Immersive note-taking: help learners remember virtual reality learning experiences

Read part one on note-taking in virtual reality first.

Writing (and also reading) is difficult in fully immersive virtual reality because the user is wearing a headset. While engineers are working on the technology and coming up with solutions, I want to caution educators and learners who use iVR not to be in a rush to implement these developments. I would like us to step back and consider why we feel the need to take notes in lessons in the first place and whether the same reasons apply to VR lessons. 

I wrote about this before in part 1 of this blog post last year. Now in part 2, I want to continue addressing this issue, and then share what I have come to think we – the app developers, instructional designers, teachers and learners – should be doing so learning can happen without learners taking notes during an immersive lesson or experience.

My thoughts on this are developing and I might add to my ideas or make changes over time, especially if and when more research on this topic is conducted and becomes available. 

From text-centric to image-centric media

There are good reasons for taking notes as we all know and I said at the beginning of part 1. However, we also often do things or want to do things because that’s how we’ve seen it done, have learned to do it and have got used to doing it even though a new situation might require a change in habits – in this case learning techniques. 

If we look at the wider developments In the past decades (see the graph below), the use of written text has decreased while the use of images has increased dramatically. New technologies allow for greater prevalence of images and for voice recordings, both of which are increasingly replacing written messages. In recent years, emojis also often replace words. 

Source of figure

So people are getting used to reading and interpreting less text but more images. Virtual reality offers immersive 3D images as content rather than text, so taps right into this development.

There is an abundance of research now that shows that learning experiences in VR lead to better understanding, learning and retention compared to other more traditional methods. Therefore, note-taking in the traditional sense might not be necessary.

In fact, when learners are in a multimodal and immersive environment, taking notes can be detrimental. Still, learners might not feel comfortable relying entirely on being in the experience and committing everything to memory. They will want to at least be able to review what they have learned in class. We know from learning science that reviewing at certain intervals, repeating (being exposed to and using what was learned in different contexts) several times, and engaging in deliberate practice are very important.

Here are some suggestions for how this can work in immersive learning:

What can app designers do? 

  • Make the environment immersive. 
  • Make the app multi-user.
  • Make the environment and objects interactive.
  • Provide an option to record sessions easily (Teachers or the language institution would need to make sure to get all learners’ consent before recording!).
  • Provide options to take pictures or screenshots (with a timestamp would be a bonus)
  • Provide social spaces and activities in which learners can practice and use the language in authentic situations in an informal way.
  • Make the app delightful and intuitive to use so learners and teachers can focus on the experience and interactions, being fully present in the environment, with the others in the moment.

What can teachers and instructional designers do?

Before the first VR learning experience

If VR is a new learning medium or environment for your learners, provide some learner training.

Provide some pre-lesson material to

  • Activate previous knowledge (ask learners to think about what they already know about the topic or the language and ask them to make notes).
  • Provide key vocabulary, lexical chunks and phrases, but not too much – make sure that a) they are still challenged in the lesson, which is important for motivation and learning (Zone of Proximal Development), b) there are opportunities for ‘productive failure’ (more on this in another blog post), and c) language can emerge during interactions. 
  • Provide an image of the scene(s) where the lesson will take place or related images from the physical ‘real’ world to stimulate thinking and activation of previous knowledge.
  • Ask one or two prompting questions.

During the lesson

  • Plan for and encourage use of gestures and  avatar customization) (embodied learning theory)
  • Plan for and encourage interactions with the environment, objects and the other learners 
  • Use storytelling or other techniques to create an atmosphere of authenticity and real experience rather than a formal lesson, so that students feel present in the moment. We remember experiences much more than lessons.
  • Provide activities that allow for knowledge construction. 
  • Build in collaboration and socialising opportunities.
  • Aim for the right level of difficulty. Desirable difficulty helps increase learning (i.e. understanding and retention). If it is too easy, learners might not engage or be motivated. They won’t have opportunities for ‘productive failure,’ which helps learning and retention. If it is too difficult, they might also disengage.
  • Take a learner-centred approach that gives learners agency. Allow learners to make choices and work with the language that comes from the learners during interactions. This means that lessons need to be designed not to teach a lot of content but rather to provide an environment where learners feel motivated and safe to use all the language resources they already have so that the teacher can provide feedback and fill gaps in the language that has emerged from the learners.


  • Ask students to do the a ‘Show What You Know’ activity immediately after taking off their headsets: Take 5 minutes to write down as much as they can remember about the topic/lesson, to encourage retrieval. [This was suggested by Adam Mountford, who has been using this activity with his his students in the face-to-face classroom. The idea came from a book called Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning by Agarwal & Bain, 2019. Thank you Adam!]
  • Provide screenshots (or prompt learners at different stages in the lessons to take screenshots – not just from the whiteboards but also the scenes, activities and their avatars) to be used to jog their memory when reviewing the lesson.
  • Provide recordings of the sessions (see above regarding permissions) and ask learners to watch recordings with guided tasks to make it more motivating and meaningful. 
  • Work with the screenshots and recordings in the following lessons or asynchronously, e.g. further language work, feedback or creative tasks.

Here is further information, a rationale and actual suggestions for how to do all of these. 

What can learners do?


  • Prepare! Think about the topic and the language you already know related to the topic or situation and write these down.
  • Look up some information about the topic.
  • If you want to do more, look up unknown words or phrases in a dictionary.
  • You can also speak to yourself or to someone else about the topic to get comfortable using the language

During the lesson

  • Take screenshots and pictures during the lesson (learn how to do this quickly), making sure first that this is permitted.
  • Participate actively in the lesson, interacting with the teacher, the peers, the environment and objects.
  • Switch off any phones or other distractions in the room they are in
  • Book lessons with the same or similar topic, functional language repeatedly at certain intervals (perhaps this time in a different scene/context).


  • Immediately after the lesson (or as soon as possible), go through the lesson in your mind and make as many notes as possible of a) what happened and b) the language.
  • Look at screenshots, photos, and lesson recordings (if available) and compare with your own notes.
  • Read through the language the teacher sent you after the lesson.
  • Review by repeating the previous three steps.
  • Make use of the social lobby/area to socialise, play games and become part of the community to practice the language in informal settings and different contexts. 
  • Find opportunities to use the language learned in the lesson in the social lobby, in other places in VR and in your own reality (I don’t like the term ‘real life’ – VR is real life too, and so is our online life, especially social applications in which we interact with other real people).

What do you think?

I’d love to hear what other educators think about note-taking in VR. 

  • Are you waiting for writing to become easier in VR before you use it with your learners?
  • Should we consider VR as a novel learning environment that calls for new ways of thinking about note-taking, or do we just need to develop better technology to enable traditional note-taking within the applications?
  • What do you think of my suggestions above?