Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Text, Audio, and Avatars: Impact of Virtual Reality Training on Pedagogical Value

Student Researcher(s)

Spencer Bennett (Ph.D Candidate); Sophie Wang (Ph.D Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

This paper was based on a project as part of the " COMM 517: Psychological Aspects of Communication Technology" course.

Energy Storage and Microgrid (ESAM) systems are becoming more popular around the world because they have the potential to support an increase in the use of renewable energy generation and improve local power quality. However, exposure to microgrid systems can be hazardous, especially for those who do not have much working experience with ESAM systems. The paper will first review the literature pertaining to VR use as an immersive learning environment, the multimedia effect of VR on knowledge attention and perception of learning, and the presence of avatars in VR, and propose a research question. Then, it will present the research methodology, the experimental design, and the data analysis results to address the research question. The findings will then be discussed with the implications for theories. Finally, it will describe the limitations in this research and future research potentiality. 

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RQ: For students taking VR vocational training, controlling for content, interactivity, and gender, what is the effect of avatar presence and various information modalities (avatar + audio vs. avatar + text vs. audio only vs. text only) on their learning outcomes and perception of learning.
H1: Students taking VR vocational training with an avatar and audio will have better learning outcomes, including higher knowledge retention (H1a) and better spatial understanding (H1b) than groups with just text, just audio, and text and avatar.
H2: Students taking training with an avatar and audio will have a more positive attitude toward the training, including more attention grabbing (H2a), more relevant to the content (H2b), more confident about the training (H2c), and more satisfied with the content (H2d) compared to students taking training with just text, just audio, and text and avatar.
To address the research question, a 2´2 factorial experiment was designed along with evaluation instruments for data collection. A total of 100 undergraduate students volunteered to participate in this research. The convenience sample contained 60 female participants and 40 male participants. Students that wished to participate were directed to a link on Canvas; the link sent them to the survey housed on Qualtrics. The survey randomly assigned the participants to watch one of four training videos captured from one investigator interacting with the desktop version of the VR module. These videos were edited to contain different stimuli situations, which will be described in the next section. After watching the VR training video, each participant was asked to take the IMMS survey. Once this survey was completed, they took a post-training assessment to gauge the information they retained from the lesson, including fundamental knowledge retention and spatial understanding.

Since there were no significant differences between the independent variables of audio and avatar, audio only, text and avatar, and text only, the researchers decided to compute two new variables to further explore the differences between modalities and the presence of an avatar in VR training; this was the second main session of data analysis. One variable (Modality) contained two groups (with audio & with text). Another variable (Avatar) contained two groups (with avatar & without avatar). A MANCOVA was run to analyze the perception of learning between Modalities and Avatars. There was a significant interaction effect between Modalities and Avatars for Attention ( F (1, 95) = 3.943, p = .05, partial n2 = .040 ). The researchers also found a significant interaction effect between Modalities and Avatars for Relevance ( F (1, 95) = 4.968, p > .05, partial n2 = .050 ).

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Regarding student's perceptions of motivation and learning, the addition of an avatar in the VR training with audio instruction prompted higher attention-grabbing scores; this is similar to the effects of the Dual Coding theory. However, similar to results from the Limited-Capacity Information Processing theory, adding an image of the avatar to the VR training with text instruction degrades attention grabbing because text and avatar are both visual representations. Despite the limitations of this research, including a non-lab experimental setting and a somewhat low-quality virtual environment, the authors believe that future research on this topic can be implemented with head-mounted devices in a lab setting. Besides, further research can be focused on exploring the impact of various instruction modalities and the presence of avatars on the educational effectiveness of VR workforce training.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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