How to use virtual reality in education. Benefits and use cases of VR
Technology is rapidly shaping our lives, including how we connect, communicate and learn. Many fields will be transformed with tech advances, including education. Drivers shaping education include the future of work and the needs of current learners, alongside applications of technology within and beyond the classroom.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a huge influx of remote learning and this may be a watershed moment. Online learning may be the future of education. Common technologies being employed across education include video lessons, artificial intelligence, tablets, assistive technologies and, notably, virtual reality (VR).
Virtual reality is an unfolding technology reconstructing opportunities and abilities with education. Hence, how can you effectively use virtual reality in education? This tutorial will show you existing and promising use cases of VR in education. How you could use it to learn or improve skills such as public speaking, history, design or even medical surgery.
I also discuss the technical requirements you need to actually try VR yourself. This includes VR content platforms and the pros and cons of current VR technology. Whether you want to use VR for individual learning, homeschool teaching or college education, virtual reality adds powerful new immersive learning opportunities but also challenges.
Virtual Reality and Immersive Learning – Overview
Using virtual reality to enter virtual spaces, which simulates live or imagined environments, learners have several benefits3. This technology allows you to go beyond current physical boundaries, foster unique creativity, learn by doing, practice high-stress situations in a safe environment. It offers you new ways to visualize complex mechanisms.
Who is VR for? While schools and colleges are already developing curriculums that include virtual reality, education certainly transcends institutions. Are you a current or aspiring entrepreneur? Are you an at-home learner motivated by professional or personal goals? Or, maybe you need new skills to help you maneuver life or career circumstances.
If any of these apply, you will see that virtual reality is not something for the future – it’s here and you can use virtual reality in education now. So, what is virtual reality (VR)?
What's VR? VR is technology that allows you to engage in simulated spaces with sounds and images to replicate an immersive 3D environment. VR is different from augmented reality, which enhances live environments and experiences with digital elements. VR simulation may replicate current or past live environments or create something totally new.
Immersive learning allows learners to submerge into learning experiences enhanced with virtual and physical components4. Immersive learning often uses technologies such as VR to position the participate in simulated real-life scenarios, allowing learning and engaging as they go through the experience.
Most of us have likely used videos and digital audio content to support learning at some point, but immersive learning and virtual reality take things to the next level. Then, there is still the very effective method to learn through reading. Here are two practical tutorials to learn to read faster or learning how to learn.
What to use VR for? With some foundational technology, you can start benefiting from VR to facilitate your learning now. Some applications for VR in education include enhanced skill training, new opportunities for captivating field trips, taking the virtual learner back in time to study history, helping learners get a grip on complex concepts and the future of scientific experimentation in VR labs. Let's explore a few use cases.
Virtual Reality in Education – Use Case Applications
There are several current applications of virtual reality in education that you can presently benefit from. Keep reading for five examples of uses and consider how you might integrate into your plans to acquire skills and knowledge.
1. VR Skill Training
The future of work will be shaped by automation5, which may increase the value of soft skills for employability6. Meaning, what can you offer that a robot cannot?
Hard skills and soft skills are different, as hard skills refer to measurable technical skills and soft skills include many different nontechnical capabilities, such as social skills, critical thinking, leadership skills and problem-solving. These seemingly very human skills can be practiced and improved with the support of technology, including virtual reality.
VR supports skill training through creating high-intensity or important real-life situations repeatedly at low cost7 and low risk. The platform allows for immediate feedback or record events8 for revision and further consideration.
Soft skill training may replicate career situations, including opportunities to practice mastering the art of public speaking or allowing the trainee to simulate a high-stress work situation such as dealing with personnel issues. The simulation is beneficial as trainees can play different roles at different times and replay and learn from each practice.
What is a work or professional scenario you’d like to practice for the future, or wish you’d had the chance to experience and practice before it actually happened?
Skills in Science, Finance, Sports
The simulated and safe environment of high-intensity situations is great for a variety of training to strengthen skill and decision making, including developing certain hard skills. These trainings can benefit many, ranging from soldiers to bankers.
Medical training is being provided via VR, including supporting medical students and residents9 in practicing surgery, anesthesia and cadaver simulation. The military is using virtual reality to train soldiers for combat training10. Financial services, recruitment and training11 can be transformed using virtual and augmented reality.
Whether you’re a professional or a background enthusiast, try VR for sports and athletic training. Coaching, exercise and even competitions12 can all occur in virtual spaces. Overall, what are your professional goals? What hard skills would you like to develop with virtual reality to help you get there?
2. VR Virtual Field Trips
Stripping away any financial or logistical barriers, where in the world would you like to visit? How would this facilitate your learning? Imagine a science class visit to Antarctica to learn about the species that survive in the extreme climate. Or, imagine a history class trip to the Great Wall of China.
What could you learn from that place? How would “going there” help you engage and deeply learn? Virtual field trips are a great example of applied virtual reality in education.
Sensory experiences and emotions are very important when it comes to the learning process, including attention, perception, memory and problem solving13. Does the emotion of engaging with the wonder of the harsh weather conditions and unique species of Antarctica help you understand what the Earth was like before humans more than simply reading a textbook? Almost certainly yes.
Even most popular at schools, these field trips and virtual reality in education aren’t just for kids anymore. With VR, you can travel independently or with a class all over the world. VR field trips are available now through a variety of websites and apps14. You may even create your own VR trips to increase the immersive learning effect of a project, topic or task.
Taking advantage of VR field trips can offer benefits to both learners and educators. Logistically, it’s often lower cost and less time consuming than in-person field trips but offers an inclusive learning experience. Lessons can be customized in accordance with the virtual experience and open up a world of opportunity. Where would you like to go?
3. Experiencing History through VR
Understanding our past is how we understand our present. The study of history is really the study of humanity, helping us to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, others and positions us as better decision makers15.
Drawing comparison to how field trips allow users to visit significant sites, virtual reality allows learners to visit the most significant moments from the past. What if you could virtually board a World War II submarine? Or heroically enter a Viking battle16?
When studying history, engaging with foreign concepts, time periods, cultures or terms can be uninteresting or difficult to grasp. With virtual reality in education, you can connect with history from a first-person perspective and bring historical figures to life17.
VR for history lessons is already underway. For example, history students at Gonzaga University18 use VR in their classes. However, you do not need to be associated with a college or university to benefit from virtual reality and dig deeper with your passion for history. VR hardware and content is available for everyone.
4. VR in Science Exploration and Laboratories
What are some of your strongest memories from science class? Maybe you’re still freaked out by dissecting a frog in middle school or laugh about the time you nearly burned your eyebrows off with a Bunsen burner in high school. If you have a memory associated with a science lab, it’s likely because it was an engaging and meaningful experience.
Today, entire science labs are being simulated in virtual spaces. There are various unique advantages of virtual laboratories19. In virtual spaces, each experimenter has room to make mistakes (even ones that would be dangerous in real-life) and try again. Participants can join from around the world to collaborate in the same simulated lab, while the VR technology offers the ability to customize the scope of the experiment.
Virtual labs do away with the limitations20 of physical labs, while increasing learners engagement and motivation. Whether joining through a college campus or remotely, students can now access VR labs on themes of physiology, ecology and cell and molecular biology21.
5. Understanding complex concepts
Climate change, pandemics, politics, technology: these are important components of our daily lives and rhetoric, but these are all very complicated issues. It can be hard to understand how these concepts influence our lives now and imagine how they might shape the world in the future.
Want to really get a grip on complex concepts? VR might be a great option for you. With the ability to run simulations of past, present and future moments you are able to view concepts with from a much higher and informed vantage point. You can interact with images and sounds which can enhance understanding of abstract concepts.
In immersive learning, theories can be visualized, and you can interact with large data sets and simulate various scenarios. Virtual reality in education also presents opportunities for collaboration across varied disciplines and holds space for new and advanced forms of research22.
With your personal and professional interests and objectives, which complex concepts would you like to better master? How could educational virtual reality environments help you explore and apply these concepts?
Additional Use Cases of VR in Education
As VR further develops, the way we use this technology across our lives will surely grow. In addition to the five uses mentioned, here a few more ways you can benefit from VR:
Finance – We all use money, but the way we use money and banking services may soon be transformed with virtual reality. From VR financial advisors23 to virtual shopping and payments24, technology is altering financial services.
Internships or Career Expeditions- Practical career experience is a great way to enhance a resume and gain needed competencies. Internships or career expeditions23a, during which you can have a short-term job or spend a “day in the shoes” of a certain employee, can help learners deepen understanding and knowledge. VR opens up greater opportunities and possibilities to become familiar with different fields and careers.
Pain relief – There are many painful conditions, ranging from mobility problems or gastrointestinal issues to cancer or high degree burns, that can be alleviated with virtual reality treatments. Studies support VR’s effectiveness in pain reduction25 for hospital patients. Treatments include VR headsets that provide meditative and distracting stimulation to distract the brain from physical pain.
Mental health – Managing your mental health is an important part of achieving any learning and professional ambitions. VR can revamp behavioral health therapy, potentially making it a more accessible, engaging and low-cost26 experience. Research suggests27 promising results in using VR to treat conditions such as anxiety and anger management.
Languages – My hopes are that VR will offer different ways to learn a new language. Right now, you can take language courses that will teach you a language through videos, 1:1 online teaching or in-person classes. Just imagine you can enter a class or situation and practice your communication skills from the comfort of your home.
Remote work – The future of work is being shaped by many factors including the current COVID-19 pandemic and technology. More business is being conducted virtually, without the need to physically meet in an office space. VR is sort of an extension of video conferencing28, allowing people from all over the world to meet in virtual spaces and interact directly with each other and relevant graphics.
Media – A major way to learn and receive information is through media. Virtual reality is being used in film, television, music, books and art.
Virtual Reality in Education – Hardware Requirements
Are you excited by the potential of VR and eager to step into virtual spaces? Whether you’re a student at a school or university or learning independently from your own living room, there are technologies available on the market now.
Take the time to browse the Internet for the different hardware available, but here is an abbreviated overview of three popular options. Overall, the reliability of motion tracking, VR image resolution and ability to physically move around are essential features to check on.
Oculus offers different VR headsets, games and applications. You can use these for fitness, travel and gaming. Some of the content is free while platforms offering advanced premium content are on the rise. Keep in mind you will need a Facebook account to connect your headset.
Google Cardboard is a VR platform that works directly with your smartphone, which might make it a more accessible option or an easy introduction before committing to a headset. It is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to access virtual reality in education.
VIVE creates headsets for purchase at a bit of a higher price point for those interested services ranging from learning, fitness and games with the highest visual resolution. Both Oculus and Vive currently offer the most advanced hardware for consumer virtual reality that can be used in education.
Typically, VR headsets will cost a few hundred dollars, but you can browse choices at different price points. Applications can be free or premium. With the VR market growing and improving, investing in VR now might really pay off. But if you’re not ready to commit to a purchase, there is the option to rent.
Furthermore, VR entertainment centers are popping up everywhere and there might be one near you. They allow you to enjoy virtual reality experiences in a group or alone and usually support freedom of movement. Whether for education or fun these centers are worth a try if you hesitate to buy your own headset but want to get a taste of VR.
VR In Education – Content Platforms
Getting access to hardware is the first step to learning and engaging in virtual spaces. But, the hardware needs content. Luckily, there is a lot of content out there. When thinking about virtual reality as a learning tool, including the uses mentioned above, consider what is available to reach those goals.
There are platforms for every need and for every budget. Some VR platforms are free of charge, including Facebook and YouTube. However, they come at their own expense when talking about data protection. Keep such things in mind as well.
Additionally, there are “curated platforms” which contain selected and high-quality content. Some popular curated platforms include LittlStar, Oculus, Samsung XR and VIVEPORT. Other options are Steam and SideQuest. If you’re interested in collaborating in virtual spaces, there are many options for that as well.
Once you have the needed technology, take the time to shop around for specific content to suit your educational interests. It might only take a little more time until virtual reality in education will reach levels we could have not imagined before.
Virtual Reality in Education – Benefits, Pros & Cons
However, for most people virtual reality in education is still largely in a nascent state, meaning not all outcomes, challenges and applications are fully understood. There are both pros and cons to VR as a learning tool, and it is essential to know about and understand them.
Some benefits of virtual reality in education include transcending physical boundaries, both in connecting people from around the world and allowing visits to different locations and time periods not otherwise possible. High-quality visualizations can foster emotional connections and a deeper understanding of complex ideas.
Training for dangerous situations can be safely simulated and repeated, and conferencing in VR spaces takes remote work to the next level. Immersive learning can increase engagement and has potential to lessen inequities in access to quality of education.
Disruptions – There are also disadvantages to VR in education. These include disrupting real-life human connections in live social settings and posing the risk for ‘addiction’ to spending time in virtual spaces. As with any technology, there may be malfunctions and high-costs related to purchasing and maintaining the needed hardware and applications.
Physical – Notable are the health effects related to VR. Spending extended time in virtual reality may lead to physical impacts such as disorientation, decreased spatial awareness, feeling dizzy and nauseous30. Depending on the hardware, spending 20-30 minutes in VR environments is currently considered a maximum to avoid unpleasant health effects.
Regulation of virtual space is still unfolding, including the legalities of regulating exchange and monitoring how data is gathered and used. It is important to understand how the data you generate with your movements and interactions can be used for commercial purposes. In fact, your actual physical environment will be part of that data.
Social – Long-term outcomes of increased VR use, from impacts on society to alterations to the human brain, are not yet understood. Increasing your awareness of these uncertainties can help prepare you to use VR more responsibly and effectively.
Virtual Reality in Education – Summary and Conclusion
Summarizing the topic of virtual reality in education. As with other technologies31, the development and use of VR may threaten to perpetuate human bias and inequities as well as present new challenges. Still, VR can transform our daily lives, including enhancing education and generating more and deeper opportunities for learning and experiences that actually might match real-life ones.
With technology leading the way in shaping education, addressing the digital divide is essential to a future of equitable learning. When applied meaningful, virtual reality can help break down barriers and disparities in education32 and access to learning materials.
Education is a major sector positioned to take advantage of virtual reality, including skills training, field trips, engaging with history, understanding complex concepts and transforming science laboratories. Whatever your career and knowledge plans may be now or in the future, there is a way that virtual reality in education can offer an immersive and innovative way to level up your skillset.
How will you benefit from VR to reach your educational goals? Have you tried implementing virtual reality in education be it in school, homeschooling or individual learning? We'd love to hear about your experiences.