Joost Uitdewillegen – How immersive learning can help us understand each other

Joost Uitdewillegen – How immersive learning can help us understand each other

Empathy could be the most advanced skill in communication. But how do we learn to be empathic? And how can we teach others to feel empathy? Joost has struggled with these questions in his ambition to change consumer behaviour regarding the purchase of inexpensive clothes made by people in third world countries under poor working conditions. Is there a way to educate people to feel empathy for those people and will that change their consumer behaviour?

Joost, together with a group of bright students, invented a new training method called immersive learning. Immersive learning is a learning method that uses virtual reality glasses to give participant the possibility to become another person, in this case a sweatshop worker in a hot factory who is being yelled at by the boss.

So how does it work? Apart from the virtual reality glasses, you need a headset (stereo is best), a normal computer and, of course, an immersive learning program. Immersive learning influences your sight and hearing. When you move your head in real life, it moves in virtual reality. If you look to the right, you will actually see what’s on your right at the same speed at which you turn your head. The audio you hear is 3D. So if you hear something on the left, it is actually coming from the left. The immersive learning experience lies much closer to your own life experience then a book, a movie or e-learning ever could. It feels like you have lived the experience. Joost phrased it in his talk as, “immersive learning is like a 3D printer for your brain.” If we look at empathy as the ability to see the world from another person’s perspective, to share and understand another person’s feelings, needs, concerns and emotional state, then immersive learning can be a method to educate people to feel empathy.

A question that arises is, if immersive learning is like having a life experience, how do you determine the lesson to be learned from that experience? Joost and his students discovered three important elements in making sure that the immersive learning experience has the desires outcome. The first element is focus. Through the use of a voice that moves you through the situation, the participant is gently guided in his or her experience. The second element is identification. To create empathy it is important to identify as much as possible with the subject. By triggering the imagination, for instance by choosing a male or female voice and asking the participant to imagine that the boy or girl in front of them is their brother or sister, the participant projects on to what he of she sees the desired identification. The last element is reflection. The male or female voice asks interactive questions that help you to think about the life you just experienced. In the case of influencing consumer behaviour regarding the purchase of cheap clothes, you could be asked what clothes you plan to buy in the near future.

Joost believes that immersive learning is the next level in learning and he hopes that in creating certain immersive learning experiences it will change our behaviour.


Photography © Victoria Jacob

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