Immersive eLearning Environments: Why They Work

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

eLearning courses provide opportunity to create simulated learning environments, where learners can experiment safely and demonstrate skills. Immersive eLearning environments emotionally engage learners by adding verbal and nonverbal social cues to text.

While considering the differences between a classroom and an internship, my research focuses on reasons why organizations use simulations for employee training courses. The marketing language varies — situation-based, scenario-based, experiential, virtual eLearning environments — but here’s my definition:

An immersive eLearning environment demonstrates a job-related behavior that will reach a measurable goal (e.g., safety practices, increased sales, etc.) and provide only the necessary information essential to performing that behavioral activity.

Opponents might propose that ‘faux’ experience is a ‘detached’ form of traditional learning because interfaces make learners read and regurgitate information they can’t necessarily relate to their everyday lives. However, eLearning is not lipstick on a pig. Lessons are experiential and information is lifeless without examples. Simulated environments engage theory into behavioral reaction. A Stanford case study outlines ten benefits of interactive online characters making the Angelou quote above more than artistic. Some of the benefits include social cues that elicit emotional responses and as well as epitomize branding. People are more likely to trust characters using social etiquettes than anonymous sources of information like text.

I interviewed Elizabeth Miller, who has over 20 years’ experience in the education management industry, who explained how simulation builds a “recognizable space”. Miller was Executive Director for The Princeton Review where she managed teams that administer assessment programs. “Simulated environments,” Miller explained, “offer a ‘cognitive Velcro’ that allow new ideas to stick” reinforcing people’s background schema, our mental processes, and helps categorize and interpret the world.

Miller also referred to a study by Bersin & Associates in regards to digital characters’ ability to teach soft skills. Characters can make dry material interesting with voice inflections and body language.  Specifically, one of the case studies about Technology Solution Group reported that their goal is to teach IT professionals about bank auditing and FDIC regulations. “The biggest challenge they faced was making this dry, rule-filled information engaging and easy to understand.” The company used digital characters to act like co-workers that provide helpful on-the-job training. People should walk away from the experience saying, “This character understands me and knows my job. I can learn from this person.”   

In summary, a character wearing employee clothing within a workplace setting will resonate with learners that need to demonstrate a “behavioral goal.” Miller concluded “when learners actually step into their work environment they’re already cued.”

(Video courtesy of CodeBaby)

Cameron McNerney is responsible for researching and developing content for the CodeBaby blog. He has experience in public relations, having worked for companies in Colorado Springs and San Francisco. Cameron can be contacted with questions or comments via email: