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J Health Commun. 2009 Jun;14(4):384-99. doi: 10.1080/10810730902873927.

Testing communication strategies to convey genomic concepts using virtual reality technology.

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  • 1National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


Health professionals need to be able to communicate information about genomic susceptibility in understandable and usable ways, but substantial challenges are involved. We developed four learning modules that varied along two factors: (1) learning mode (active learning vs. didactic learning) and (2) metaphor (risk elevator vs. bridge) and tested them using a 2 x 2 between-subjects, repeated measures design. The study used an innovative virtual reality technology experimental platform; four virtual worlds were designed to convey the concept that genetic and behavioral factors interact to affect common disease risk. The primary outcome was comprehension (recall, transfer). Study participants were 42 undergraduates aged 19-23. The results indicated that the elevator metaphor better supported learning of the concept than the bridge metaphor. Mean transfer score was significantly higher for the elevator metaphor (p < 0.05). Mean change in recall was significantly higher for didactic learning than active learning (p < 0.05). Mean ratings for variables posited to be associated with better learning (e.g., motivation), however, were generally higher for the active learning worlds. The results suggested that active learning might not always be more effective than didactic learning in increasing comprehension of health information. The findings also indicated that less complex metaphors might convey abstract concepts more effectively.

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