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Welcome to Learning Science Weekly, your source for research-backed, evidence-based best practices to help you create effective learning environments and impactful educational experiences. We’re back this week with more learning science -- let’s get going!

Virtual Reality is What We’re Living In

Researchers and practitioners have claimed that virtual reality provides realistic and immersive experiences that allow the technology to produce a wider range of scenarios than equivalent real-life training and development programs, which is believed to result in better outcomes. But is there evidence to support this? Researchers at the University of South Alabama and Montclair State University conducted a meta-analysis of studies related to using virtual reality training programs for social skill development. Their findings indicate that knowledge-based virtual reality training programs can be effective. In addition, they found that gamified VR training programs were just as effective as VR training programs with few or no game elements, casting doubt on the effectiveness of gamification for the development of social skills.

Key Takeaway: The results suggest that VR training programs are more effective than other types of training programs for developing social skills.

Read More (paywalled article): Howard, M.C. & Gutworth, M. B. (2020). A meta-analysis of virtual reality training programs for social skill development. Computers & Education, 144.

Featured Student: Sherry Yi

Say hello to Sherry Yi, a doctoral student studying educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. ​She is examining how interest is developed and sustained over time and exploring methods to trigger interest within digital learning environments. Her current project investigates the triggering of interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics using entertainment technologies such as Minecraft.

Sherry’s main topic of interest in learning science is on the intersectionality between technology and interest development. She has been working on the What-if Hypothetical Implementations in Minecraft (WHIMC) project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Win, Lose, or Draw

Did you know that drawing can help you learn? No, we’re not talking about doodling during lectures. Researchers have found that asking students to draw a representation of what they’re learning actually helps with information retention (see Ainsworth et al., 2011, van Meter & Garner, 2005, among others). Researchers in Germany recently conducted a study that sought to define the mechanisms behind the benefits of drawing and to distinguish the benefits of drawing versus simply providing a graphic for learners. Their findings confirm that “because drawing requires generating a visualization based on textual information, it can prompt students to engage more deeply with the learning contents during acquisition by drawing more inferences and/or developing stronger memory traces.” However, “the findings of two experiments indicate that the benefits of drawing on learning outcomes that have been shown in prior research stem mainly from the process of externalizing a visualization that drawing requires, rather than the actual generation of the drawing.”

Key Takeaway: Any type of external visualization -- whether it’s a drawing or not -- benefits the learner and should be incorporated into your training, whenever it's appropriate.

Read More (paywalled article): Schmidgall, S.P., Eitel, A., & Scheiter, K. (2019). Why do learners who draw perform well? Investigating the role of visualization, generation, and externalization in learner-generated drawing. Learning & Instruction, 60, 138-153.

Call for Participants: Customer Education Study

Do you manage a customer education program? If so, a team of researchers from Intellum, the University of Alabama, and Ohio University would like to talk to you. Please email for more information.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Bark hello to Bella and Tessie, companions of reader Michelle T.L. We hear that they love gnawing on furniture, but who could believe that these two darlings are capable of such terrible behavior?

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!