In interactive media, ‘immersion’ is the ability of an interface to seem as if it surrounds the participant, so that they feel sensorally transported to, and involved in, the virtual environment represented for them. When applied to learning resources, this means that the student is engaging with aspects of their whole person – physically, intellectually, and emotionally (such as with an interactive story). This lends itself well to games (both physical as well as 3D/AR/VR, simulations), and theatrical role-plays.


The main goals of an immersive resource is to foster a cycle of experiential learning, or to assess students in authentic situations. Experiential learning is a classic model (developed by David A. Kolb, and often understood alongside Donald A Schön’s ‘reflection-in-action’) about doing things, reflecting on them, then doing them again (but differently each time).

The cycle is particularly applicable to learning how to manipulate systems, and learning concrete skills that improve with practice.

Simple Experiential Learning cycle


Digital simulations for science are a common resource, as many science concepts involve manipulating variables to see how they affect each other. Making these more immersive could mean wrapping them in a scenario, providing a narrative driver to use the simulation, and setting goals that encourage experimentation.

Adding narrative and goals turns a simulation into a more immersive game, and including Virtual or Augmented Reality technology can make scenario/simulations even more immersive.

Where to next?

Immersive resources like games and simulations work well when reflection is structured, involves peers, and enacts change in reengagement with the game/simulation.

Creating 3D VR environments is useful for settings that are too dangerous to attempt in real-life, or are used many times. Since developing them can take a lot of time and money, often a live simulation or game is quicker and cheaper to create.

Tools and Tips

If you want to do-it-yourself, turn panoramic photos into 3D vistas with the Google Cardboard Camera app for Android and iOS devices. If you can code, VR-like Unity will be your base.

If simple digital scenarios are more your style, try online packages like SmartSparrow or Branchtrack.

If immersion through group roleplay is more your thing, look intoMatrix games.


The Physics Classroom. Physics Interactives [website].

University of Colorado Boulder. Phet Interactive Simulations. Simulations [website].

Tom Mouat’s Matrix Games Download [website].

Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning. Experiential Learning and the Reflection Process [website].

Dede, C., Grotzer, T. A., Kamarainen, A., & Metcalf, S. (2017). EcoXPT: Designing for deeper Learning through experimentation in an immersive virtual ecosystem. Educational Technology & Society20(4), 166–178.

Perera, I., Miller, A., & Allison, C. (2017). A case study in user support for managing opensim based multi user learning environments. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies10(3), 342–354.

Schaffer, V. (2017). Enhancing learning to diverse cohorts via immersive visualization. Journal of Hospitality Leisure Sport & Tourism Education21, 46–54.

Wang, Y. F., Petrina, S., & Feng, F. (2017). Virtual immersive language learning and gaming environment: Immersion and presence. British Journal of Educational Technology48(2), 431–450.

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