Operant Innovations 014 | VR - Our Modern Day Operant Chamber

Join Annie Escalante, the Co-Founder and Chief Behavioral Officer, from BehaviorMe as she dives into the ever evolving field of Virtual Reality.

Learn more about Virtual Reality and BehaviorMe at https://behaviorme.co/


Annie Escalante (00:05):

Hello, everyone. My name is Annie Escalante and I'm a behavior analyst and I'm also a co-founder for a company called BehaviorMe where we create virtual reality hiring and training simulations for the caring fields, starting with behavior analysis. 

Today, I would like to discuss how VR is our modern day operant chamber. How could Skinner's revolutionary learning mechanism that was used to understand basic principles of behavior, be compared to a bit of machinery that you place over your eyes? Well, they're actually more alike than you think. I know. I know this is a bold statement, but I hope by the end of this podcast episode, I can describe what university research labs, others in neighboring clinical fields and many companies within the fortune 500 have already discovered firsthand. 

VR is the next wave of immersive and embodied learning. For centuries, scientists and educators have been interested in better and more immersive modalities of learning from the stereoscope to the sensorama. We are interested in exposing learners to stimuli and environments that are out of reach and difficult to access. It wasn't until the 1980s, when technologist and futurist, Jaron Lanier, coined the term virtual reality and produced a VR headset that was set up for commercial use and like most novel technology, it was pricey and clunky and filled with so much potential. But the technology just wasn't there. At least not yet. 

It wasn't until the 2010s when Google and Oculus produced their version of an affordable and accessible VR headset. Google created the Google cardboard. A phone-based VR experience where learners insert their phone into a nifty folded cardboard headset. This was revolutionary. VR was finally accessible, attainable and affordable, but there were some drawbacks. VR and the promise of VR as seen in the 1980s and nineties... Well, it called for a headset where you can actually physically walk around in the virtual space where you can interact with a virtual stimuli and where you can suspend disbelief and believe, truly believe, you were really in that VR setting, but this type of VR, phone-based VR, it just doesn't allow for those features to be experienced. And that's because phone-based VR focuses on something called three degrees of freedom, which is just a fancy way of saying you're limited by a superficial movement on the X, Y, and Z planes. 

Modern day headsets, such as those from companies like Oculus, Pico and HTC, they allow for six degrees of freedom, which basically means if you move in the real world, that movement is directly correlated with your movement in the virtual environment. Virtual reality in the hands of a virtual reality developer who understands instructional design and pedagogy and behavior analysis. Well, they can create incredibly meaningful and accessible learning opportunities. Since the 1990s university researchers have demonstrated the learning effects, generality and maintenance of skills taught in VR and at the end of the day, VR like all other tangible technology is simply a tool. 

It's the learning procedures and overall processes and contingencies embedded in the VR simulation that gives this modality of learning its power. As behavior analysts, we are in a position to expand our field and knowledge base. One way of doing this is to look at our past learning history and look at the learning history of those around us. And those who came before us. Virtual reality allows us analysts to achieve this endeavor simultaneously. Behavior analysts, like myself, are able to see what our forefathers and foremothers have done to one: pave the way in creating meaningful research within varying modalities of learning and two: see what others in neighboring fields are doing with incredible technological tools. 

I see surgeons and neuroscientists researching and actively applying this research using VR to teach graduate and medical students on intricate and precise behaviors and contingencies. I've seen firsthand VR simulations that immerse its user in simulations to teach concepts of race, equality, social justice, and gender. I've seen large scale companies use VR to teach their employees and staff technical and soft skills that would have been taught in less immersive and boring ways. I've seen clients and staff within behavior analysis learn socially significant behaviors and contingencies all within the safety of VR. See, VR is a Skinner box. It's an operant chamber. It's what I imagined Skinner dreamed about when he created his operant chamber oh, so many years ago. 

It's an environment that the software developer or the teacher or the behavior analyst can have full control over. It's an environment that can mimic a clinic or a school or an office setting or a community setting. It's an environment where we can learn essential skills like schedules or reinforcement or assessments or shaping protocols all within the safety of VR. Practice the mastery? Sure. Practice the fluency and maintenance? Why not? Provide training to individuals who may not be able to access specific environments to hone in on these skills? Sure thing. Or how about training an individual who is halfway around the world or in a remote area of the country and may not be able to access meaningful learning opportunities? Yes. VR can help there too. See, emerging technology is meant to solve pain points and make tasks easier. We're at a pivotal point in our field where we need to start asking ourselves, "how can we address the needs of those who are in remote areas? How can we provide immersive and experiential training for folks who may not be able to access specialized training and access relevant stimuli or environments?" 

Well, that's what we're trying to answer at BehaviorMe. We want to create VR learning simulations to teach folks skills, regardless of what environment they're in while simultaneously using the learning and behavioral science as our guide. So whenever I'm in a VR environment and I'm in awe of the VR learning contingencies at play, I can't help but wonder, imagine what incredible contingencies and learning opportunities Skinner would have developed in this virtual reality chamber.


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