Embodied science and mixed reality: How gesture and motion capture affect physics education

Mina C. Johnson-Glenberg, Colleen Megowan-Romanowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


A mixed design was created using text and game-like multimedia to instruct in the content of physics. The study assessed which variables predicted learning gains after a 1-h lesson on the electric field. The three manipulated variables were: (1) level of embodiment; (2) level of active generativity; and (3) presence of story narrative. Two types of tests were administered: (1) a traditional text-based physics test answered with a keyboard; and (2) a more embodied, transfer test using the Wacom large tablet where learners could use gestures (long swipes) to create vectors and answers. The 166 participants were randomly assigned to four conditions: (1) symbols and text; (2) low embodied; (3) high embodied/active; or (4) high embodied/active with narrative. The last two conditions were active because the on-screen content could be manipulated with gross body gestures gathered via the Kinect sensor. Results demonstrated that the three groups that included embodiment learned significantly more than the symbols and text group on the traditional keyboard post-test. When knowledge was assessed with the Wacom tablet format that facilitated gestures, the two active gesture-based groups scored significantly higher. In addition, engagement scores were significantly higher for the two active embodied groups. The Wacom results suggest test sensitivity issues; the more embodied test revealed greater gains in learning for the more embodied conditions. We recommend that as more embodied learning comes to the fore, more sensitive tests that incorporate gesture be used to accurately assess learning. The predicted differences in engagement and learning for the condition with the graphically rich story narrative were not supported. We hypothesize that a narrative effect for motivation and learning may be difficult to uncover in a lab experiment where participants are primarily motivated by course credit. Several design principles for mediated and embodied science education are proposed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number24
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Embodied science
  • Game-based learning
  • Gesture and learning
  • Mixed reality
  • Narrative
  • Physics
  • STEM
  • Science education
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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