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Investigating the Effect of Teaching as a Generative Learning Strategy when Learning
through Desktop and Immersive VR: A Media and Methods Experiment
Accepted in the British Journal of Educational Technology in the special issue Immersive Virtual
Reality in Education on August 12, 2020
Sara Klingenberg1, Maria L. M. Jørgensen2, Gert Dandanell2, Karen Skriver2, Aske Mottelson1,
1. Department of Psychology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
2. Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Corresponding Author: Guido Makransky, University of Copenhagen
Address: Øster Farimagsgade 2A, 1353 København K, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sara Klingenberg (email@example.com) is a Research Assistant at the Virtual Learning
Lab at the Department of Psychology at the University of Copenhagen.
Maria L. M. Jørgensen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Postdoc at the Department of Biology at
the University of Copenhagen.
Gert Dandanell (email@example.com) is an Associate Professor at the Department of Biology at
the University of Copenhagen.
Karen Skriver (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Professor at the Department of Biology at the
University of Copenhagen and leader of a research group focusing on gene regulatory networks.
Aske Mottelson (email@example.com) is a Postdoc at the Virtual Learning Lab at the Department of
Psychology at the University of Copenhagen.
Guido Makransky (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology at
the University of Copenhagen and leader of the Virtual Learning Lab.
This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the final, authoritative version
of the article. The final article will be available, upon publication, via its DOI:
Immersive virtual reality (IVR) simulations for education have been found to increase affective
outcomes compared to traditional media, but the effects on learning are mixed. As reflection has
previously shown to enhance learning in traditional media, we investigated the efficacy of
appropriate reflection exercises for IVR. In a 2x2 mixed-methods experiment 89 (61 female)
undergraduate biochemistry students learned about the electron transport chain through desktop
virtual reality (DVR) and IVR (media conditions). Approximately half of each group engaged in
a subsequent generative learning strategy (GLS) of teaching in pairs (method conditions). A
significant interaction between media and methods illustrated that the GLS of teaching
significantly improved transfer (d=1.26), retention (d=0.60), and self-efficacy (d=0.82) when
learning through IVR, but not DVR. In the second part of the study, students switched media
conditions, and the experiment was repeated. This time, significant main effects favoring the
IVR group on the outcomes of intrinsic motivation (d=0.16), perceived enjoyment (d=0.94), and
presence (d=1.29) were observed, indicating that students preferred IVR after having
experienced both media conditions. The results support the view that methods enable media that
affect learning, and that the GLS of teaching is specifically relevant for IVR.
Keywords: immersive virtual reality, media versus methods, generative learning strategies,
biochemistry education, head-mounted displays, learning
What is already known about this topic
Previous research has found a media effect with Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) in
education leading to better motivational outcomes compared to less immersive media, but
effects on learning outcomes are mixed.
There is evidence that Generative Learning Strategies (GLSs) such as summarizing and
enacting can increase learning in IVR.
There is also evidence that some instructional methods, such as pre-training, may be
beneficial for learning in IVR.
What this paper adds
Evidence that the GLS of teaching improves self-efficacy, retention, and transfer in
An interaction effect between media (DVR/IVR) and method (GLS/no-GLS) on self-efficacy,
retention, and transfer supporting the theoretical view that method enables media.
No difference in perceived enjoyment, motivation, and presence for students who were new
to learning through these media (DVR/IVR), but differences became significant when
students learned through the other media first with students preferring IVR.
Implications for practice and/or policy
Since IVR learning experiences can be highly engaging but also cognitively demanding, it is
beneficial to introduce reflection exercises after an IVR learning experience to ensure that
students reflect over the material and integrate it with their long-term memory.
One effective solution is to engage students in the GLS of teaching after an IVR simulation,
thereby prompting them to select relevant information, organize it into a coherent structure,
and elaborate on it by incorporating it with their existing knowledge.
A contemporary challenge in biochemistry education is to present the abstract nature of chemical
and molecular processes in a way that students can relate to, comprehend, and understand
(McClean et al., 2005; Schönborn & Anderson, 2006). This challenge is especially pronounced
when teaching students about complex intracellular processes that take place on a
submicroscopic level, which limits interaction and visualization in the real world (Schönborn &
Anderson, 2006). As a result, students might conduct traditional laboratory experiments, yet find
the intracellular processes intangible or difficult to relate to (Tsivitanidou et al., 2018).
Correspondingly, teaching materials, such as blackboard drawings, textbooks, and illustrations
limit possibilities for interaction. They often fail to capture temporal and spatial relationships of
molecular processes, and students therefore frequently struggle to interpret the depicted models
(McClean et al., 2005). Therefore, a challenge remains to create a link between students’
theoretical knowledge about biochemical processes and laboratory experiments (Tsivitanidou et
A way of addressing this challenge is through the use of Virtual Reality (VR). VR is “a
computer-mediated simulation that is three-dimensional, multisensory, and interactive so that the
user’s experience is “as if” inhabiting and acting within an external environment” (Burbules,
2006, p. 37). VR provides unique learning opportunities, as simulations allow students to act as
if they were in the real world while interacting with otherwise intangible or inaccessible objects
(Bower, 2017; Mikropoulos & Natsis, 2011). VR makes it possible for students to experience a
different world or reality that might otherwise be too dangerous, expensive, or impossible in the
real world (Dalgarno & Lee, 2010; Freina & Ott, 2015). For example, students can experience
the intracellular processes that take place in biochemical experiments in real-time, and they can
perform laboratory experiments under varying conditions, which would be impossible due to
time and costs of physical experiments in most university settings (De Jong et al., 2013; Jones,
2018). Also, in VR, students can make mistakes in a controlled environment without aversive
costs or safety effects (Jensen & Konradsen, 2018; Merchant et al., 2014). Additionally, students
can progress through exercises at their own pace, allowing them to spend more time on
particularly relevant tasks or questions (Mayer & Chandler, 2001). Last, students can receive
immediate individual feedback from a virtual agent during the experiment, which is difficult in
most classroom settings where one teacher is responsible for assisting several students
(Makransky et al., 2019b). These unique characteristics have been linked to learning affordances
including enhanced spatial knowledge representation, increased motivation and engagement,
improved contextualization of learning as well as opportunities for experiential learning (Bower,
2017; Dalgarno & Lee, 2010). Therefore, VR is particularly relevant for learning experiences
that cannot easily be studied in a traditional classroom setting (Bailenson, 2018), such as a
biochemistry lesson on the electron transport chain (ETC) used in the current study. Through
high-quality three-dimensional representations, VR allows students to explore the cascade of
complex interactions between molecules along the ETC in a way that is not possible in a
laboratory experiment in the real world or using a textbook. In this way, VR can enhance
students’ ability to connect experimental procedures with the intracellular processes (Fitzgerald
& Riva, 2001), thereby addressing current challenges in biochemistry education.
We will briefly introduce some of the most prominent perspectives in the field of research on
existing media, which serve as the foundation for our main objectives. One perspective is that
“the medium is the message”, which refers to the general belief that the medium itself, rather
than the content, is essential for successfully delivering an instructional message (Lee, 1999;
McLuhan, 1964). The first objective of this study is therefore to investigate the presence of a
media effect in conducting a university-level biochemistry lesson. We examine the outcomes of
delivering a lesson on the ETC through immersive virtual reality (IVR) using a head-mounted
display (HMD) compared to presenting the lesson through desktop virtual reality (DVR) using a
traditional two-dimensional monitor. In the following, we will therefore differentiate between
DVR and IVR, and use VR as a term referring to both.
An alternative perspective upheld by learning theorists such as Clark (1994) is that there
is no media effect on learning; that the chosen instructional method rather than the medium, is
important for learning. The second objective of this study is therefore to investigate the presence
of a method effect in conducting a biochemistry lesson. We investigate the consequences of
using the generative learning strategy (GLS; Fiorella & Mayer, 2016) of teaching in pairs
following the virtual lesson compared to a condition where no GLS was used.
Yet another viewpoint, supported by recent results from media and methods experiments
in the field of IVR, suggests an interaction between media and methods in settings where the
affordances of the medium are specifically positively or negatively influenced by the
instructional method (e.g., Makransky et al., 2020a; Meyer et al., 2019). The third objective of
this study is therefore to investigate if there is an interaction effect between media and methods
when conducting a biochemistry lesson in IVR or DVR with or without the GLS of teaching.
The rationale behind using the GLS of teaching is twofold. According to the Cognitive
Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML; Mayer, 2014), multimedia learning is affected by the
cognitive load characteristics of the instructional content. This is particularly relevant for high
immersive media, such as IVR, since students might be overwhelmed by the many stimuli
presented by the media. Several studies have suggested that acquiring new information in IVR
can lead to cognitive overload (e.g., Makransky et al., 2017b; Meyer et al., 2019; Moreno &
Mayer, 2002; Parong & Mayer, 2018). According to CTML, cognitive overload happens as a
result of an increase in intrinsic cognitive load due to the difficulty of the learning material
combined with an increase in extraneous cognitive load due to the many stimuli afforded by the
medium (Mayer, 2014; Makransky et al., 2017b; 2020a). From this perspective, introducing a
GLS can reduce students’ cognitive load on working memory and improve learning outcomes by
encouraging them to reflect on the learning content. This is supported by research suggesting that
the GLS of teaching can significantly improve learning outcomes among students (e.g., Fiorella
& Mayer, 2013; Kobayashi, 2019a). Furthermore, recent systematic reviews of IVR applications
in higher education emphasize the importance of grounding IVR applications in existing learning
theories that offer guidelines on motivations, learning process, and learning outcomes (Hamilton
et al., 2020; Radianti et al., 2020). We therefore used the GLS of teaching to provide a strong
theoretical learning framework for the instructional method of this study.
In short, the current study addresses three questions in relation to education: how IVR
differs from DVR, how to successfully implement IVR/DVR, and how media and methods
interact. Our assessment is based on measuring six constructs that have been identified as
important for the process of learning in VR; including presence, perceived enjoyment, intrinsic
motivation, self-efficacy, retention, and transfer (Dalgarno & Lee, 2010; Lee et al., 2010;
Makransky & Lilleholt, 2018; Makransky & Petersen, 2019; Weiss et al., 2006). We measure
presence, the psychological experience of “being there”, as it is a fundamental aspect of
understanding VR experience, and because it has previously been linked to learning (Cummings
& Bailenson, 2016; Jelfs & Whitelock, 2000; Makransky & Lilleholt, 2018; Shin, 2017; Slater &
Wilbur, 1997). Additionally, we measure self-efficacy, that is students’ beliefs about their
abilities to perform certain actions, which can affect motivational and learning outcomes
(Bandura, 1997). Studies suggest that this is particularly relevant when learning in VR, as
interacting and receiving immediate feedback in a high-fidelity environment can provide
students with mastery experiences that enhance their self-efficacy (Gegenfurtner et al., 2014;
Makransky et al., 2020b). This assists learning through inquiry, which has been suggested to
enhance a deeper understanding of the learning material (Concannon et al., 2019; Pedaste et al.,
2015). Based on Mayer’s (2008) principles for design and assessment of multimedia instruction,
we measure learning outcomes through a retention test that focuses on remembering, and a
transfer test that focuses on understanding. According to Ainley and Armatas (2006, p. 376), a
relatively consistent picture has emerged, showing that specifically, these two types of learning
are differentially affected by participants’ experience with specific kinds of instructional
components. One proposed reason for this difference is that transfer learning requires deeper
processing, understood as a deeper engagement with the content in order to make sense of it, and
apply it to new situations (Ainley & Armatas, 2006). This is related to motivational processes,
such as the involvement and engagement of the participants (Ainley & Armatas, 2006), which
support the measurement of intrinsic motivation and perceived enjoyment.
We investigated these outcomes by employing the instructional method of teaching in
pairs as a GLS for approximately half of the participants in a 2x2 between-subjects design
through IVR and DVR. Ultimately, results from this study can provide evidence for how the
GLS of teaching in pairs can be used in conjunction with VR technology to enhance learning.
Furthermore, a media by methods experiment can shed light on how media and methods affect
learning with VR technology. To our knowledge, no study has previously combined the GLS of
teaching with IVR to investigate the effects of methods and media on learning outcomes.
In the following, we will refer to DVR and IVR. DVR is a computer-generated three-
dimensional virtual space experienced through standard audio-visual equipment (i.e., a PC with a
two-dimensional monitor; Kaplan-Rakowski & Gruber, 2019). In this study, IVR refers to an
interactive 360° three-dimensional simulation accessed through an HMD that provides head and
position tracking. An HMD can render a different image for each eye, creating visual cues for
depth perception, and it increases the size of the visual field compared to a monitor. IVR
compared to DVR has higher technical fidelity, which affords enhanced interaction,
display/immersion, and scenario/realism of the simulation (Buttussi & Chittaro, 2018). Here, the
term immersion relates to the ability of the medium to present a vivid virtual environment while
shutting out physical reality (Cummings & Bailenson, 2016). Thus, IVR affords the creation of
three-dimensional spatial representations, realistic multisensory channels for interaction,
immersion of the user in the virtual environment, and direct manipulation with objects in the
virtual laboratory (Mikropoulos & Natsis, 2011; Sherman & Craig, 2003). Consequently,
students can achieve highly realistic first-person experiences of the virtual learning environment,
which has been associated with affordances such as enhanced presence (e.g., Makransky et al.,
2017b; Moreno & Mayer, 2002), self-efficacy (e.g., Meyer et al., 2019), motivation (e.g.,
Chittaro & Buttussi, 2015; Parong & Mayer, 2018), and enjoyment (e.g., Bogusevschi et al.,
2019; Meyer et al., 2019).
The Generative Learning Strategy of Teaching
Generative learning emphasizes the active participation of the student in the learning process
(Wittrock, 1974). Fiorella and Mayer (2016) describe this as a way of actively engaging in and
processing new information to enhance a deeper understanding of the learning content (i.e.,
comprehension) and to be able to apply this knowledge to other contexts (i.e., transfer). This
involves selecting the most relevant information, organizing it into a coherent mental
representation, and integrating it within pre-existing knowledge. Therefore, the GLS of teaching
is consistent with the active processing assumption of the CTML which proposes that students
actively engage in cognitive processing to select relevant information, organize it into a coherent
structure, and integrate it with prior knowledge (Mayer, 2014).
Fiorella and Mayer (2016) differentiate between eight GLSs: summarizing, mapping,
drawing, imagining, self-testing, self-explaining, enacting, and teaching. This study uses learning
by teaching, which is defined as the act of explaining newly acquired information to help others
learn (Fiorella & Mayer, 2016). It is suggested that learning outcomes are dependent on the
accuracy of the information, quality of explanations, and reflections generated during teaching
(Roscoe & Chi, 2008). Work by Fiorella and Mayer (2013) found improved learning outcomes
following teaching compared to no teaching, even when students only prepared to teach without
actually performing the activity. However, students who taught outperformed both groups in a
follow-up test one week after the intervention. Results from meta-analyses by Kobayashi
(2019a, 2019b) highlight the importance of interaction in the GLS of teaching as the student
engages in deeper reflection when answering meaningful questions asked by the audience. This
is particularly relevant when teaching a fellow student, as both students know the material and
can provide relevant feedback (Duran, 2017; Kobayashi, 2019a). Others have proposed that
interaction could be a motivating factor which enhances students’ self-efficacy and self-esteem,
although research findings supporting this argument have been mixed (Kobayashi, 2019b;
Rienovita et al., 2018). Kobayashi (2019b) also found that informing students of the subsequent
task of teaching enhanced learning outcomes; that is, students who knew what to expect
outperformed those who did not (Coleman et al., 1997). Overall, these findings demonstrate that
the GLS of teaching can enhance learning outcomes, particularly if students know what to expect
and can interact during teaching.
The Role of Media on Learning in Virtual Reality
From a media perspective, we would expect to find a main effect of media on the outcomes in
this study (i.e., a difference in learning outcomes between IVR and DVR conditions). Several
studies have investigated the effects of IVR compared to less immersive media (Dalgarno & Lee,
2010; Freina & Ott, 2015). Overall, results indicate that lessons in IVR lead to better affective
and motivational outcomes compared to similar lessons in less immersive media such as DVR
(Makransky et al., 2019a). However, understanding the cognitive factors that influence learning
in VR is complex, and comparisons of learning in IVR and less immersive media are
inconsistent. Some studies have found IVR to enhance learning (Alhalabi, 2016; Chittaro &
Buttussi, 2015; Lamb et al., 2018; Makransky et al., 2019a; Webster, 2016), while others suggest
that IVR may have mixed effects (Jensen & Konradsen, 2018), no effects (Leder et al., 2019;
Moreno & Mayer, 2002), or even negative effects on knowledge and transfer (Makransky et al.,
2017b; Parong & Mayer, 2018; Richards & Taylor, 2015) compared to less immersive media.
These mixed results suggest that even though a medium with high fidelity such as IVR in some
cases improves learning outcomes, these effects might vary with the nature of the task (Buttussi
& Chittaro, 2018; Han, 2019; Jensen & Konradsen, 2018). Despite the mixed results, the media
perspective would predict a significant effect of media with IVR leading to different learning
outcomes compared to DVR in both method conditions.
The Role of Method on Learning in Virtual Reality
Another perspective is that the instructional method, rather than the medium, modulates learning
(Clark, 1994). Following this perspective, we would expect a main effect on learning outcomes
with students engaging in the GLS of teaching performing better in both media conditions.
Results from a number of studies support this view by showing that instructional methods that
have been identified in less immersive media generalize to IVR. These include the segmentation
principle (Parong & Mayer, 2018), the modality principle (Moreno & Mayer, 2002), the
personalization principle (Makransky et al., 2019b; Moreno & Mayer, 2004), and the pre-training
principle (Petersen et al., 2020). The methods perspective on learning in VR would predict a
main effect of methods where the GLS of teaching increases learning outcomes across both
Method Enables Media when Learning in Virtual Reality
A third perspective posits that different instructional methods enable learning in IVR. From this
viewpoint, we would predict an interaction between media and methods, indicating that the GLS
of teaching is more effective in IVR than DVR. A number of recent studies have demonstrated
the benefits of combining an IVR lesson with different forms of scaffolding. For example, a
media (IVR or video) and methods (with or without pre-training) experiment by Meyer et al.
(2019) found an interaction effect with pre-training increasing knowledge, transfer, and self-
efficacy in the IVR condition, but not in the video condition. The authors conclude that the pre-
training sufficiently limited cognitive load in the IVR lesson, thereby allowing the affective
affordances of learning in IVR to increase generative learning resulting in better learning
outcomes. Furthermore, they reason that pre-training did not result in an improvement in the
video condition because the initial cognitive load was not as high as in the IVR condition.
Similarly, Makransky et al. (2020a) found that a science lesson in IVR resulted in
significantly higher presence and enjoyment compared to experiencing a similar video lesson,
but there were no differences between the media on the outcomes of declarative knowledge,
procedural knowledge, or transfer. In a follow-up experiment, they added the GLS of enactment,
which consists of carrying out the learned procedures with concrete manipulatives, following the
lesson (Fiorella & Mayer, 2016). They found an interaction effect with the GLS of enactment
leading to significantly better procedural knowledge and transfer outcomes in the IVR condition
compared to the video condition. The authors reason that the GLS of enactment was particularly
helpful when learning in IVR because these highly engaging learning experiences may result in
students not spending enough resources on reflecting over the learned content when there is no
integrated or follow-up GLS activity. Based on this perspective, we would predict an interaction
between media (IVR/DVR) and method (GLS/no-GLS), with the GLS of teaching specifically
increasing learning outcomes in IVR.
Summary of Theory and Research Questions
Based on the theoretical and empirical research outlined above, we have developed a number of
research questions that investigate the three perspectives of how media and methods impact
learning in IVR and DVR. The questions are based on evaluating six constructs: transfer, defined
as students’ ability to use the learning material in a new context (Mayer, 2008); retention, defined
as students ability to recall the learning material much the same way as it was presented during
instruction (Mayer, 2008); self-efficacy, defined as students’ perceived capabilities for learning or
performing actions (Bandura, 1997); motivation, defined intrinsically as students’ behaving out
of their own interests, often accompanied by feelings of enjoyment (Ryan & Deci, 2017);
enjoyment, defined as students perceiving the activity as enjoyable in its own right (Davis et al.,
1992; Tokel & İsler, 2015) and presence, defined as students’ experience of being in a place even
when they are physically situated in another (Makransky et al., 2017b).
Research Question 1: How do media and methods influence the outcomes of transfer, retention,
and self-efficacy in an immediate post-test?
Research Question 2: How do media and methods influence the outcomes of intrinsic
motivation, perceived enjoyment, and presence in an immediate post-test?
Research Question 3: What is the effect of media and methods when students are asked to re-
use the simulation with the alternative media on the outcomes of transfer, retention, self-efficacy,
presence, perceived enjoyment, and intrinsic motivation?
The sample consisted of 89 participants (61 females, 28 males, 0 non-binary) from a large
European university. The learning intervention was part of a mandatory class required for all
first-year undergraduate biochemistry students. Students ranged in age from 19 to 36 (M = 21.34,
SD = 2.18).
We employed a 2x2 mixed-methods design in a natural classroom setting. In the first part of the
study, students were randomly assigned to one of two method conditions (GLS/no-GLS) and one
of two initial media conditions (IVR/DVR). In the GLS conditions, students would, in pairs,
conduct teaching with one student initially occupying the role as the teacher for five minutes in
the audience of the other student, whose role was to pose relevant comments and questions.
Then, students switched roles for another five minutes. Students in the no-GLS condition
bypassed this step and continued directly from the media intervention to the post-test with no
intermediate activity. The IVR and DVR conditions refer to experiencing the virtual lesson on
either an HMD or a desktop PC.
Due to teachers wanting to provide all students with the opportunity to use both media
conditions, a follow-up intervention was conducted on the same day where students switched
media conditions and the experiment was repeated. Thus, we investigated two independent
variables (method and media), where media was administered within subjects and method was
administered between subjects. Consequently, students were divided into four experimental
conditions: (a) IVR with the GLS of teaching followed by DVR with the GLS of teaching (N =
23), (b) DVR with the GLS of teaching followed by IVR with the GLS of teaching (N = 20), (c)
only IVR followed by only DVR (N = 24), and (d) only DVR followed by only IVR (N = 22).
Students engaging in the GLS were informed that they had to teach core concepts from the
simulation to a classmate after completing the simulation.
Initially, all students were assembled in a classroom where they received an introduction to the
experiment. Then, they received randomized ID numbers, which assigned them to one of the four
experimental conditions (a-d) (see Figure I).
Figure I: Overview of the experimental procedure and the four experimental conditions: (a), (b),
(c), and (d).
To avoid distracting students in the alternative media condition, students in the initial
DVR conditions (b) and (d) were led into a different classroom where they engaged in the
simulation on their own laptops. Meanwhile, students in the initial IVR conditions (a) and (c)
received a five-minute oral instruction on how to set up and use the HMDs before entering the
simulation. There were enough HMDs that every student in the IVR condition could use one
simultaneously. Two to three lab instructors were available in each classroom to supervise the
sessions, equivalent to ten students sharing two instructors. Immediately after the simulation,
students in conditions (c) and (d) were allocated to separate classrooms to complete post-test 1.
Meanwhile, students in conditions (a) and (b) stayed in their respective classrooms and engaged
in the GLS of in teaching in pairs for 10 minutes. Then they completed the same post-test as
students in conditions (c) and (d).
Figure II: Students in the IVR-condition. Photo: Leif Bolding.
After a break of one hour, all students returned to complete the second part of the
experiment. Here, they engaged in the media condition different from the one they completed
previously; students in conditions (b) and (d) used IVR, while students in condition (a) and (c)
used DVR. The following procedure was similar to the one described in the first part of the
study. Ultimately, all students finished post-test 2. The total duration of the experiment was about
4 hours, and experiments took place in the course of two days.
The VR simulation
The learning intervention consisted of the “Electron Transport Chain Virtual Simulation”
developed by the EdTech company Labster (see Figure III for screenshots of the simulation or
Labster, 2020, for an introduction to the simulation). Research on educational technology has
previously used similar VR simulations (e.g., Coleman & Smith, 2019; de Vries & May, 2019;
Makransky et al., 2019a). The simulation used in this study encourages inquiry-based learning
where students learn from their own mistakes (Pedaste et al., 2015) and based on Mayer's (2008)
knowledge taxonomy, it promotes four types of knowledge, including: facts (e.g., the definition
of the ETC), concepts (e.g., understanding the importance and uses of photosynthesis),
procedures (e.g., the step by step process of conducting the experiment), and beliefs (e.g.,
building self‐efficacy by providing positive feedback after successfully completing a task).
Furthermore, it is designed in a way that allows students to experience the same simulation in
IVR and DVR.
The IVR simulation was administered on a Lenovo Mirage Solo headset, which has a
built-in screen, world tracking, and includes a hand-held controller and headphones. Interactivity
in the simulation occurred through movements of the head and use of the controller, allowing
students to explore a 360° virtual environment at their own pace. The DVR simulation was
accessed through students’ own laptops, mouse/touchpads, keyboards, and their own or provided
The simulation took students on average 36 minutes (SD=8.77) to complete. The main
learning objectives were to teach students about photosynthesis, the properties of light and
colorful pigments, and the ETC (see Appendix B for details). In the simulation, students could
explore the intracellular processes and perform complex laboratory experiments in the fully
equipped virtual laboratory. Throughout the simulation, students interacted with a virtual agent
and a lab pad where they received instructions and multiple-choice questions with explanatory
feedback to prime their metacognition. Students had to answer the questions in order to
progress through the experiment.
Figure III: Screenshots of The Electron Transport Chain Virtual Simulation taken from Labster
Post-test 1 was identical to post-test 2, consisting of demographic items concerning gender and
age and scales to measure retention, transfer, self-efficacy, motivation, perceived enjoyment, and
presence (see List of Items in Appendix A).
Initially, an analysis was conducted to investigate if the students in the four conditions differed
on basic characteristics of age and gender. A one-way ANOVA indicated that the groups did not
differ significantly on age, F(3,85) = 1.387, p = .252. Furthermore, a chi-square test indicated that
the groups did not differ significantly in the proportion of males and females, χ2 (df = 3, N = 89)
= 4.892, p = .180.
Results for RQ 1: Influence of Media and Methods on the Outcomes of Transfer, Retention,
We investigated RQ 1 through two factorial ANOVAs with media (IVR/DVR) and methods
(GLS/no-GLS) as independent variables, with transfer, retention, and self-efficacy as dependent
variables. For transfer, the first row of Table 1 shows that the main effect of media F(1,85) = 1.417,
p = .237 was not significant, indicating that there was no significant difference between the
knowledge transfer when learning through IVR and DVR. However, there was a significant main
effect for methods F(1,85) = 6.100, p = .016 indicating that the GLS of teaching increased transfer,
and a significant interaction F(1,85) = 6.771, p = .011. Post-hoc analyses using independent
samples t-tests separately for each media condition showed a significant effect of enactment in
IVR t(45) = 4.339, p < .0001, d = 1.26, but not in DVR t(40) = -.080, p = .937, d = .02.
For retention, the main effect for media F(1,85) = .063, p = .802, and main effect for
methods F(1,85) = .783, p = .379 were not significant. However, the interaction between media and
methods was significant F(1,85) = 4.127, p = .045. Post-hoc analyses using independent samples t-
tests independently for each media condition showed a marginally significant effect of enactment
in IVR t(45) = 2.015, p = .050, d = .60, but not in DVR t(40) = -.843, p = .404, d = 0.26.
Similarly, for self-efficacy there was no main effect for media F(1,85) = .564, p = .455, or
method F(1,85) = 3.367, p = .070. However, the interaction between media and methods was
significant F(1,85) = 4.213, p = .043. Post-hoc analyses using independent samples t-tests again
showed a significant effect of enactment in IVR t(45) = 2.781, p = .008, d = .82, but not in DVR
t(40) = -.153, p = .879, d = .05. Taken together these results show consistent interaction effects
between media and methods indicating that the GLS of teaching was specifically effective in the
IVR learning condition for the outcomes of transfer, retention, and self-efficacy, but not in the
Table 1: Means and standard deviations for the dependent variables measured in post-test
1. Significance values for the media by method ANOVAS are presented in the final three
Post-test 1 Results
IVR DVR Media Method Interaction
GLS of Teaching GLS no-GLS GLS no-GLS p-value p-value p-value
.237 .016 .011
.802 .379 .045
.455 .070 .043
.194 .114 .486
.425 .175 .354
.064 .263 .570
Results for RQ 2: Influence of Media and Methods on motivation, enjoyment, and presence
RQ 2 was investigated with two factorial ANOVAs with media (IVR/DVR) and method
(GLS/no-GLS) as independent variables, and intrinsic motivation, perceived enjoyment, and
presence as dependent variables. For motivation, row four in Table 1 shows that there was not a
significant main effect for media F(1,85) = 1.717, p = .194, or methods F(1,85) = 2.546, p = .114, or a
significant interaction between media and methods F(1,85) = .489, p = .486. Similarly, for
perceived enjoyment, row five in Table 1 illustrates that there was not a significant main effect
for media F(1,85) = .643, p = .425, or methods F(1,85) = 1.875, p = .175, or a significant interaction
between media and methods F(1,85) = .867, p = .354. Finally, for presence the final row of Table 1
demonstrates that there was not a significant main effect for media F(1,85) = 3.523, p = .064, or
methods F(1,85) = 1.270, p = .263, or a significant interaction between media and methods F(1,85) = .
325, p = .570. Taken together these results illustrate that there were surprisingly no differences
between the media conditions on the outcomes of intrinsic motivation, perceived enjoyment, and
presence, and that there were further no differences between the method conditions or
interactions on these variables.
Results for RQ 3: Influence of Media and Methods when Students Switched Media Conditions
RQ3 was investigated with two factorial ANCOVAs. These included media (IVR/DVR) and
methods (GLS/no-GLS) as independent variables, the score from post-test 2 on each outcome
(transfer, retention, self-efficacy, motivation, enjoyment, and presence) as the dependent
variables, and the score for the respective variable in post-test 1 as the covariate. That is, we
investigated the effect of media and methods on respondents’ post-test 2 score while accounting
for the score they obtained in post-test 1 as a covariate for each of the six outcomes in the study.
The same pattern of results which are presented in the top portion of Table 2 was
observed for the outcomes of transfer, retention, and self-efficacy. For transfer, there was not a
significant main effect for media F(1,83) = 1.308, p = .256, or methods F(1,83) = 2.94, p = .090, or a
significant interaction F(1,83) = 1.394, p = .241. For retention there was not a significant main
effect for media F(1,72) = 1.071, p = .304, or methods F(1,72) = .051, p = .822, or a significant
interaction F(1,72) = 1.671, p = .200. For self-efficacy there was also not a significant main effect
for media F(1,73) = .011, p = .918, or methods F(1,73) = .080, p = .779, or a significant interaction
F(1,73) = 2.816, p = .144.
We observed a different pattern for the outcomes of intrinsic motivation, perceived
enjoyment, and presence, where there was a significant main effect for media across the three
outcomes. For intrinsic motivation, a significant main effect for media was observed, indicating
that students were more intrinsically motivated when using IVR in the second intervention
compared to DVR F(1,73) = 5.766, p = .019, d = 0.16, after accounting for their post-test 1
motivation score. However, the main effect for methods F(1,73) = 1.044, p = .310 and the
interaction F(1,73) = .971, p = .328 were not significant. For perceived enjoyment, a significant
main effect for media also indicated that students enjoyed using the IVR simulation in post-test 2
compared to the DVR version F(1,73) = 16.748, p < .001, d = 0.94, after accounting for their post-
test 1 enjoyment score. However, the main effect for methods F(1,73) = .600, p = .441, and the
interaction F(1,73) = 1.173, p = .282 were not significant. For presence, a significant main effect
for media also indicated that students reported being significantly more present when using the
IVR simulation in post-test 2 compared to the DVR simulation F(1,73) = 43.326, p < .001, d =
1.29, after accounting for their post-test 1 presence score. However, the main effect for method
F(1,73) = 1.055, p = .308 and interaction F(1,73) = .552, p = .460 were not significant. Overall, these
results indicate that students had higher intrinsic motivation, perceived enjoyment, and presence
when using the IVR compared to the DVR version of the simulation, but that this only appeared
in post-test 2 once students had used the alternative version of the simulation and a frame of
Table 2: Means and standard deviations for the dependent variables measured in post-test
2. Significance values for the media by method ANCOVAS where the post-test 1 result for
each variable is included as the covariate are presented in the final columns.
Post-test 2 Test Results
IVR DVR Media Method Interaction
GLS of Teaching GLS no-GLS GLS no-GLS p-value p-value p-value
.256 .090 .241
.304 .822 .200
.918 .779 .144
.019 .310 .328
<.001 .441 .282
<.001 .308 .460
Discussion and conclusions
The main empirical findings in this study are consistent interaction effects between media and
methods, indicating that the GLS of teaching was specifically effective in IVR on the outcomes
of transfer, retention, and self-efficacy, but not in DVR.
No differences were observed between the media conditions on the outcomes of intrinsic
motivation, perceived enjoyment, and presence in post-test 1. Furthermore, we found no
differences between the method conditions or interactions on these variables. This finding is
inconsistent with most previous research that has identified media differences in favor of IVR
compared to less immersive media on outcomes of intrinsic motivation (e.g., Makransky et al.,
2019a), perceived enjoyment (e.g., Makransky et al., 2019a), and presence (e.g., Makransky et
al., 2017b). However, students’ average score measuring outcomes were relatively high both in
the IVR and the DVR group (i.e., in intrinsic motivation between 3.4 and 3.76 on a scale from 1-
5 and in perceived enjoyment between 3.59 and 3.97 on a scale from 1-5) indicating that they
generally enjoyed both media conditions.
Lastly, post-test 2 indicated that students had higher intrinsic motivation, perceived
enjoyment, and presence when using IVR compared to DVR, once they had used the alternative
version of the simulation. This suggests that students preferred IVR when they had a frame of
reference after trying both media conditions. Finally, no differences were found on outcomes of
transfer, retention, and self-efficacy in post-test 2.
The major theoretical implication from this study supports the perspective that method can
enable media affordances. We found an interaction between media and method on the outcomes
of transfer, retention, and self-efficacy. This suggests that while using IVR compared to DVR
may not improve learning among students, combining an IVR lesson with the GLS of teaching
can enhance learning significantly.
This finding is consistent with principles from CTML (Mayer, 2014), suggesting that
acquiring new information in IVR can increase students’ cognitive load to an extent that exceeds
working-memory capacity, as experiences in IVR are highly engaging without necessarily
facilitating appropriate metacognitive processing and reflection. Applying the GLS of teaching to
an IVR lesson encourages students to reflect over the learned material and facilitates the active
process of selecting, organizing, and integrating information (Fiorella & Mayer, 2016). The GLS
of teaching may in this way work as supportive scaffolding, which enables the affordances and
potential for using IVR in educational settings. Hence, in this study, the medium of IVR could
make it easier for students to relate to the ETC because the simulation provided them an
opportunity to explore an otherwise ‘invisible’ phenomena. However, the GLS of teaching was
needed in order for students to optimally integrate the new information within their long-term
The empirical findings from this study highlight the importance of the instructional method when
implementing IVR simulations in educational settings. These results are, therefore, relevant to
practitioners who wish to use IVR in an educational context. Specifically, we demonstrate that
IVR can enhance learning outcomes as well as self-efficacy when implemented with the GLS of
teaching in pairs; a method which is applicable to most learning scenarios. It should be noted that
when the GLS of teaching was not used, the DVR group performed equally or better than the
IVR group on post-test outcomes of transfer, retention, and self-efficacy. This emphasizes the
importance of combining an IVR lesson with appropriate instructional methods. It also suggests
that an IVR lesson should not be considered a replacement for all learning activities but rather
that given the right method, it can enhance learning in particular educational settings.
Limitations and Future Research
The GLS used in this study is complicated to investigate in an experimental setting, as many
factors are involved in the act of teaching. Students may have learned from the act itself, from
listening to a fellow student, or from the social interaction that occurred during this exchange.
Future research should, therefore, attempt to disentangle these factors to investigate the
underlying processes that resulted in the learning gains. Furthermore, studies could investigate if
grouping strategy affects learning outcomes when using the GLS of teaching in VR.
This study is conducted on the basis of a single IVR lesson that took place over the
course of a full day. This was in order to match the time spent on a similar real-life laboratory
experiment of the same content. Most research investigating the value of IVR in education uses
short interventions below 20 minutes that are not integrated into a course (e.g., Meyer et al.,
2019; Parong & Mayer, 2018). The IVR experience used in this study took students in average
36 minutes to complete and was an integrated part of a higher education course. Thus, the current
study builds on one of the more integrated and longer experimental designs compared to most of
the current literature in the field. However, virtual experiments give students the opportunity to
obtain results immediately rather than having to wait for physical laboratory results, which are
typically not available straightaway. This might explain why the duration might be somewhat
shorter than a similar physical lab experiment.
The intervention was not repeated, as it was part of a first-year university biochemistry
course in which students learn about basic intracellular functions, such as the ETC, only once.
Future research could focus on longitudinal studies to investigate the long-term effects of a
single IVR lesson or the effects of multiple IVR lessons as part of an extended education
There is abundant literature about cybersickness when using IVR (e.g., LaViola, 2000;
Rebenitsch & Owen, 2016). Cybersickness can occur due to discrepancy between the vestibular
and visual senses, for example when someone in a stationary position experiences locomotion in
a virtual environment (LaViola, 2000). Initiatives to reduce cybersickness in the current study
include high-quality equipment to prevent display issues, providing user control, and avoiding
locomotion why students could remain seated throughout the entire simulation. Furthermore,
students were told that they could stop the learning session if they experienced any type of
discomfort. No students stopped the lesson, which indicates that this was not an issue. However,
we did not measure cybersickness. Therefore, future studies could investigate the effects of
cybersickness, as this issue is important to be aware of when using IVR lessons in classrooms.
Some students experienced technical problems in the IVR condition, which may have
impaired the outcomes of intrinsic motivation, perceived enjoyment, and presence. However, in
the IVR condition, every ten students were assisted by two or three lab instructors to limit the
effects of technical difficulties. Nevertheless, other studies could also investigate if these
outcomes are dependent on students being new to IVR or accustomed to the medium. Future
studies could also implement IVR with the GLS of teaching in subjects other than biochemistry
to investigate the generalizability of the findings.
Finally, based on the finding that media interacts with methods, more research should
focus on investigating what instructional design principles generalize to more immersive media
such as IVR. Assuming that applying a GLS to an IVR lesson improves learning outcomes due to
students reflecting over the learning content, a starting point would be to examine if other GLSs
outlined by Fiorella and Mayer (2016) can improve learning outcomes in similar ways.
We would like to thank all of the students who participated in the study at the Department of
Biology at University of Copenhagen.
Statements on Ethics
This project was approved by the University Ethics Committee.
Open Data & Conflicts
No conflicts of interest to declare. Data available upon request.
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List of Items
LABEL ITEM Source and
Motivation Adapted from Deci,
Eghrari, Patrick, &
Cronbach’s alpha =
0.81 (post-test 1) and
0.81 (post-test 2)
Mot_1 I enjoy working with Photosynthesis
Mot_2 Electron transport chain activities are fun to perform
Mot_3 Photosynthesis is boring
Mot_4 Electron Transport Chain does not hold my attention at all
Mot_5 I would describe photolysis of water and electron
transport as very interesting
Cronbach’s alpha =
0.81 (post-test 1) and
0.83 (post-test 2)
SE_1 I am confident and can understand the basic concepts of
Electron transport chain
SE_2 I am confident that I understand the most complex
concepts related to Photosynthesis
SE_3 I am confident that I can do an excellent job on the
assignments and tests in this course
SE_4 I expect to do well in this course
SE_5 I am certain that I can master the skills being taught in
Adapted from Tokel
& İsler, 2015.
Cronbach’s alpha =
0.89 (post-test 1) and
0.87 (post-test 2)
Enj_1 I find using virtual reality/computer simulations
Enj_2 Using virtual reality/computer simulations is pleasant
Enj_3 I have fun using virtual reality/computer simulations
Presence Adapted from
Lilleholt, & Aaby,
Cronbach’s alpha =
0.74 (post-test 1) and
0.85 (post-test 2)
Pres_1 The virtual environment seemed real to me.
Pres_2 I had a sense of acting in the virtual environment, rather
than operating something from outside.
Pres_3 My experience in the virtual environment seemed
consistent with my experiences in the real world
Pres_4 While I was in the virtual environment, I had a sense of
Pres_5 I was completely captivated by the virtual world.
Retention Cronbach’s alpha =
0.71 (post-test 1) and
0.67 (post-test 2)
Q1 Light is composed of particles called:
Q2 Which photosystem does the light-dependent reaction
Q3 Where are the molecules of the electron transport chain
found in plant cells?
Q4 A biological redox reaction always involves:
Q5 The electrons for the light-dependent reactions comes
Q6 What molecule reduces NADP+ to NADPH in
Q7 Chlorophyll gives leaves a green color because it
Q8 What is the primary function of the light-dependent
reactions of photosynthesis?
Q9 What are the products of the light reaction used for in the
Q10 What is the final electron acceptor in the light reaction?
Q11 What molecule absorbs sunlight for photosynthesis?
Q12 Which of the following statements are true for
Q13 How many membranes surround the chloroplast?
Q14 When oxygen is released as a result of photosynthesis, it
is a by-product of which of the following?
Q15 A plant has a unique photosynthetic pigment. The leaves
of this plant appear to be reddish yellow. What
wavelengths of visible light are being absorbed by this
Q16 The figure below shows the absorption spectrum for
chlorophyll a and the spectrum for the activity of
photosynthesis. Why are they different?
Transfer Each question is
scored on a scale
from 0 to 4 based on
Transfer1 Explain in details photosystem I
Transfer2 Explain in details photosystem II
The Electron Transport Chain Virtual Simulation
The main objective was to teach students about photosynthesis, the properties of light and
colorful pigments, and the ETC. In the virtual environment, students had to help a group of
engineers to investigate if dark algae could work as a sustainable source of energy. Thus,
students’ task was to explore whether green light could be utilized to perform photosynthesis in
the dark algae. They had to test their hypothesis by performing experiments in the virtual lab
with the help of a virtual pedagogical agent. Initially, students used the Hill reaction and
spectrophotometry to measure the energy created by photosynthesis inside the algae. To fully
understand this process, students explored the inside of a chloroplast cell and observed the
steps in the ETC by interacting with different molecules. Then, students returned to the virtual
laboratory where they used their newly acquired knowledge to complete the experiment.
During the simulation, students interacted with the virtual agent and a lab pad, where they
received instructions and multiple-choice questions with explanatory feedback to prime their
meta cognition (see Figure II for screenshots of the simulation).