How Virtual Reality is Changing Education

We all know how wildly popular Pokémon GO was when it first launched (and continues to be). With as many as $5.7 million spent daily on the in-app purchase and 21 million active users, it’d be an understatement to say it is an overwhelming success. Augmented and virtual reality (VR) are the technologies behind Pokémon GO. It’s estimated that over the next several years the growth in VR will surpass that of smartphones. Up until now, virtual reality has been widely used for entertainment purposes. However, the applications extend to other facets, including that of education.

Virtual Reality in Educational Settings

VR allows for high-impact learning experiences, and as this new age of affordable VR tech presents itself, the opportunities for improving education abound. Educators are well aware of the positive impact out of classroom experiences have on learning. From K-12 classrooms to college internships, to undergrad research and studying abroad, high-impact experiences provide increased learning and retention. Unfortunately, these types of programs have traditionally involved a good deal of time, money and personnel. With both the availability and affordability of VR, students nationwide will have access to high-impact educational experiences.

From taking a guided tour of the Great Wall of China to examining world-renowned art in a museum halfway around the globe, these micro-experiences can shape student learning far more than an in-class lecture. Imagine biology students exploring the Great Barrier Reef first hand or students in a history class having that ability to observe an ancient Mongolian tribe. Beyond travel, VR also supports training experiences via virtual labs in chemistry, biology, and engineering. These sort of high-impact micro skills will become standard practice with VR. Not every student can travel abroad, yet anyone can venture to the library, put on a VR headset and begin virtual exploration. By using VR, student experiences transform critical thinking.

Best Practices for Virtual Reality

As the potential for an educational revolution begins, it will be necessary for research to be completed to determine best practices and the most meaningful applications of VR for education. Students will need to learn the technical side of VR and how to navigate the relationship between virtual and real life. With the users being thrust into the subject matter, research and exploration into multi-sensory learning will be key. Educators need to know how the immersive learning environments are impacting students – for good or bad – and be able to adjust how the technology is used based on those answers.

To harness the potential of VR, institutions will need to think beyond the initial “wow” factor for students and determine how to capitalize on building knowledge. Standards will also need to be determined in managing how students navigate between the physical and virtual world in relationship to coursework and communication via instructors and fellow students. The applications of VR outside education will progress and inevitably bring up additional considerations for instruction and learning. Like all technology, as it evolves so will the need for regulation and best practices by the educators who implement it.

VR presents a bounteous and untapped future for education. Learning will morph into something that becomes a full sensory experience available to all students, regardless of background. Students who may not have the means to travel the world may be able to get an up-close look at it anyway with virtual reality technology. Everything that is taught will be interwoven and embedded into their world. Real and virtual realities will melt together to offer high-impact experiences that immerse students in a way that no other educational resource previously has.

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