’ve seen as the skills gap has grown is that the focus has shifted to retention and better ways of learning. Ensuring students retain what they learn and finding ways to measure their retention is key. 

Passive learning falls short because the human brain is not designed to learn this way. According to the CPD Certification Center, learners retain about 5% of what they hear in a lecture, 10% of what they read, and 20% of what they may watch in a video. If you’re only using passive teaching methods, your students may remember 35% of the material covered in an entire term. And if that is all students can remember, it’s no surprise motivation is low.

XR is Not Passive

Even if a student is only standing or sitting in place while watching a video in VR, they are no longer passively learning. Students are immersed in the environment presented by the video. They turn around in any direction and interact with the environment as the video plays on. 

The exciting experience of VR leaves learners amazed by the possibilities and eager to learn
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Immersive lessons may include buttons or other markers students can select to get additional information. Learners can move through lessons like actual rooms in a house rather than sitting in place listening. The active learning benefits of XR are sure to increase student motivation.

XR learning involves all senses and teaches through experience. At Edstutia, we call this the “learn by doing” method or experiential learning. Studies from Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience in the 60s to more recent teacher experiences show learners retain up to 90% of the material they pick up by actually putting that material into use. 

No. 3: Take Students to Faraway Places

Geology and Astronomy

If you’ve ever taken a geology or astronomy class, it probably included explanations of the different layers of the Earth’s crust or how the universe is ever-expanding. But as a student, explaining striations in a classroom with pictures from a book or video is not the same as taking your class to the Grand Canyon or the Pilbara region in Australia. 

The same can be said for astronomy. Wouldn’t it be great to take your class into space to show them how far it expands? You could perhaps put students on the surface of the moon so they can see planet Earth from a new vantage point. This would certainly increase motivation but it’s impossible, or is it?

Increase student motivation by taking your class to faraway places, like the surface of the moon
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Let XR Transport Students

Thanks to XR, you can motivate your students by taking them places where they can see things first-hand or bring the examples to them. You can use VR to take students to the Grand Canyon and have them look at the striations themselves. Students at Princeton tried such field trips earlier this year. 

Another way to bring science classes to life would be to use AR to bring what seems impossible right into the classroom. Students could use their own devices to get a 360-degree view of our moon and explore the damage it’s taken from meteors throughout time. Instructors can use AR to present anatomy, extinct animals, and different types of plants from around the world. 

No. 4: Provide Vital Information Visually Upon Request

XR goes beyond virtual reality to create an environment of both digital and physical objects. Because of XR, we can create a place for students to interact with various objects that provide information upon request. This blending of the physical and digital that responds upon command is a great way to increase student motivation.

AR creates a blending of physical and digital visuals for a unique experience without having to leave the physical world
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At Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, visitors walk through the exhibit hall wearing Hololens headsets for a unique experience. As they reach or select specific markers throughout the exhibit, visitors see the animals of old come to life right before their eyes.  

No. 5: Create a Safe Space for Mistakes

The Effects of Tests

Learners of all ages get nervous before a test and some develop debilitating test anxiety. Students view tests as a judgment on their intelligence and something others can use against them to make them feel inferior. Those feelings make learning a negative experience, and can zap motivation. 

A Space Without Judgment

Virtual reality experiences that learners can complete privately provide a safe space for learning through trial and error. Old methods of teaching would say guessing or getting an answer wrong meant failure. 

In a VR environment, getting it wrong is encouraged. It simply means you get to try again until the lesson makes sense. 

XR provides a safe place to make mistakes until you get it right
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Applies to Many Subjects

Best of all, this way of learning applies to multiple subjects and lessons. Through trial and error students can learn STEM material, recognize attributes unique to specific painters, and improve their social skills. They can even guide a plane to a safe landing! 

Learners can be wrong and learn at their pace without hurting their grade, feeling embarrassed, or putting lives at risk. 

No. 6: Make Team Activities Students Actually Enjoy

Both instructors and learners understand the importance of team activities. Incorporating teamwork into school was an attempt to increase student motivation.

Unfortunately, the average group activity for learners feels like a chore. Some learners feel like they carry others or feel unprepared for the role they must play in the assignment.

Thanks to VR, group activities can take different shapes. Consider an escape room consisting of questions from a recent lesson or focused on math problems covered in the term. 

Increase motivation with team activities learners actually want to complete
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You may be able to create a 3D puzzle using XR requiring students to build their section on their screen. In this case, each student has a task of equal value to reach a common goal, much like they may encounter at their future jobs. 

One key takeaway from an article from Inside Higher Ed is to remember that what matters in a group project is what was learned along the way and not what is turned in for a grade. 

Use XR to go into the field before you actually go into the field
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No. 7: Put Students in Real-Life Situations

One area of teaching that has fallen short for years, especially in higher education, is the emphasis on theory over real-world practice. College students should experience their future places of work early as students rather than at the tail-end of their education. Business students should understand manufacturing supply chains. The list goes on and on. 

Through XR, you have the ability to give your students real-life experiences early on. One example of this is ExxonMobil. In their training programs, aspiring technicians are transported to off-shore oil pumps to inspect and deal with the very real problems they may encounter on the job. 

Another example is the fire department. using the FLAIM system, students get a real fire experience complete with pressurized hose and appropriately weighted equipment. Learners understand what they encounter as they learn so that when they are on the job, they won’t be surprised by the first call and feel unprepared. 

No. 8: Replace Homework with Practice

Most students start to hate homework early on in their education journey. Homework means their school responsibilities follow them home. 74% of teenage students cited homework as a source of stress according to the Better Sleep Council. 

It's easier to get motivated when you think of homework as practice
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Practice, however, does not have the same effect as the word homework. Practice makes perfect. Athletes tout the hours of practice necessary to reach the levels of fame and glory they’ve achieved. 

Practice feels like you’re doing something in order to achieve results. Most importantly, practice is an activity, not a chore. Practice can consist of VR experiences for students to complete at home. 

Use Headsets at Home

There’s a good chance young students have a VR headset at home they use for gaming. It may be theirs, a parent’s, or just someone else in the same floor of a dorm if they’re in college. 

Instead of assigning homework, assign practice activities to complete in VR. This could include videos, short quizzes designed as mini-escape rooms or journeys. You may not even need to design anything yourself as there are companies focused on this very aspect of VR.

XR increases motivation by making the impossible seem possible
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No. 9: Increase Student Motivation by Engaging All Senses

XR Engages All the Senses?

While in VR, you hear and see the virtual environment. You can also touch the objects within it and if wearing the right equipment, can feel touch as well. According to Sensorium XR, “virtual reality is capable of generating realistic images and sounds that engage a user’s five senses in a virtual world, much like in real life.”

Use the Senses to Motivate Students

Extended reality is about the blend of the physical and digital and in this way, all senses can be engaged. Maximize a blended reality to engage students and increase their motivation. Blend physical examples with XR to create a more captivating lesson. 

No. 10: Offer Independence and Autonomy

Studies show that one key to motivation is the feeling of control. Learners are more likely to get involved in a lesson if they feel it’s in their control and not thrust upon them without choice. XR lessons give instructors the ability to capture data so you’ll always know when tasks are completed and if students are engaged. 

40% of students today are also working and need a level of independence in their projects
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At the same time, if you provide more open deadlines to the tasks and let students complete them on their own, students will be more motivated. This is most important in higher education, where 40% of students are juggling school and work. 

No. 11: Instill Confidence in Tech Adoption

People sometimes refuse new technology for fear it will take time away from what you already know or that it will make things more complicated. Because XR technology has a short learning curve, you can use it to give students confidence that they can and should adopt new technology. 

School-Age Students

Some young learners will have access to AR technology through phone apps or even have a VR headset at home. Others may not have the resources for technology at home. Offering the technology in class makes it even for everyone. 

Students don’t need to compare models with each other or worry about not having the equipment in the first place. Once these initial hurdles are bypassed, students will gain confidence and feel motivated to jump into XR lessons. 

While younger learners are more likely to have already experienced virtual reality, the technology is reaching across various age groups
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Adult Learners

Adulthood is when people adopt a “set in their ways” type of mentality. The more professional experience some gain, the less likely they are to want to disrupt the workflow they’ve developed. 

This mindset has consistently proven detrimental to adults. It can permanently damage a person’s career or even make you obsolete. After all, experts believe half of the workforce will need to be reskilled by 2025

No. 12: Encourage Inclusivity and Diversity

Businesses across nearly every industry today have recognized the importance of building, encouraging, and celebrating inclusive and diverse teams. Only through inclusivity and diversity can companies deliver accurate messaging and manufacture the right future-facing products. 

In XR, the ability to create unique avatars go a long way to making individuals feel seen and heard. Avatars are also replacing the “hero” character, where you are assigned a look, person, or name. Instead, you create your online person to match who you are, creating realistic diversity in the metaverse that didn’t exist in previous iterations of gaming or training. 

Short game breaks are a great way to increase student motivation
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No. 13: Use Game Breaks to Keep Students Motivated

The VR space entered the consumer world through gaming. Students today understand how to interact with VR and AR because of their experience with gaming as digital natives. According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, learners today are spending up to an hour and a half per day playing video games on various platforms. 

If gaming is such a major part of youth today, why not embrace it? While results from studies vary, it’s believed the average person can concentrate on a single task for up to 90 minutes. Consider introducing a short game break in your lessons to keep students motivated.  

Is your lecture 90 minutes? You can pause after 40 minutes or so for a five-minute brain-training game. The whole class could be on one field where the scores are kept. This break will only cost you five minutes but will keep the class fresh and motivated for the second half of the session. 

VR immersion also keeps students focused on the task at hand
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No. 14: Increase Motivation with Healthy Competition

Enhance VR is only one example of a game you can use to create friendly class competitions. Instructors can set these up as individual or team games specifically made to boost student motivation. Winners at the end of the week can receive a prize, like a pass on an upcoming quiz. 

Since points in games are based on both performance and participation, learners who struggle but spend time on the games are still valuable to the team score. 

No. 15: Provide a Healthy Escape

There are times when students prefer to be anywhere other than school, or home, or wherever they may be taking a remote course. This is your opportunity to create a healthy escape. 

Your sessions don’t need to be, and maybe shouldn’t be held in a virtual classroom. Why limit yourself that way when a virtual lesson can take place in a park, next to a waterfall, or in space on floating cushions? The latter option can be found on the Edstutia campus

There is no better way to bring textbooks to life than using XR technology
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No. 16: Bring Textbooks to Life

How many of you remember being in a class that expected you to read five chapters of a textbook within a week in advance of a test or even just a lecture? This is passive learning at its most tedious.

XR gives you the ability to leave the textbooks behind in the physical world, while instructors take students for a ride through the content of the textbooks. This is when learning becomes fun again and student motivation increases. 

The Education Outlook offers several examples of using VR to enhance the textbook experience. These include: 

  • A Mars field trip
  • Museum tours
  • Looking inside a human brain

Increase Student Motivation Wrap-Up

XR technology is the best way to increase student motivation today. It’s new and exciting, promotes an independent spirit while also teaching the value of teamwork. Best of all, it brings students into the lesson so they can learn by experience and not memorization alone. 

Edstutia’s Instructor Certification in XR (ICXR) prepares instructors of all levels and areas of teaching to use emerging technologies in their programs. Learn more about how Edstutia can help you provide an immersive, engaging experience for your students.