What Makes VIE unique?

Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) have unique features that distinguish them from other media and communication technologies. These features include interactivity, presence, and immersion, allowing users to involve with digital content in new and meaningful ways.

Unlike traditional media, which are typically passive and one-way, VIEs enable users to actively engage with instructional materials, manipulate them, and explore environments in a hands-on, interactive way. This interactivity is facilitated by a range of input devices, such as controllers, keyboards, and motion sensors, that enable users to navigate and manipulate the VIE in real-time. This makes VIEs particularly well-suited for training, education, and gaming applications, where users must develop and practice specific skills and behaviors.

Another key feature of VIEs is presence, which refers to the feeling of being in and part of the virtual environment. Presence is achieved through sensory feedback, including visual, auditory, haptic, and olfactory cues, creating realism and coherence in the VIE.  This sense of presence can enhance users' engagement and motivation and lead to more effective learning and training outcomes.

One important aspect of presence is the sense of “tunneling” that can occur in VIEs. Cognitive tunneling occurs when users become so focused on a particular aspect of the environment or task at hand that they lose awareness of other aspects of the environment (de Oliveira Faria, 2020). This can be either positive or negative, depending on the situation. For example, in a training simulation for firefighters, tunneling on the location of a fire may be beneficial, but tunneling on the use of a particular tool may be detrimental to the overall effectiveness of the training. Designing VIEs to encourage users to remain engaged with the environment is important. This can be done through various design features, such as dynamic and interactive environments, meaningful choices and consequences, and clear feedback on performance.

The third key feature of VIEs is immersion, which refers to the degree to which users are absorbed and focused on the VIE, to the point of losing track of their physical surroundings. Immersion is facilitated by the interactivity and presence of the VIE, as well as by the ability of VIEs to create complex and dynamic virtual environments that can be tailored to the user's interests and needs. This immersion can enhance users' emotional and cognitive engagement with the VIE and increase learning and training effectiveness (Radianti et al., 2020).

An example of cognitive engagement in VIEs can be seen in a study conducted by Parong and Mayer(2021), which explores the use of Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) for teaching history, focusing on whether the immersive nature of VIEs can facilitate learning. The authors conducted a study in which participants learned about historical events using either a VIE or a traditional computer-based learning environment and then completed a test to measure their knowledge retention. The results showed that participants who learned using the VIE had higher knowledge retention scores than those who learned using the traditional environment. The authors conclude that VIEs can potentially enhance learning outcomes by creating a more immersive and engaging learning experience. However, they also note that further research is needed to fully understand the benefits and limitations of this technology for learning.

The unique combination of interactivity, presence, and immersion makes VIEs well-suited for a wide range of applications. In particular, VIEs have shown great promise in medical training, where they can provide a safe and controlled environment for trainees to practice complex and high-risk procedures (Graafland et al., 2012). VIEs have also been used in fields such as architecture, urban planning, and engineering, where they can enable users to explore and evaluate complex designs and structures (Liu, 2020).

However, there are also challenges associated with using VIEs, including hardware and software glitches and the potential for negative effects such as motion sickness or disorientation. In addition, there are concerns about the potential social and ethical implications of VIEs, such as the potential for addiction or social isolation and the potential for VIEs to be used for deceptive or manipulative purposes. For example, a study by Segovia and Bailenson (2009) found that young elementary children who watched their virtual doppelganger swimming with orcas believed the virtual experience to be real, even a week after the experience. Similarly, in other recent studies, young children would connect with "virtual characters" or avatars, and the VR avatars were seen as more real and influential than those on other mediums, such as television. This made it more difficult for the children to inhibit their actions or not follow the avatar's commands (Kenwright, 2018).

Furthermore, it is not just young children who internalize VR scenarios; these scenarios can also impact young adults. This highlights the need to carefully consider the potential effects of VR experiences, particularly in the context of ethical concerns such as informed consent and participant well-being. It is important for researchers to ensure that appropriate protections are in place to safeguard. 

Despite these challenges, the unique combination of interactivity, presence, and immersion offered by VIEs make them an important and growing area of research and development, with potential applications in a wide range of domains.


de Oliveira Faria, N. (2020, March). Evaluating automotive augmented reality head-up display effects on driver performance and distraction. In 2020 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW) (pp. 553-554). IEEE.

Graafland, M., Schraagen, J. M., & Schijven, M. P. (2012). Systematic review of serious games for medical education and surgical skills training. Journal of British Surgery, 99(10), 1322-1330.

Kenwright, B. (2018). Virtual reality: ethical challenges and dangers [opinion]. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 37(4), 20-25.

Liu, X. (2020). Three-dimensional visualized urban landscape planning and design based on virtual reality technology. IEEE access, 8, 149510-149521.

Parong, J., & Mayer, R. E. (2021). Cognitive and affective processes for learning science in immersive virtual reality. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 37(1), 226-241.

Radianti, J., Majchrzak, T. A., Fromm, J., & Wohlgenannt, I. (2020). A systematic review of immersive virtual reality applications for higher education: Design elements, lessons learned, and research agenda. Computers & Education, 147, 103778.

Segovia, K. Y., & Bailenson, J. N. (2009). Virtually true: Children's acquisition of false memories in virtual reality. Media Psychology, 12(4), 371-393.

Class Activities: Creating a VIE

In this activity, you will work in groups to build and critically analyze a Virtual Immersive Environment (VIE). This activity will require creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and the application of your understanding of the unique features of VIEs—interactivity, presence, and immersion.

Each group will create a basic design for a VIE intended for a specific application, such as education, training, entertainment, etc. The design does not have to be technically exhaustive, but it should consider the unique features of VIEs.

Interactivity: How will users interact with the environment? What input devices will they use?

The groups would plan out how users can interact with their virtual tour. For instance, users might click on various objects in the environment to learn more about them, such as pyramids, hieroglyphs, or the Nile River. Alternatively, they could engage with virtual characters representing people from that time, like pharaohs or farmers, to get snippets of stories or facts about life in Ancient Egypt.

Presence: How will you make the user feel a part of the environment? What sensory feedback will you provide?

To create a sense of presence, groups will discuss ways to incorporate sensory feedback. They plan to include ambient sounds like bustling marketplaces, the flowing Nile, or ancient music. They also visually represent the change from day to night, capturing the grandeur of the pyramids under the stars.

Immersion: How will you keep the user engaged and focused on the environment?

To enhance immersion, the groups might add tasks or challenges within the environment. For instance, users might have to decode hieroglyphics or plan a harvest using the flooding patterns of the Nile. These tasks could also contribute to a larger narrative or quest in the tour, such as helping to build a pyramid or preparing for an important religious festival.

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