The effect of a virtual reality learning environment on learners’ spatial ability

Rui Sun, Yenchun Jim Wu, Qian Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)


This study employed electroencephalography to record event-related potentials to investigate the difference in learning performance between learners with different levels of spatial ability in a traditional learning environment that utilizes presentation slides and a learning environment that incorporates virtual reality (VR). Thirty-two university students participated in the experiment. The N1 and P2 components were results that indicated selective attention at an early stage; their amplitudes were proportional to the cognitive loads. The experiment results revealed that the main effect of learning environment was significant. The N1 and P2 components had larger amplitudes and indicated higher cognitive loads in the presentation slides-based environment than in the VR-based environment. The main effect of spatial ability was also significant. The N1 and P2 amplitudes evoked in the high spatial ability (HSA) learners were smaller than those evoked in the low spatial ability (LSA) learners, indicating that the LSA learners possessed fewer cognitive resources and bore relatively high cognitive loads. The interaction effect of learning environment and spatial ability was significant. Larger P2 amplitude was observed in LSA learners in the presentation slides-based environment than in the VR-based environment, implying that VR facilitates the reduction of cognitive loads in LSA learners. The P2 amplitude detected in HSA learners did not show any significant difference in both learning environments, indicating that the VR-based learning environment did not enhance their learning. This result supports the ability-as-compensator hypothesis to a certain extent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-398
Number of pages14
JournalVirtual Reality
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec 1
Externally publishedYes



  • Cognitive load
  • Education
  • Event-related potential (ERP)
  • Spatial ability
  • Virtual reality (VR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design

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