Oculus Rift Immersive Learning Platform

Oculus Rift Immersive Learning Platform
Project “FlashFlow”
Douglas College Digital Cultures Lab Project – Feb 2015 – May 2015
@Douglas College Maker Lab

What We’re Doing: This project involves the utilization of the Oculus Rift as an immersive learning platform. An advanced flash card app will be developed to boost retention rates, shorten study time, and induce optimal mental “flow” states during exams.

Why We Are Doing It: In accord with the mandate of Douglas College to be a centre of experiential learning we seek to explore the capabilities of the Oculus Rift as an enhanced educational medium.

Some Ways of Thinking about This: From hieroglyphs on cave walls to VHS cassettes, humans have embraced the latest mediums as a tool to educate. Virtual reality is no exception. The Oculus Rift (OC) is the leading VR device on the market and was designed primarily for gaming. Pedagogical opportunities also exist to not only extend where we learn (e.g. remote learning via virtual presence) but in how we interact and assimilate knowledge.

As an introduction to its capabilities, the Douglas College Office of Research and Innovation and the Digital Cultures Lab will be developing the next generation of flash cards. What began as an effective study tool using simple paper index cards filled with bite-size information to self-quiz and memorize, flash cards have evolved into Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms like Brainscape that employ research-based cognitive techniques to optimize the learning process (repetition, active recall, etc.).

While also utilizing these techniques, the Douglas Oculus Rift flashcard app titled “FlashFlow,” takes it a few steps further:

  1. Because the Oculus is a much more immersive experience that engages one’s full attention, we seek to improve mental permeability (without drugs!) to yield better retention and shorter study time over existing methods.
  2. Many students perform poorly on exams not from insufficient understanding of the material but because the act of taking an exam or seeing certain course material (e.g. formulas) causes anxiety that impedes performance. Our app will explore embedding into the flash card experience Pavlovian emotional triggers to condition students to reset negative associations and maintain a peak psychological condition during an exam (known as “flow state” or “in the zone”).
  3. Subject to approval, subsequent iterations of the app will explore the use of concomitant psychological techniques during the learning process. These can include EMDR, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and induced hypnagogic states.
  4. We will also explore the use of the Oculus as brainwave entrainment device to induce a beta band resonance during a flashflow session for accelerated retention. This is based on an important recent discovery by MIT researchers in systems neuroscience termed “brainwave synchronization” that enables rapid learning. Two brain areas are involved in learning – the striatum and prefrontal cortex – “the striatum learns very simple things really quickly, and then its output trains the prefrontal cortex to gradually pick up on the bigger picture. The striatum learns the pieces of the puzzle, and then the prefrontal cortex puts the pieces of the puzzle together.” What they found is that as the brain shifts from rote memorization to learning categories, there is a corresponding shift in EEG patterns. Brain waves known as “beta bands,” (3-40 Hz) produced independently by both the prefrontal cortex and the striatum, begin to synchronize with each other that initiates the formation of new anatomical communication circuits.


Version 1 of the app is designed to be simple and explore basic Pavlovian effects. It uses pre-prepared flash card content provided by instructors and downloaded into the app. Interspersed throughout the flash deck will be flashed images, visualizations and music that create positive emotional stimulation that gets mentally “wired” to the material. Participating students will be asked to provide a few images of their own that they really like. The flashflow sessions will be designed to be taken in brief doses not lasting longer than 10 minutes at a time. Ideally, at the time of the course exam, the trigger images will be displayed on the class projector to trigger the positive state and induce information recall.

An Application Specification Document (ASD) is currently being prepared to guide the coding process.