Research: Teacher decision-making in virtual reality


If you are anything like me, you consider multiple elements as you plan out your lessons. You consider what you are going to teach, what materials you will use, what activities you will engage students in, how you will group the students, and how you will provide feedback. You also make decisions based on the topic at hand, your previous experience teaching it, your particular students, the time you have to teach, the technology available, and many other factors. Once you are in the classroom and teaching, you will then make many more decisions on the spot, reacting spontaneously to the situation and the students’ performance or response. Following the lesson, you will reflect and make decisions about how to improve your lesson plan, individual activities, etc. for the next time you teach the ‘same’ lesson.

Research (Borko et al, 1990; Jackson, 1990) suggests that teachers make hundreds of planned and unplanned decisions throughout a lesson or day, making decision-making a central element of teaching – so much so that the teacher trainers at Barefoot TEFL Teacher suggest that

“Teaching is a series of decisions we make to help students learn.”

How can we define teacher decision-making and what are good decisions?

“Language teaching can be seen as a decision-making process based on four constituents: knowledge, skills, attitude, and awareness” (Freeman, 1989, p. 31). 

Decision-making – whether about the curriculum, material or interaction with students – is the basis for good teaching, no matter where or in what mode we teach (Boudreau, 2020). Therefore, if we want our teaching to be good, we need to be good decision-makers, and for this, we need to have content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, cultural awareness and self-awareness (Boudreau, 2020).

The role of technology in teacher decision making

The amount of decision-making that goes into planning and delivering a lesson is impressive and exhausting, but the more experienced we are, the more of these decisions become a part of our ‘system’, apart from exceptional circumstances, such as when we are using new technology. In such situations the cognitive load increases as we have to learn to adjust to the new teaching situation.

The same good decision-making criteria listed above still applies when using technology (Boudreau, 2020). However, the teacher must now also have the skill to use the technology, knowledge of how to make best pedagogical use of it and how to integrate it meaningfully into the curriculum or lesson. Koehler and Mishra (2005) developed the TPACK (Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge) framework, that suggests that these components together are necessary for good teaching with technology (Mishra and Koehler, 2006). It follows then that all three areas will make an impact on a teacher’s decision-making in lesson planning and delivery.

(Source: TPACK Model as Venn Diagram, Koehler & Mishra, 2009, p. 63)

Teacher decision-making in Virtual Reality

The role of technology in the decision-making process is even more important when the technology is not just used in the physical classroom, but replaces it, so that the technology becomes the classroom, such as when teaching online (Boudreau, 2020) or in an immersive virtual reality environment. In addition to a teacher’s beliefs and knowledge, their experiential classroom knowledge influences decision-making (Smith, 1992). When teaching in a fully immersive VR environment, the VR app is the classroom, and the level of experience with the app will make an impact on the teacher’s decision making (Castaneda et al., 2017). A teacher lacking experience with the app is less likely to use all of its features and create elaborate activities. Such a teacher might follow any lesson plans and teacher notes provided without any deviation. Conversely, the more experienced a teacher is with VR, the more they can adapt existing scenarios, lesson plans, activities, etc., to meet their students’ needs.

Technology adoption is poor if teachers are unable to make the connection between the technology and their content knowledge and pedagogical beliefs (Dawson, 2019; (DeCoito, 2018; Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). This disconnect is sometimes due to teachers not being involved in the decision-making associated with adopting a new technology. Additionally, many new app developers often have a stronger technical and design background than a pedagogical one, and so are more focused on these aspects when developing their product and training teachers.

Supporting teachers in VR teaching is paramount

If teaching equals good decision-making, VR app providers and schools who want to implement VR teaching need to help teachers make that connection between the technology and their pedagogical knowledge and beliefs during training and implementation. This might be accomplished by providing teachers with sample tasks, lesson plans and ideas, and explicitly highlighting the pedagogical underpinnings of the product. Aligning the technology with a teacher’s beliefs and knowledge about pedagogy, and guiding them in the process of teaching in this new environment will increase their capacity to make better decisions. This in turn, will lead to more creativity in planning and implementing lessons, and will allow the teacher to be more responsive to their learners.


Barefoot TEFL Teacher. (n.d.). Barefoot TEFL Teacher. Teaching is Decision-Making. [Retrieved December 2, 2020].

Borko, H., Livingston, C. and Shavelson, R. J. (1990) ‘Teachers’ Thinking About Instruction’Remedial and Special Education, 11(6), pp. 40–49. doi: 10.1177/074193259001100609.

Boudreau, E. (2020). What Makes an Excellent Online Teacher? [Education]. Harvard Graduate School of Education. [Retrieved December 8, 2020]

Castaneda, L., Cechoniy, A., Bautista, A., & Pacampara, M. (2017). All-School Aggregated Findings, Virtual Reality, 2016-2017 (p. 28). Foundry10 – Education Research. [Retrieved December 8, 2020]

Dawson, D. G. (2019). Attitudes and Decision Making in Digital Education. [Doctoral Thesis, Swinburne University of Technology].

DeCoito, I., & Richardson, T. (2018). Teachers and technology: Present practice and future directions. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 18(2), 362-378.

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture IntersectJournal of Research on Technology in Education42(3), 255–284.

Freeman, D. (1989) Teacher Training, Development, and Decision Making: A Model of Teaching and Related Strategies for Language Teacher EducationTESOL Quarterly 23 (1), pp. 27-45 

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge?Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

Koehler M.J.&Mishra P. (2005) What happens when teachers design educational technology? The development of technological pedagogical content knowledgeJournal of Educational Computing Research, 32, 131–152. doi: 10.2190/0EW7-01WB-BKHL-QDYV

Smith, D. B. (1992). Teacher decision-making in the ESL classroom: the influence of theory, beliefs, perceptions and context. [Doctoral Thesis, University of British Columbia].

(Originally published on the Immerse blog.)