Entering the Uncanny Valley of online learning

Year: 2018

Author: Lodge, Jason

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Learning in online environments has been persistently compared to learning in real life. These comparisons have intensified in higher education as the lecture and lecture capture are increasingly being questioned as pedagogies (Edwards & Clinton, 2018). The possibilities for creating and sharing rich media have also increased with advances in devices and networking capability. As a result of these trends, simulated educational experiences resemble more closely experiences in real life settings. Sophisticated immersive simulations are already in use in a number of disciplines including in surgery and dentistry. Augmented reality is also becoming more prevalent as a mechanism for using technology to create immersive educational experiences (Lee, 2012). There will be a point in the development of simulation technologies where the fidelity and definition available becomes equal to or superior to that of the human sensory systems. Comparing real-world educational experiences with virtual experiences is poised to become increasingly problematic within this context as the gap between the virtual and the real closes. In this presentation, I will explore the possibility of an Uncanny Valley for online learning. An Uncanny Valley occurs when artificial stimuli (usually simulated humans) come close to but do not quite capture the essence of the real world. The response to interactions with these stimuli ranges from dissatisfaction to revulsion (Tinwell, Grimshaw, Nabi & Williams, 2011). The aim of this session is to draw on what is understood about how people process information across the sensory modalities to explore whether online learning is beginning to enter an Uncanny Valley. My proposition is that the focus for online learning should be specifically on the affordances of the medium. As networked and mobile devices become ubiquitous, McLuhan (1967) is perhaps now more right now than ever that 'the medium is the message'.


Edwards, M. R., & Clinton, M. E. (2018). A study exploring the impact of lecture capture availability and lecture capture usage on student attendance and attainment, 1–19.Lee, K. (2012). Augmented reality in education and training. TechTrends, 56(2), 13-21. McLuhan, M. (1967). Understanding media: The extensions of man. London: Sphere Books.Tinwell, A., Grimshaw, M., Nabi, D. A., & Williams, A. (2011). Facial expression of emotion and perception of the Uncanny Valley in virtual characters. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 741-749.