Embodied Cognition: Thinking with Your Whole Body

As human beings, we are always learning. Every day our brains process and store new information learned from experiences that can be used to further direct our lives.

But despite what you may think, it’s not just your brain doing the thinking.

The theory of embodied cognition states that your entire body is involved in thinking and learning. It’s one of many reasons that training through virtual reality is so incredibly powerful.

What is it?

Differing from the new theory of embodied cognition, the theory of dualism states that the brain does all the thinking while merely directing the body to function.

The theory of embodied cognition, on the other hand, paints a more connected picture of the brain and body. Many today believe that we process information about our world through the context of our bodies. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s pioneering work Metaphors We Live By applied this theory to language, finding that people across cultures connected the same concepts with similar phenomena related to the body. For example, we tend to think of the past as being behind us, and the future as in front of us.

Learning from the Outside In

Another way to think of embodied cognition is by considering the many ways we learn and understand. A child learning about apples might hear the word ‘apple,’ but will also see real apples as well as pictures of them; they may learn where apples are kept in the kitchen, and how an apple tastes. All of these pieces of information work together to form the idea of an apple in the brain.

All of this is to say that we learn more effectively when we can think and interact with our subjects in many different ways. The problem comes when what we have to learn cannot be interacted with. That’s where virtual reality can help.

Researchers Susan Jang and Jonathan Vitale demonstrated this by using VR to teach anatomy to medical students. They made a 3D model of the inner ear, a complex and hidden anatomical structure, and let one-half of their study participants manipulate it in VR while the other half watched 2D video replays from the VR sessions. The VR group scored an average 20% higher when tested on the structure of the inner ear, regardless of how much they knew before the study.

Foundry 45’s immersive learning experiences put the theory of embodied cognition into action in order to assist in employee training. As part of our recent collaboration with Delta Airlines, we simulated a full runway environment for users to explore. Our experience lets trainees learn runway safety and pre-flight procedures with their whole bodies, picking up debris and pointing out airplane damage.

A Piece of the Puzzle

Does this mean that books and classroom teaching are dead as a method of learning? Of course not. Written material will always be an essential part of learning. But new methods, such as virtual reality and embodied cognition, can definitely have a positive impact as a complement to go in tandem with traditional methods of education.

VR is not a panacea for education but instead a supplemental tool to deepen understanding and engage learners in a whole new way.

Dr. Lindsay Portnoy, Digital Culturist

Edutainment in VR: The Best of Both Worlds

Today, people are more aware of virtual reality than ever before. This emerging technology is all over the news and social media. Until now, much of this coverage has been focused on the VR video game industry, which is just one application for virtual reality. At Foundry 45, we build fun experiences with a purpose. We describe these as VR Edutainment.

Edutainment through Gamification?

Gamification is the process of turning concepts into fun learning experiences with games. We use gamification in many of our VR Edutainment products.

VR is immersive: everything you see and hear is part of a digitally designed experience, made for a specific purpose. This new way of training can help people learn by getting rid of extrasensory distractions. It also gives educators the chance to teach in ways that would otherwise be impossible with books.

Children using virtual reality to learn - an example of VR Edutainment


  • Kids learning about astronomy by going to space
  • Older workers learning new skills by playing games
  • Foreign language learners experiencing new cultures without ever leaving their town

That’s what VR Edutainment can do.

How We Do VR Edutainment

The Weather Company came to us with an interesting problem: they had a great new mobile app, but they had to be sure that everyone on their team knew what it could do.

Many employees learn best when they are having fun, so we decided to use VR Edutainment to accomplish both tasks. While navigating through the new features of the updated app, users had an opportunity to set an alert for an upcoming snow storm.

A member of The Weather Company team tries out Foundry 45's VR Edutainment experience

Later in the experience, that storm alert went off, triggering the start of the gamified section. That’s when users became “forces of nature,” throwing solar balls to melt the blankets of snow covering the world around them. The more snow they dissolved, the more points they scored.

Foundry 45’s unique blend of fun and learning made for an experience that people wanted to play again and again. Our VR Edutainment is changing how The Weather Company and many others teach what’s important to them.

The Real Difference Between VR Training & VR Education

In today’s business environment, employee development is more important than ever, and Virtual Reality (VR) has become a powerful tool for training and educating employees. The terms “VR Training” and “VR Education” are similar and are often used interchangeably. There is certainly some overlap, but they are not the same thing.

So, what’s the difference between the two?

VR Training focuses on more of the “What.” What specific task needs to be accomplished? Oftentimes, these are hard skills, like how to repair a piece of assembly line equipment.

VR Education is more focused on the “Why.” Why is a general concept important? This type of learning is more foundational and soft skills-focused, often in areas like leadership development.

A Quick Comparison

VR Training:

    • Teaches a specific task
    • Can be separated into steps
    • Does not vary between employees of the same position
  • Is administered short-term

VR Education:

    • Teaches abstract and critical thinking skills
    • Does not rely on specific knowledge
    • May require different approaches for each employee
  • Requires a long-term commitment

vr education

Mobile VR is perfect for employee learning in many environments


More and more industries are using computer simulation to train their workforce. We’ve already detailed how top retailers use VR to train employees in a previous blog post, but industrial markets are well-suited for VR training as well.

Foundry 45’s pump trainer simulation illustrates how an employee is trained on specific, chronological tasks to properly disassemble and reassemble a pump. By following a clear sequence of directions in an immersive space, employees can familiarize themselves with the equipment without potentially harming themselves or damaging equipment.


Users benefit from VR Training without the risks involved with training in the field


To enhance corporate culture, increase worker productivity, and establish the best social and ethical business practices, more global organizations are turning to VR to better prepare employees for a range of training practices.

Today’s research suggests that the environment in which we learn greatly affects the impact of our education. Immersive 360 videos and VR experiences allow training managers to tailor educational experiences to their exact organizational needs. These experiences can then be reproduced for scores of employees.

Foundry 45’s The Weather Company experience is a great example of this. The first half of the experience is an educational overview of the most important aspects of The Weather Channel’s new mobile app. The second half is a gamified element that makes the learning stick. Employees leave the experience ready to explain the app’s updates to anyone outside the team.


VR Education explains The Weather Company’s new mobile app


It’s no surprise that employees at every level can benefit from training to better perform their duties, and from education to develop a common mindset throughout an organization. It’s now up to innovative companies to use new technology like VR to help provide team members with the skills they need to grow.