News Story

Transforming Education through Immersive Learning

Immersive learning has its roots in immersive theatre which invites the audience to move through a theatrical world as active participants. In stepping through a door to another world, the audience can feel anything from awe to excitement.

Since 2008, Punchdrunk Enrichment has been using immersive theatre techniques in educational settings. Our approach aims to give real purpose to learning, developing positivity and engagement while harnessing children’s imaginations and opening up a world of possibility.

What is Immersive Learning?

Immersive learning is an approach to education that involves placing learners within a fictional or fictionalised real world, casting them as characters in a story, with their actions and work integral to the progression of the narrative.

They may need to write stories to help characters return to a book, learn about their local history to return a mysterious creature to a travelling museum or find out about local geography to save a fictional island, but in all cases their work is essential to the resolution of an identified problem.

Learning is enhanced when it is embedded within a narrative, and immersive pedagogy transforms the learning environment in a way that reinforces the reality of the fictional world and the learners’ place within it.

In a dimly lit room surrounded by books, a performer is sat on a chair in front of a group of children sat on the floor

The Lost Lending Library: A Real-Life Storybook Adventure

“I’ve never seen pupils engage that much or such a buzz of excitement around the school.” – James Searjeant, Headteacher at Wyborne Primary School*

Our flagship project, The Lost Lending Library begins with an ordinary series of workshops led by a visiting librarian. When an extraordinary travelling library appears overnight, the whole school buzzes with excitement. 

The children enter the library which is overflowing with books and hundreds of tiny props. With atmospheric music and flickering lights, all their senses are engaged as a story read to them literally comes to life around them. 

They soon learn the library is in desperate need of new stories from young imaginations: only the children can help. As they become the protagonists of this adventure, they are empowered and compelled to write. 

The experience ignites children’s imaginations and encourages them to look at their school environment in a new light.  As they leave the library as apprentice story writers with newfound purpose and their very own library card, they are stirred to share their encounter orally and in writing.

The Pedagogical Power of Immersive Learning

Dr Angela Colvert, Deputy Director for Innovation at University of Sheffield and research fellow at the University of Roehampton, has been researching Punchdrunk Enrichment’s immersive learning practice in schools since 2015. 

Her research shows that the pedagogical power of immersive learning lies in the way that the affective aspects (a sense of purpose, urgency, community and place as possibility) inform the pedagogical effects experienced by teachers, children and artists (such as shaping stories together and tackling challenges).

Immersive learning brings together cognitive, emotional, and physical ways of knowing, feeling and being. It is playful, exploratory, and shaped by the needs and interests of those who take part in the experience. Those who participate in Punchdrunk Enrichment projects often describe a sense of intensity and excitement that drives their engagement and commitment to the learning experience. It is this sense of adventure and agency, as well as the sense of magic, that makes immersive learning so affective – and effective.

The Impact on Learners

Punchdrunk Enrichment works with teachers to understand and share our immersive learning practice in schools through our long term programmes. We have seen the profound impact that immersive learning can have on school communities. 

Immersive play is an opportunity for a learner to enter a realm whereby they can explore or play with or manipulate or critique or analyse or interpret or challenge their views of their worlds … It’s like any good narrative. We escape into the story. We travel on that narrative journey, try out things, and come out having learnt something about ourselves and the world.

A headteacher who has experienced our work

Based on over 10 years of working with schools, we have observed the positive impact immersive learning has on children’s learning and overall development. Our work is infused with learning and social outcomes leading to Purpose (feelings of empowerment), Positivity (feelings of happiness) and Possibility (motivation to change). 

Immersive learning involves children in critical tasks that need to be completed successfully, which enhances their self-perception and appreciation of their own expertise. Children are enthusiastic about these tasks and often want to do more than they are assigned.

Immersive learning also breaks down social barriers among children in a class, as they interact and collaborate with each other. Teachers tell us that children are more engaged and willing to participate, particularly among reluctant learners. Parents and caregivers have reported that children are motivated to read and write more at home.

Since 2008, we have brought the literacy project The Lost Lending Library to more than 40,000 children in 75 schools across England, Scotland and in Australia. 85% of teachers testified to the improvement of their pupils’ oracy and literacy skills, across all primary age groups.

A girl is sat in a classroom, in the background you can see other children working. The girl in the foreground is wearing a red checked summer dress. She is holding a pencil in one hand, you can see a piece of paper on the desk. She is looking up in amazement with her mouth open. On the table you can see some pencils and glue in a grey plastic pot.

How can I discover more about immersive learning?

Punchdrunk Enrichment offers many opportunities to get involved in immersive learning:

  • Sign up to our mailing list (indicating you are interested in our work in schools) and follow us on X/Twitter for the latest updates, resources and CPD opportunities. 
  • Join an online masterclass, which will take you through the practical steps to create transformative immersive narratives with specific learning objectives and outcomes. 
  • Our teacher-led adventure A Small Tale is available to purchase online and includes a 60 minute instructional video to give you the skills to lead an immersive project for young people. 

Header illustration by Amber Anderson.

* Quotation taken from TES article: ‘How Immersive Theatre Helped Boost Reading For Pleasure‘