Immersion education has proved to become an effective way of learning languages through experiences. This technique aims to create a high level of competency in learning a foreign language while also having applications in other subject matters in education. Immersive teaching methods can include creating real-world simulations that leverage virtual environments, improve retention in learning, and support skills development. Immersive learning experiences can consist of approaches like virtual reality (VR) simulations, project-based learning, and game-based learning. Immersion learning is beginning to take a new form, with environments like the metaverse creating new value propositions for language education. Duolingo, the leading education technology platform, is already exploring virtual spaces like Roblox for learning, and other companies are sure to follow suit in the metaverse.
What is immersion education?
Immersion education is a learning method developed to pick up a new language by fully immersing students into an environment of the chosen target language, like Spanish, French, or Mandarin, within and beyond the classroom. Speaking, listening, and responding in the target language in various contexts is the most effective way for individuals to learn a new language through immersion education.
In this approach, games, sports, songs, and other experiences are also embedded into learning to facilitate meaningful language skills development. This method is most effective if implemented in early childhood, allowing students to pick up language nuances. The success of immersion education programs also depends on the extent of time of immersion, intensity of use, and the quality of exposure to the target language.
Education can occur through varying degrees of immersion, including:
Full immersion: In this form of total immersion, students spend 100% of their time interacting and receiving program instruction in the chosen target language. Canada initially used the full immersion model, which the United States later adopted.
Partial immersion: In this model, students spend approximately 50% of their time interacting with the immersion language, while the rest focuses on the native language. Program instruction takes place in both languages.
Bilingual or two-way immersion: This approach combines language immersion for two groups of students with different native languages. The programs aim to build bilingual proficiency for both student groups. For instance, certain schools in Canada offer two-way immersion programs in French and Hebrew.
What is the immersive method of teaching?
Immersion programs create learning experiences through spatial designs that simulate real-world situations and environments to learn new languages or subject matters. Usually, these environments are built using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to allow students to interact with real scenarios and objects. These simulations are controlled environments where students can learn from their mistakes through trial and error without risk of harm.
Here are a few benefits of immersive methods of teaching:
Leveraging virtual settings to enhance learning: Using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), or mixed reality (MR) technologies can create immersive experiences that place students at the center of learning environments and activate multiple senses, thereby enhancing education delivery. Integrating learning into video games in virtual environments can also be effective in encouraging students to complete activities, explore challenges and interact with peers. For instance, Cambridge created a virtual world on Minecraft called ‘Adventures in English with Cambridge’ to encourage students to learn English in a stimulating gaming environment.
Improved retention of the subject matter: Barbara Gross Davis, author of ‘Tools for Teaching’ states that a student’s attention reduces after 10 to 15 minutes during regular teaching lectures. However, immersive learning creates environments where students remain attentive and stay engaged for extended periods while improving understanding. For instance, explaining a subject like the history of ancient Rome can be done by getting students to walk through a VR simulation of Rome in ancient times. This level of immersion and interactivity in learning through extended reality (XR) allows students to better absorb information by increasing retention by 75%, as reported by Accenture.
Development of real-world skills: As immersive learning takes a more hands-on and interactive approach, education focuses on building real-world skills such as problem-solving, innovation, critical thinking, and collaboration. Educators can conduct these proficiency-based immersive programs by creating marker spaces and virtual reality labs.
Examples of immersive learning
Studying abroad: Joining international education programs allows individuals to gain learning experiences through complete immersion into a country's culture and language. Students experience hands-on learning because of the environment they are in and through interactions with their surroundings. For instance, Cambridge cited a study that showed students learning a new language by studying abroad have higher levels of fluency.
Virtual reality simulations: Simulations created through virtual, augmented, or mixed reality (VR, AR, or MR) can help improve education across subjects like science, history, geography, or public speaking. For example, Microsoft’s HoloLens uses mixed reality to help medical students learn about the human body, as students can completely immerse themselves in different parts of the human body and interact with them in a virtual environment.
Role-playing exercises: This immersive learning method puts students in a complex and unfamiliar real-life scenario where they must assume a specific role and solve problems. For example, instructors can ask students to be a salesperson to sell a product to a client to help them develop selling skills. Language educators can also ask students to interact verbally in a particular language while performing specific tasks to improve the communication element of learning a language. These activities can be conducted individually, in pairs, or even in groups.
Project-based learning (PBL): This approach to learning gives students an opportunity to work on a project or defined problem along with fellow students, which requires learners to collaborate, engage in critical thinking, conduct research, develop a solution, gain feedback, present their work and reflect on the learning done through the entire process. K-12 Dive highlighted that four independent reach papers stated including PBL in education help strengthen student engagement and increase information retention.
Game-based learning: This form of learning embeds gaming characteristics into education to create engaging environments. In such cases, learners are motivated to learn by including points, badges, rewards, leaderboards, and quizzes in teaching. Educators and instructors can use platforms like Minecraft Education Edition to create creative and fun games to teach subjects and complex concepts.
Duolingo in the metaverse
Duolingo forayed into the metaverse by launching its presence on Roblox and creating the Duolingo Game Hub to develop a fun, engaging, and immersive environment for users to learn a foreign language. The education app’s move into the virtual world comes as an increasing number of edtech platforms see the value of creating immersive learning programs through virtual reality (VR). For instance, platforms like MondlyVR and VirtualSpeech build engaging learning environments through VR.
Using gaming platforms to build learning experiences is an excellent way to keep young learners engaged and develop their cognitive capabilities. Duolingo created a presence on Roblox to reach a broad group of young learners, as 60% of the platform’s users are below the age of 16, as published by Statista on December 2022.
Duolingo's Roblox game?
Duolingo launched the Duolingo Game Hub on Roblox in 2022 to leverage the virtual environment to enhance language learning for all audiences by offering games to build vocabulary and conversational skills in a foreign language.
The edtech platform has reached a new cohort of learners on Roblox by offering its game for free to the 67 million daily active users (as of February 2023). In the first few days since its launch, the platform attracted 4 million visitors. The decision to launch the game closely aligns with Duolingo’s mission to provide universally accessible language education.
To celebrate Duolingo’s 10th anniversary, the education company threw a virtual party and invited users to develop their own games during a one-week event called the ‘Duolingo Game Jam.’ Duolingo’s Game Hub now features two dozen creator-developed games from the event, which users can interact with and play, including the ‘Spanish or Vanish Maze’ to pick up language skills. The activation has another layer of gamification whereby users can earn coins and redeem them for a unique Duolingo avatar and exciting Duo user-generated content (UGC), including merchandise like wearables and accessories like backpacks and hats.
In conclusion, immersion education is a powerful method for learning languages that fully immerses students in the target language within and beyond the classroom. Immersion education programs can vary from full immersion, partial immersion, and bilingual immersion, depending on the exposure to the foreign language. Educators can use immersive learning methods like virtual reality simulations, role-playing, project-based learning, and game-based learning to reap the benefits of improved retention, higher engagement, and real-world skill development. Edtech platforms like Duolingo have recognized these language pedagogies' potential and use platforms like Roblox to achieve engaging and interactive learning experiences.
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