Boys learn best from a drone, while girls benefited most from a female researcher.
Guido Makransky, Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, has been actively studying the benefits of VR technology in the education sector since 2014, conducting numerous studies that tested hundreds of highschool and university students’ cognitive and emotional learning processes.
During his most recent study involving 66 sixth and seventh-grade students composed of half boys and half girls, Makransky discovered an interesting difference between genders in terms of their VR teacher. According to his research, females students reacted to and absorbed information at a more efficient rate when learning from Marie, a realistic female researcher; while the males benefited more from a futuristic floating drone.
“We can see that students´ ability to identify with the pedagogical agent improves their level of learning,” says Markansky. “This gives us an exciting possibility to actually make education more appealing to the students. This is important as children’s’ interest in school decreases in middle school, and there is specifically a desire to increase female students’ interest, in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. Therefore, the possibility to engage girls is very appealing. In our opinion VR-program designers should use this knowledge to incorporate different types of pedagogical agents in VR for different types of students.”
“Our results show, that the boys´ concentration and focus on the task rises when their virtual teacher is a non-traditional teaching figure like a robot or a drone,” continues Markansky. “We also see these types of pedagogical agents are more effective in terms of the boys´ learning outcomes, possibly because they portray some of the superhero-qualities, that appeal widely to boys, and because they resemble the agents, boys are used to interact with in computer games.”
Overall, Makransky stresses the importance of choosing a relatable VR-teacher when dealing with younger, more impressionable students. As the subjects grow older, however, the value in offering a relatable instructor lessons. According to Makransky, university students don’t necessarily learn better when presented with a sympathetic guide.
Makransky currently leads an ongoing project funded by the Danish Innovation Fund in which he and his fellow researchers at the Virtual Learning Lab explore the possibilities surrounding VR-based teaching and education. You can read more about their ongoing studies on the gender matching effect in VR science simulation here.