Embodied_Cognition_VR_Education

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