AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction


Virtual worlds have the potential to enable and enhance online learning outcomes. Because learning in three-dimensional (3D) designed learning spaces depends on learners’ spatial processing abilities, we need to understand how these abilities may affect online learning outcomes. Building on the hunter-gatherer theory of gender difference in spatial abilities, we examined how gender interacts with learning type (directed vs. incidental) to affect learning in virtual world (VR) simulations of objects. Specifically, we theorized that men’s and women’s spatial abilities would lead to differential outcomes based on the type of learning that the instructor designed. Using a between-subjects 2 x 2 factorial design (directed vs. incidental learning and male vs. female), we found that incidental learning benefited women and that directed learning benefited men. Our findings counter the traditional view that males outperform females in learning tasks that engage spatial abilities in a virtual world. We urge educators to consider such gender effects on learning when employing VR simulations of objects.





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