Using XR in Instructional Design to Maximize Engagement and Retention

Written by Madisyn Villamil

Many learning design professionals are now using XR in instructional design to maximize engagement and retention. The immersive, distraction-free environment that XR provides creates the perfect scenario for active learning experiences, which have been shown to outperform traditional, passive learning experiences. 

Instructional designers must leverage the benefits of XR to maximize engagement and retention and reduce scrap learning. In this article, we’ll dive into the importance of engagement and retention and the many advantages immersive learning offers and finish with seven tips for using XR in instructional design to maximize engagement and retention.

What is Extended Reality?

Extended reality (XR) is revolutionizing the way we perceive and interact with digital content. XR is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of immersive technologies, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and 360-degree video. 

Augmented Reality

AR overlays digital elements onto the real world and enhances our field of view with interactive elements like moving text and 3D models. 

Virtual Reality

VR transports users into an entirely new, virtual environment using a VR headset. This total immersion captures learners’ full attention and can make them feel like they are in an entirely new world. 

Mixed Reality

MR combines both elements of VR and AR to create a unique experience we are only starting to explore. 

360-Degree Video

Finally, 360-degree video offers viewers a panoramic view of real or simulated environments where they can explore content from all angles.

Importance of Engagement and Retention in Instructional Design

Engagement and retention are top-of-mind when designing a learning experience. Maximizing them ensures learners not only grasp the new information but can effectively recall and apply it in the real world. 

Engaged learners are more motivated to perform well, participate, and experiment. The result is a deeper understanding of the material. Being engaged puts learners in the driver’s seat and allows them to take charge of their learning journey.

Retention ensures the knowledge and skills acquired during training are retained in long-term memory so that learners can effectively apply them in the future. Scrap learning refers to the information learners consume during training that they will not retain or apply. Instructional designers aim to reduce scrap learning at all costs and design learning experiences that lead to higher memory recall.

The XR Advantage

XR presents a compelling use case for instructional designers looking to enhance engagement and retention. One of the key advantages of XR is its experiential and immersive nature. In VR, for example, learners are completely cut off from the real world’s distractions and placed in an active learning experience. They no longer passively receive information but must look in all directions, move, interact with elements, and make choices.

The hands-on approach that XR offers helps participants learn by doing rather than learn by listening or watching. This leads to improved learning outcomes like higher engagement and efficiency. VR leaders are four times more focused than their e-learning peers, according to a recent study by PwC.

VR simulations provide a safe space for skills practice. This is especially true in industries where mistakes are costly or life-threatening. Learners can focus on learning instead of worrying about embarrassing or costly errors. 

Total immersion in the learning experience can also contribute to a higher emotional connection to the learning content. The same PwC study found VR learners were 3.75x more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners. An unforgettable learning experience helps learners retain and apply their skills in real life. 

7 Tips for Maximizing Engagement and Retention with XR

Now that we’ve explored the benefits of using XR in instructional design to maximize engagement and retention, here are our seven tips for integrating XR into your learning design.

1. Connect Learning Objectives to Business Objectives

As with any learning design strategy, connecting the learning objectives to your business objectives is essential. This is especially relevant when integrating XR into a training or development program.

Getting caught up in VR’s “wow factor” can be easy. Learners also want to see the direct relevance of what they’re learning to their daily job tasks or career goals, increasing their motivation and engagement. 

For example, if your organization’s customer service rating is decreasing lately, and employees are struggling to overcome challenging customer situations, simulations would allow them to practice, receive real-time coaching and feedback, and correct mistakes. This experience directly relates to the company’s objective of increasing its customer service rating.

2. Use XR Where Learning by Doing is Most Beneficial

Identifying the right situation to integrate XR will enhance learning outcomes. Evaluate your current training programs or the programs you’d like to develop and see where learning by doing would be the most beneficial.

For instance, simulations may benefit training on complex machinery operations and dangerous procedures. Instead of reading a manual or watching someone else perform a task, going through it step-by-step in VR allows learners to practice such complex tasks early in the learning process without fearing mistakes. Learners can repeat the steps until they feel comfortable enough to do them in real life.

3. Design Impactful VR Simulations

VR simulations offer learners an immersive way to apply their knowledge and skills. Employees can practice problem-solving, decision-making, and critical thinking in scenarios that mimic on-the-job situations. 

Simulations should present learners with challenges that are present on the job. Ensure learners can complete the simulations at their own pace and repeat as many times as needed so they can retain as much information as possible. 

Incorporate branching scenarios where choices will affect the outcome. This adds another level of complexity and realism to the simulation, enabling learners to reflect on their decisions and consequences.

Let’s say you want to add a simulation to your Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) training programs. You could design a simulation where the learner witnesses a coworker being constantly interrupted or patronized during a meeting. 

Branching scenarios could allow the learner to select responses throughout the simulation. The meeting’s outcome changes with the learner’s responses. As the learner repeats the exercise, they learn the skills and techniques to become a champion of inclusivity. 

4. Gamification 

One of the most exciting and engaging opportunities XR offers is the gamification of the learning experience. With gamification, employees can learn and have fun at the same time. Some of the ways you can incorporate this into your instructional design include:

  • Giving points and creating scoring systems
  • Allowing participants to customize elements of their learning experience
  • Timing learners and designing competitions
  • Rewarding the employee with the fastest or most accurate performance
  • Using challenging simulations

Regardless of how old we are, most of us enjoy friendly competition. Gamification using XR technologies can make the learning experience more joyful and memorable and even strengthen team members’ connections. 

5. Guided learning

As you design an XR learning experience, providing learners with clear guidance is crucial. Some learners may be entirely new to XR technology. Make sure the steps of the learning experience are clear and ease the learners into the technology. For example, when designing a VR simulation or learning module, you can incorporate pop-ups that explain what to do next and how to interact with the environment. 

Keeping guided learning in mind ensures learners feel comfortable and empowered to explore their surroundings. When rolling out any new technology in your training programs, you should guide your learners in mastering it.

6. Incorporate Real-Time Coaching and Feedback

XR creates the perfect space to incorporate real-time coaching and feedback, especially when it comes to soft skills training, like practicing delivering negative feedback or navigating high-stakes conversations. Role plays can even be recorded and played back so learners can review their performance. They can observe their tone, non-verbal cues, and the quality of their responses. 

As part of Edstutia’s VR-enhanced learning module, Mindful Leadership, learners practice delivering negative feedback to an employee via a VR role play and receive real-time coaching and feedback to improve their skills. 

7. Evaluate Learning Outcomes and Make Improvements

One of the most important things to do during and after rolling out your XR-enhanced learning experiences is to evaluate learning outcomes and make improvements. With VR, instructional designers and instructors can gather data on learners’ engagement, performance, retention, and more through real-time dashboard insights.

You can leverage this data to identify areas where improvements should be made in the learning experience. The ongoing evaluation and improvement process ensures the XR-enhanced learning experience you designed is effective and impactful. You can also conduct qualitative surveys to incorporate learner feedback into the refinement process.

Wrap-Up: Using XR in Instructional Design to Maximize Engagement and Retention

Learning design professionals are using XR in instructional design to maximize engagement and retention. XR offers a uniquely immersive and distraction-free environment for experiential learning, leading to improved learning outcomes.

Edstutia’s Instructor Certification in XR course helps L&D professionals, instructional designers, trainers, and more, learn about XR technologies and how to leverage them to deliver impactful training. Learn more about ICXR and sign up for our next cohort to learn how to use XR to maximize engagement and retention in your organization.