How VR redefines learning experiences

VR offers the potential to redefine the learning experience. Reece Webb speaks with Allègre Hadida on the role that the technology is playing at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Learning is all about pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers, a mindset that is at the forefront of Allègre Hadida’s teaching style.

As an associate professor in strategy at Cambridge Judge Business School, Hadida’s research focuses on strategy and decision-making in volatile environments, taking a keen interest in creativity and improvisation in business.

Hadida also spoke at the LTSMG Conference in May 2023 and is a fellow of Magdalene College and the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the Centre for Film and Screen and a partner of the Cambridge Heritage Research Centre, University of Cambridge.

Hadida explains: “As many business school professors, I’ve been using case studies for my entire career. It’s the most common way that we teach in business schools. We give out a written case study for the students and executive education delegates to read and we debrief the case in the classroom. That requires heavy preparation beforehand, with some cases being 20+ pages long, participants have to come prepared to discuss the case.

“Sometimes, they don’t have the time. Especially for executive education delegates who are on programmes but also running their businesses at the same time, it becomes very difficult to read the cases and engage with the material. Cases are amazing, but it is a little bit of an artificial ask to put themselves in the shoes of the case’s protagonist and make decisions.”

As a forward thinker, Hadida began to search for alternative methods that could allow learners to empathise with the protagonist in a case, instead of approaching a resolution from a theoretical, abstract perspective. For this purpose, Hadida began to experiment with virtual reality systems.

“I was introduced to VR teaching in business school at the Strategic Management Society conference in London in September 2022”, says Hadida, “I spoke to a friend of mine from INSEAD [a leading global business school] who said that they had started a new pedagogical initiative and that they wanted me to be part of it.

“I was completely sold immediately. VR learning doesn’t require participants to prepare beforehand, unless you [the faculty] want them to. They come in [and become] completely immersed, they become the protagonist. The best VR simulations will give options to the participant, and they will decide to go to a particular room or visit a particular site, and that allows you to have several participants having different experiences. You introduce asymmetry of information, bring the learners out of the VR world and back into the classroom discussion where they can share their own unique perspectives which immediately enriches the learning experience.”

"What I love about virtual reality from a research perspective is that you are creating a full-scale, benign behavioural lab." - Allègre Hadida

Virtual reality applications have found a home in the world of education, especially for emergency services and medical personnel, such as surgeons, who are able to practice ad-nauseum and make critical mistakes in the learning process without real world consequences.

For Hadida, these simulations of real-life business use cases offer learners an opportunity to experience simulations with a degree of empathy that is difficult, or in some cases, impossible to achieve from written materials and seminars.

Hadida explains: “One of the major areas that I see virtual reality applications in business school settings is in the teaching of ethics and JEDI [justice, equality, diversity and inclusion]. For instance, if you ask a group of people if they would treat a male or female CEO differently, then they would likely say that they would not. If you put them in a JEDI virtual reality simulation, then their body language and ‘heat maps’ cannot cheat, they are factual. This has a massive learning impact when you put people in front of their own contradictions, we can share this data privately with the learners and tell them what happened with their own movements during the simulation.”

The applications for virtual reality go far beyond offering a new use case for interacting with learning materials. With VR, researchers can conduct studies that, if conducted on the street or a controlled environment, would warrant enormous cost, time and labour.

“This has a massive impact, as we have people walking out of the classroom [with greater awareness of biases]”, says Hadida, “What I love about virtual reality from a research perspective is that you are creating a full-scale, benign behavioural lab. You can collect data on the body language and decisions of participants, coupled with interviews or questionnaires of participants afterwards. It doesn’t stop at teaching, you build observations every time you debrief a particular simulation or VR case, that can be used to advance our knowledge on certain issues as well.”

Hadida worked closely with AVRIS and the INSEAD Immersive Learning Initiative; AVRIS co-founder Alon Epstein came to Cambridge and ran 1:1 discussions with faculty and staff, demonstrating how VR could be used in a business school environment. Hadida ran two pilot sessions with executive education participants and MBA students, with 25 participants in each group. Each group was run with a unique use case per group, engaging participants in different ways.

Hadida explains: “Both cases were extremely well received. The adoption rate is going to go up. Some schools are already teaching more than 300 cases a year in virtual reality. You have the benefit of minimal preparation on the participant side, so that everybody is on the same page. When you are using a written or video case study, some participants may or may not have researched the material, leading to asymmetry of knowledge. Here, everybody starts at the same level, and everybody physically experiences the simulation at the same pace.

“I really do not see VR teaching as a gimmick. There is real added value in taking part as an active participant. There is also an environmental aspect to this. In operations management, the students get on a bus and visit a factory for a tour – there’s a carbon footprint element to this, organisational hurdles and of course, the disruption on the factory and the workers. If you do a tour in virtual reality, you solve all of those problems and you can also take students or participants to places that they would never have access to in real life.”

Looking to the future, what role will virtual reality play in the higher education space? What considerations should higher education end-users make when adopting virtual reality technologies?

Hadida closes: “My advice would be: don’t do it because everybody else is doing it. Be clear about your own learning objectives and how virtual reality can fit with those learning objectives; there is nothing worse than having a ‘fun’ classroom experience but forgetting everything you have learned five minutes later. It is important to be very clear that this technology is not a gimmick, we need to be clear on why we’re using it and with whom.

“There is an opportunity cost to not updating our teaching approaches. I am fully in favour of improving the learning experience inside and outside of the classroom, so not adopting the technology because it is costly at first [is a mistake]. You need a clear plan to show how [virtual reality systems] are an investment and not a cost, as well as a clear idea of how you are going to recoup your investment, those numbers will speak for themselves.”

Article Categories

Most Viewed