How VR Technology effects Spatial Navigation

As part of my learning experience in my Games and Learning graduate course at CU Denver, I’ll critique literature tied to the theme of game-based learning. These critiques will summarize features like research design, learning theory, methods, findings, and implications for the study and application of games and learning.

Below is my latest critique

on the second article published in the journal, Nature, on Virtual Reality Explored. This short publication examines how Virtual Reality (VR) is being used to study spatial navigation in animals (lab rats) to determine if animals navigate the same way in VR as in real life. Although the authors did not touch on it, I assume these experiments are in preparation to study how VR technology effects the human brain with regards to navigation.

Since we’ve been discussing topics associated with game and neuroscience, I thought this would be an interesting topic to explore. How the brain processes spatial navigation is complicated and relies on both multi-sensory information as well as visuals. Today, scientific studies rely heavily on what’s controllable: visuals and movement. Further development and validation on how VR can extend higher cognitive functions (motor interactions) is needed.

How does this relate to games and learning?

If scientists are really just beginning to investigate how VR enables (or takes away) our ability to navigate the same way as in real life, how is this effecting our ability to learn? We’ve already started to see a rise in VR technology across industries. What is this really doing to our brain? Donato and Moser (2016) reported that in one VR analysis, 60% of place cells were silent in a VR environment compared to real world.

Obviously I’m no scientist but, this makes me consider a few things: As / If VR becomes more integrated into our education and daily lives, our brain will either learn to adapt or find a way to over-compensate for the lack cognitive mapping. Maybe we’ll get to a point where we become dependent on VR worlds and unable to navigate in the real world. Or, maybe we will have to learn how to navigate these two worlds. I suppose only time will tell.

Although spatial navigation

is the primary focus of the article reviewed, I think it’s important to consider how may VR also effect the social aspect of learning. I have yet to try VR but it seems like a very individualized experience. If collaboration and experimentation are key to successful learning outcomes, how does VR address that? Do you collaborate with virtual people and, how might that add to or take away from real-world interactions? What does this do to a child’s developing brain?

As the case with everything, VR has its pros and cons. It can provide experiences that one may not get ever in real-life. These experience surly open up the mind to different perspectives, which ultimately help expand on our experiences and deepen learning.

I’m excited about the potential VR has and what further research will discover. Our brain is mysterious place!





Minderer, M., Harvey, C. D., Donato, F., & Moser, E. I. (2016). Neuroscience: Virtual reality explored. Nature, 533(7603), 324-325. doi:10.1038/nature17899

  3 Replies to “How VR Technology effects Spatial Navigation”

  1. March 14, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Much of VR is solitary, but there is a solid stream of thinking and application that lends itself to collaborative VR experiences. For example: Hi-Fidelity
    Producing: Stereographic 3D open source software for shared virtual reality. The shared 3D experience is quite empowering.

    An interesting book to read, a dystopic young adult novel coming out this year in film, is Ready Player One. It shows Gaming and VR taken to the ultimate level. WIll you like it?

  2. March 14, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I forgot to mention that Google Expeditions has been designed as a social experience, one in which students use the VR for a short period, whip off the headgear, and then engage in social discussion/interchange. Google has designed it this way.

  3. March 19, 2017 at 9:00 am

    I agree with you that VR seems like a solitary experience, however I think the social aspect will become similar to how we engage and interact on the web, or even in multiplayer games. This would require VR hardware to be as ubiquitous and accessible as computers and mobile devices. Since we can jam our phone into a simple and relatively inexpensive VR frame helmet thing, I think that we are closer to that reality.

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