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Virtual Reality As A Tool For Social Emotional Learning? What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Virtual Reality As A Tool For Social Emotional Learning?  What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I’m going to make a bold statement here.

As I traverse and explore the world of social-emotional learning  (SEL) in my new business, I am becoming better versed and attuned to the best practices among all the wonderful ways to implement social-emotional learning, youth development, and 21st-century skill building both in and out of school time. (And, I am learning every day #alwaysastudent). I read all the time, there is so much emphasis on the concept of working with the whole child. Now research is bursting about SEL’s impact on our youth. I read articles and opinions, listening to educator specialists at conferences who are observing and releasing research that proves that kids learn better when they’re social-emotionally grounded. We have known this! 

I am simultaneously beginning to notice a rise in tech companies or tech educators who are saying and producing articles and blogs that say: virtual reality (VR) and technology will help kids communicate better, increase their social-emotional capacity or empathy, and that it can improve their behavior. WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

Let’s be clear, I think we must be very careful about this message.

I believe it’s a stretch to say that kids are becoming more connected by using virtual reality. Look at the definition. Virtual reality: the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors. If you just look at the physical basics of putting on headphones, gloves or a set of goggles, a person is automatically physically disconnecting from human communication. These devices put a person in a false environment, while it ‘feels’ real, there isn’t an authentic connection, just a feeling based on what messages the mind is reviewing. This is a disconnection and can become confusing to young people while their brain is in its development stages. It’s not a true connection to their five senses in real time. Again, this is only a simulated experience. How are we to expect our youth to behave in the real world with effective communication skills and life skills if they are depending on VR to teach them?

In an article from, there is an example of a responsible way to work with kids and VR. But note the last portion where it reads, “A report Bailenson co-authored for Common Sense Media highlights the research that has—and has not—explored the effects of virtual reality on children. It states that the ‘potentially negative outcomes of VR include impacts on children’s sensory systems and vision, aggression, and unhealthy amounts of escapism and distraction from the physical world.’”

I believe, while we need kids to be able to use devices and virtual reality simulations to learn and remain 21st-century skill builders and capable leaders, they will not learn nearly as much while using devices only. They WILL learn more by interacting with people in person, talking over the phone, having face to face meetings (even over Zoom or Skype), schedule walking meetings, having dinners with no devices, and so and on. Can you add onto this list?

My request… find the balance. Open minds and hearts more over opening your phone, texting, and personal messaging on social media sites. Find the necessary balance between both worlds. Be very conscious of the cool virtual reality that is tricking our senses into believing that the experience is as real as a real one.

Be a leader with your students and have  discussions about touching (in an appropriate manner) in real time, connecting with each other, looking up from devices when walking down the street, make eye contact, learn how to give a real handshake, understand how to talk about yourself without using an emoji, how be a strong interviewer, and team player in person. And that when you ‘level up,’ it doesn’t make you more connected, it just jacks up your adrenaline. It’s only temporary, I promise. If your students are loving VR, bring them back down to earth and have a real conversation about human connection.

Just find the balance.

For breakfast, I had the keto coffee. That is all.

Author: @juliagabor

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In 2014, Julia was awarded the Women Making a Difference by U.S. Senator of California Lou Correa for her contributions in youth programming in Orange County, CA. In, 2013 Julia received the OSTI award from BOOST for her contribution to out-of-school time individuals by providing innovative approaches to support students, families and communities. Julia currently develops tailored training's and facilitates workshops for educators, non-profit organizations, mentor professionals and students. She works with you to create strategies for educational programs to enhance student success and a productive future. She also will establish effective practices for staff communication and leadership. As the Director of Education at WRiTE BRAiN WOLRD Julia is built, expanded and introduced the WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS curriculum into education communities across the country. WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS inspires creativity while applying project- based literacy and builds 21st Century skills. In only two and a half years WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS is being implemented in 41 states with 45,000 student becoming published authors of their own children’s book. While at the Tiger Woods Foundation (TWF), Julia launched a college internship program for sports management, hospitality, event planning and marketing majors from universities across the country. Julia develops specialized programs ranging from activity based curriculum in a variety of different educational areas to creating a collegiate mentor program. Starting in 2006, Julia managed a national character education program called- Tiger's Action Plan, a free youth development curriculum that focuses on leadership, goal setting, service learning and career exploration. Prior to joining TWF, Julia was a Coordinator for the After School All - Stars in Los Angeles, where she taught a range of middle school enrichment classes- from personal leadership to sports, to performance and visual art classes. Julia has been teaching/leading groups since she was a teenager working alongside her mother, who is an acting teacher and coach in the USA and Europe. Julia has served as a trainer/facilitator in disguised learning and cultural diversity throughout California. In 2009, Julia received the Honored Educator Award from California State Fullerton University for dedication to education in Orange County, CA. Miss Gabor is a graduate of the State University of New York, Fredonia receiving her bachelor's degree in the Fine Arts. She received her Master’s in Educational Leadership from Antioch University in 2012.


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    There is some clarification the article is missing. “They WILL learn more by interacting with people in person, talking over the phone, having face to face meetings (even over Zoom or Skype), schedule walking meetings, having dinners with no devices, and so and on.” Audible interaction with video is the same level of dimensional reduced interaction as VR. But it would be alarming if you thought skype/zoom is somehow more connected than VR when studies have shown that users in VR show up to a 30% greater memory retention of conversations/activities done in the latter medium. VR does require a greater emotional maturity in some experiences, I’d recommended the works of immersive journalist Nonny De La Penna if you are interested in some truly empathetic and passably life changing HMD experiences. Enthusiasts/evangelists in the VR industry only recommend that children under 12 do not use VR because their eyes are still developing. Otherwise solid article.
    – Sincerely the VR professional in the photo at the top of the article.

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      Hello Eugene! I love recommendations for more information. Thank you for responding. I will look up Nonny De La Penna.

      This is a blog, definitely not an article, mostly opinion, with a few resources added. It is mostly my opinion that we need to balance all technology with more human contact because there is lots of research emerging about how disconnected our kids are. So, while we need them to be tech-savvy and interested in technology, we can’t get caught up in the myth they are growing emotionally and socially because of VR, HMD, and technological communications. That is the only point I am working with.

      Very happy to have your feedback. – Sincerely, Julia

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