If you are one of those who still believe gaming to be the sole popular use case of virtual reality, this article is for you! In a recently published survey involving developers working in virtual, augmented and mixed reality, one third of the 900 respondents claimed education to be the focus of their current or potential work in the field. The only two fields that were placed higher than VR education were gaming and non-gaming entertainment.
It might be hard to absorb for some VR gamers, but according to a survey conducted by Greenlight VR, education might even exceed gaming (63.9% to 61%) in terms of VR usage and research. Therefore, it can be expected that instead of other currently popular applications like workplace training, healthcare and product design, ‘education’ might become the main driver of VR, in the near future.
Why VR Education?
Education in virtual reality means changing the traditional method of knowledge transfer and delivery, and converting it into something that is more accessible and effective. There have been numerous technological developments in the educational sector, e.g. the advent of the internet (which opened the gates to countless websites for knowledge sharing, like Coursera, and numerous accredited online universities), audio guides, and video documentaries. These have been beneficial to a great extent and have made learning easier.
We are now at a new crossroads where VR meets education, offering various possibilities to advance this field further. Students sport different personalities and interests and it is interesting to discover that VR education caters to everyone’s needs in some way or another. Therefore, VR is here to help the givers and takers of education both!
1) Innovative Content and Learning without Boundaries
The foremost advantage of VR in the education sector is the possibility of remote learning, thus making education more accessible. Knowledge can be shared across boundaries as students from Germany, Pakistan, America, and China attend the same lecture together (with some management of time differences of course). Moreover, professors can use VR to come up with creative content through collaboration with other teachers in different parts of the world. This lack of limits and restrictions means that more exciting, retentive and innovative learning material can be produced that would lead to more effective learning and knowledge sharing all around the world.
An intriguing example of this is the Dutch Spacebuzz Bus that takes children on a tour of the space. It is being developed to include interactive elements as well where children can answer questions about their trip. Being a virtual space experience, it is expected to be shared with students all over the world.
2) Inclusive Learning with Semi-Anonymity
Secondly, VR allows the possibility of learning in groups, thus making this process more inclusive. In addition, VR classrooms enable students to raise their hands, ask questions, get direct and immediate feedback, and communicate with fellow pupils. This helps them feel connected, in contrast to simple online courses that end up being boring and make students feel isolated. Thus, students who learn better together greatly benefit from this.
There might be some students, however, who learn effectively while staying out of the limelight. VR offers avatars that keep users somewhat anonymous. This in return makes them feel safe to open up to other participants. Their body language can be used to convey certain important messages but they need not worry about their facial expressions giving away too much.
Moreover, due to the higher immersion of a virtual experience, VR education allows the opportunity to learn by doing (especially where doing in reality is hard or not possible). An interesting example of immersion being a significant factor in learning is proven by a recent study that shows how VR changes your brain. By activating brain activity, it can make students outperform expectations held from them. This essentially means that being Einstein in virtual reality can make a student’s intellectual performance similar to that of Einstein!
Engaging with VR content is also especially useful for high-tech training or medical education. In the latter, for example, 360 degree view and movement enables surgical procedures and other medical treatments to be recreated as realistic training scenarios. 3D models of the human body, give immense experimentation opportunities so students can practise and gain confidence by making mistakes in a safe environment. Our blog article elaborates further on VR education and training for healthcare.
4) Learning at your own Pace
VR experiences offer the huge advantage of adaptability. Students have varying levels of intellectual abilities and some pick complicated concepts quicker in comparison to others. The level of difficulty can be controlled while learning with virtual reality as students can pause to understand what seems hard. Moreover, if they find something interesting, they can rewind and study it again. This prevents students from getting overwhelmed by knowledge so that they can absorb it effectively according to their comfort level.
5) Higher Retention
Another huge benefit is greater retention as immersive VR education is more effective than just passive reading or listening to instructions. Since participants can interact with the learning environment, e.g. walking around and carrying out processes, these memorable experiences are attached to the new concepts learned. This makes sure that students remember these for a longer time period, for example, a former virtual trip to geographical locations can help students recall the topographical features much better than after just looking at static pictures.
6) Learning with Disabilities
Virtual reality is transforming the way people with disabilities can learn. VR can produce an interactive yet safe and risk-free environment offering various possibilities to experience things they can otherwise not do, especially becuase there are no physical limitations to bound them, e.g. to a wheelchair. Thus a child who is unable to walk can learn how to surf while standing.
There are numerous examples applications working in this regard. VRapeutic is using VR to help treat learning difficulties and developmental disorders. This can effectively instill diverse life skills in children, including social, cognitive, motor, and academic skills. A similar use case is developed by Floreo for children with Autism. Such personalized scenarios in 360 degrees VR ensure complete immsersion with no distractions, leading to effective learning.
How is VR already being used for Education?
There is a plethora of VR applications for education currently available.
- Google Expeditions
This app includes a library of virtual expeditions for students, that can be easily accessed through any regular smartphone. Students can explore various destinations, ranging from the Great Wall of China, to the Taj Mahal, and even Mars (yes, our neighbouring planet!). Google has been successful in taking around a million students to field trips in 11 countries.
- King Tut VR
Introduced as part of a museum exhibition in London, King Tut VR lets you explore ancient Egypt and its ruins to learn more about the life and culture of early civilizations. It takes you to the tomb of the young and influential King Tutankhamun as it is being discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.
- Youtube’s “Virtually History” series
A new YouTube, through its virtual reality experience, transports people to the streets of Berlin to relive the sudden construction of the hated wall in 1961 and its toppling 30 years ago. Viewers can not only see the Berlin wall but also escape beneath it and experience how their ancestors felt.
- Medical Education and Training
Students of the University of Arizona use the state-of the-art facilities at the Arizona Simulation, Technology and Education Center to simulate innumerable types of scenarios, like wildfires and mass casualties. They can also practice skills on breathing and bleeding mannequins and models of the human body. HumanSim is another simulation software that provides a virtual environment for medical personnel to practice interaction with patients and learn various treatment scenarios. Osso VR is yet another VR surgical simulation platform that offers realistic hand-based interactions while practicing with virtual tools that surgeons use for orthopedic and spine surgeries. It also provides an interactive element through which multiple surgeons can collaborate during training or practice.
- Learning Languages
There are various VR applications that allow you to virtually learn from and communicate with native speakers to make sure that you learn in a realistic and effective learning environment. Some of these include Mondly VR, Immerse Me and Virtual speech (an app that allows users to practice public speaking to remove the fear associated with it).
How to Increase the use of VR in Education?
At the same time, it is vital to ensure that the benefits of VR that have made it popular for education in the first place should not only be maintained but also enhanced. VR educational experiences need to be more immersive and meaningful, like an interesting story being narrated that the students can feel a part of. What is more important however, is ensuring the ease of use for VR in education. Teachers and students both should not require any special skills which would make them uncomfortable in adopting VR applications.
Promotion and financial assistance from authoritative bodies is also required in order to make this adoption more widely accepted. A useful example of this would be conducting VR exhibitions, expos, meetups, and award ceremonies for organizations flourishing in this field.Governmental support of organizations like the VDC Fellbach is also important so that they can faclilitate VR based buisnesses and applications in return.
Similarly, accessibility is another significant aspect. VR experiences need to be created for devices that users already have, as the alternate of ensuring that every student has a VR device in the next few years is next to impossible. Thus, existing devices can be re-purposed into powerful tools for education. Once VR has been made accessible and is adopted, there should be some means of measuring the result, i.e. how much knowledge has the student gained.
Gone is the time when there was no substitute for books and the only place to visit for learning was a library. Isn’t it better to virtually teleport yourself to primordial Egypt and explore the pyramids first-hand, than staring at two-dimensional photographs or watching documentaries?
VR applications are already being used to educate pupils at different stages of their academic lives, in different parts of the world. And even though there are several technological advancements yet to be experienced in the field of virtual reality, and measures are needed to attract a larger majority towards VR in education, the transition is not dependent on only these factors any more. The decision now lies in the hands of educational institutions, and even teachers themselves at a smaller scale, to adopt this technology. Support from administration and larger, prominent organizations (like Google supporting VR for education) is also valuable. Only this collective effort can help VR to be introduced at every level and for all types of education, which will eventually make ‘learning’ a more accessible, immersive and affordable process for all alike.