Metacognition and You: How Virtual Reality Aids Self Awareness in Learning
How often do you think about your own thinking? It may sound like an existential riddle, but the educational psychology term metacognition is, simply put, just that: thinking about your thinking. Delving deeper, it also refers to a learner’s ability to tap into the awareness of their own prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, thoughtfully taking necessary steps to problem solve along the way, modifying their approach based on results, and allowing them to select the proper cognitive tool to accomplish the task.
This heightened self awareness is beneficial in many ways, especially for learners of brand-new skills. Cognizance of the planning, monitoring, and assessing of one’s understanding while also being critically aware of one’s role as a thinker and learner can help in the long-term effects of acquiring a new ability.
In essence: Learning is not just about the what, it’s about the how.
The Examination of Learning
In the landmark study How People Learn, researchers proved the effectiveness of the “metacognitive approach to instruction,” which increased their students abilities to adapt their learnings to new contexts through a level of awareness that extended beyond the subject matter at hand.
Armed with their new knowledge along with the hyper consciousness of metacognition, the subjects were able to place themselves in different scenarios that would potentially have the same implications as their learning structure. It also made them more aware of their strengths and weaknesses in any given situation. By recognizing their own limitations, the learner is encouraged to actively expand their strategies and resources to bolster those areas of opportunity.
How Virtual Reality Aids in Developing Self Awareness
What types of learning allow for this type of deep analysis of the process? Textbook learning is by definition rote; the learner absorbs the information by passively taking it in. In workplaces, role play is often employed; however, the act of imitating a scenario with another person often takes the learner out of the believability of the situation and creates an unwanted artificiality.
In contrast, virtual reality is the ideal platform for metacognitive learning. The authenticity and immersive quality of the scenarios are highly desirable to achieve a deeper state of learning.
Particularly when it comes to soft skills training in the workplace — the type of learning that augments an individual’s capacity for such desirable interpersonal qualities as leadership, empathy, problem solving, and teamwork — virtual reality provides advantages that other types of learning simply cannot.
Consider this scenario: You’re having a conversation with a direct report who is experiencing an issue with another colleague. As a manager, you’re asked to deftly intervene, solving the problem swiftly, but also making sure each employee feels heard, respected, and valued within your organization. You may feel overwhelmed and even unprepared by such a situation when it arises unexpectedly.
Now picture having had this discussion many times before, in a safe space where you were able to practice leadership and communication skills without fear of consequences. A place where you felt like you were able to not only learn new methods, but you could take a step back to assess why assimilating these techniques would serve you better in future situations.
Virtual reality simulations present a uniquely powerful learning opportunity. By presenting the professional with an immersive environment in which to repeatedly practice their responses in challenging scenarios, they are able to flex their cognitive muscles, much like a bodybuilder prepares for a competition. The result is a confident, strong leader who has a stable of well-learned leadership tools to call upon that will inspire and solidify their team.