In the mock Oval Office of the Air Force One Discovery Center, students are primed on their simulated presidential duties.

The Power of Immersive Learning | Data & Me

It started with chalkboards and hours-long lectures. As time passed, whiteboards became the norm, but classroom education mostly stayed the same: a teacher spoke while students listened attentively. Now, technology is helping instructors flip the old way of teaching on its head – helping students learn in a new model known as “immersive learning”.

What does immersive learning look like in the classroom? It depends on who you ask. For a high school instructor, this style of education could mean using online polling or quiz software to test their pupils’ understanding of key subjects. In the honors classes of other secondary educators, immersive learning might appear as role-playing scenarios. Students can debate important historical figures, societal events, or scientific achievements.

A group of students beginning a lesson in immersive learning.

For John Heubusch – Executive Director at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute – this approach means using educational technology to simulate the historical events that took place on the island of Grenada in 1983.

“We set ourselves apart by staying at the forefront of technology – using data, using what we learn in ways that present fantastic programs and scenarios for students to get a strong grip on what it’s like to serve in an incredibly important public policy role,” shared John Heubusch, Executive Director.

Immersive Learning Helps Make Education More Personal

Today’s students are often digital natives, having grown up with mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, wearables, as well as online applications. Keeping their interest usually takes powerful learning experiences. That’s why immersion is at the heart of the Foundation’s Air Force One Discovery Center. Using educational videos, news clippings, group activities, tablets, and more, these learners make extensive use of digital learning tools to work through three, intertwined scenarios:

  1. Advising the President of the United States, who must vote on the best approach to protect the American medical students trapped on the island of Grenada.
  2. Planning a covert operation to evacuate the trapped American medical students and establish a democratic government in Grenada.
  3. Uncovering the details of the highly classified, covert operation being planned to rescue the trapped American medical students.

Each year, the Discovery Center welcomes nearly 25,000 pupils – perhaps, even future leading public figures1. By embracing technology, the center has been able to keep their content dynamic and student-friendly, using mediums that students are familiar with. In addition, students become active participants in their education, learning to collaborate with their classmates towards mutually beneficial decisions.

A young girl plays a learning app on her tablet.

By gathering feedback from thousands of trials, the Foundation has been using data to see what learners understand – and, perhaps more importantly, what they are struggling to make sense of. Such instant feedback helps personalize education across age groups and learning styles. With this data, the Foundation is able to adapt its immersive learning platform to students now and in the future.

“Data helps us do our job better. It helps us understand students and teachers: what they want, what they need, and how they are learning better. Data helps drive what we do.” – Anthony Pennay, Chief Learning Officer

Managing the Distractions of Technology in the Classroom

“But, won’t students become too addicted to their screens?” It’s a concern that some educators and parents share. And there’s a legitimate concern: teens spend an average of nine hours a day online2. Pre-teens aren’t much better, taking up six hours a day with surfing the web, using mobile apps, and general staring at device screens2.

To combat this issue, some schools are using app management systems. For example, a school that lends laptops or tablets to students in-class could restrict these users to only download learning-related apps or visit a specific set of websites. These measures help prevent learners from using educational technology for other purposes.

In other cases, the issue of accessibility to technological resources comes up. Not every student has the financial means to buy an expensive tablet, laptop, or set of textbooks. This availability is where the Foundation shines as a free, community resource for teachers and students to experience immersive learning within a historical context3. Educational technology used inclusively enables students to learn, collaborate, and engage with the source material.

And, to be clear, technology is not replacing traditional teaching. Instead, it is a tool that can support, streamline and scale education. “By us committing to incorporating technology, we’re not replacing the dialogue and discussion that happens with good communication,” explained Megan Gately, Associate Director of Education. “We’re actually bringing in technology, so that communication can be more effective.” There is still great value in established ideas about teaching, such as the value of working in groups. Educational technology can be thought of as a way to better speak students’ language, so that they can potentially learn more deeply.

Online, it can be challenging to recognize fact from fiction. When assignments call for pupils to research subjects on the Internet, sources should be credible. Teachers can guide students by showing them examples of reliable and unreliable online sources, and reputable resources for research. At the Foundation, students are given information from multiple information sources. The challenge is to decide the data that is trustworthy and relevant to make decisions, and the information that can be ignored.

As Times Change, So Must Educational Technology

We said it before, but it is worth repeating: modern students are, by and large, digital natives. To help young scholars learn before, during, and after class, teachers are making use of technology that turns education from passive listening to active engagement. “Without the evolution of technology, we would not be able to provide such a powerful learning experience for our students,” maintains Megan Gately.

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Learn more about the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.


  1. Before You Visit | The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
  2. Even teens are worried they spend too much time on their phones.
  3. FAQ | The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

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