Earlier this year, Reddam House School in the UK, made the headlines by launching its metaverse school, with numerous classes taught in virtual reality (VR) classrooms.
While some may have been surprised by this advancement, the benefits of VR in education and training are well-known; it improves learning speed, quality of retention, and improves confidence for learners to apply new knowledge by 275%.
So, it’s clear that students can get a lot out of VR – but many educators are asking themselves: is VR the future of education? And, more importantly, what steps should educators take to ensure their students don’t miss out?
How AR and VR in education are different
Both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are finding valuable niches in the education sector, with distinct benefits for each technology. We already addressed the use of AR in education in our previous blog, so now we’re going to focus on the application of VR in classrooms and other educational settings.
It’s important to realize the key difference between AR and VR, as this shapes the unique advantages of each.
AR uses the real world as a ‘3D canvas’, and superimposes virtual elements onto reality. Users can also experience AR with many different devices, ranging from specialized AR glasses to regular smartphones. As a result, practically every student can access AR educational experiences.
Conversely, VR is a self-contained experience that excludes the ‘real world’ and replaces it with a virtual one. VR is generally only experienced using special VR headsets or goggles, often combined with haptic feedback devices like gloves.
So, while AR may be easier to access, VR can provide a greater depth of experience for students. For this reason, some educational institutions have already started to invest in VR headsets in much the same way as other tech, like iPads or laptops. Today, VR is being used in all levels of education, from primary schools to universities.
What is the value of VR in education?
Various industries and sectors already extensively use VR for training, and many of the same features make it equally valuable for the education sector.
According to American University, Washington DC., (a research college that trains education professionals), VR has a strong contribution to make:
“VR can bring academic subjects to life, offering students new insights and refreshing perspectives. But VR can’t replace human interaction. Learning is fundamentally a social experience, so VR is best used as a supplemental learning tool.”
There are key areas where VR in education excels:
Many students achieve better results when they can access knowledge via experiential learning. For some subjects, it’s the only way to learn. But access to experiential learning in the real world is limited by time and resources. With VR, students can gain equal access to hands-on experiences without limitation. Without needing to travel, time is saved, and more experiences are possible.
By interacting with learning resources via a gamified experience, students can let their imagination run wild. They can gain access to new experiences that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, like walking on the surface of Mars, or stepping inside a living cell. This can inspire students to explore new interests.
VR is a very active form of learning, and users get to experience content via interaction. The result is very high engagement with learning materials, and increased retention.
Many schools and universities were inspired to use VR classrooms as a direct response to the COVID pandemic, to enable a high-level of virtual learning. This advantage remains. Students in remote locations and home-learners get significant benefit from VR learning.
Seeing the invisible
Some things don’t quite come across in a textbook, or even a video. Looking at cellular biology, for example, VR can bring processes like protein synthesis and cell division to life – so students can see something that just cannot be experienced another way.
VR can take students to locations far afield, extending their learning experiences and horizons.
Dangerous and disaster training
VR enables safe teaching of difficult subjects, like preparing for emergency or disaster situations, or where there’s real danger if it’s done in the real world.
Because VR experiences are so immersive, they’re also more memorable. Many educators report that students are more actively involved in reflecting on what they’ve learned after the VR sessions, spurring more vigorous conversations in class and greater participation.
Equality of experience
With VR, everyone has the same access to learning materials, and can learn in the best ways for them. This gives students a more level playing field. There’s no being stuck at the back, where they can’t see or be involved. Everyone gets the same immersive hands-on experience.
Real-world examples of VR in Education
Still not convinced? Let’s look at some concrete examples of the diverse ways VR in classrooms can deliver better outcomes for students.
Lagos Business School, Nigeria – using VR to teach empathy and compassion.
The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands – launched a project to make limited-access archaeological sites, laboratories, museum displays, and historical sites accessible via VR.
The University of Hertfordshire, UK – using VR to help pharmaceutical science students understand the biomechanics of pharmaceuticals and the science of drug discovery.
The Mendip School, UK – using VR to help autistic students prepare for adult life with simulations of work experiences, that prepare students for the real thing by giving them realistic expectations that reduce anxiety.
The Inspired Education Group, Worldwide – unveiled a new VR classrooms and Metaverse learning project, which they plan to extend to their 55,000 students worldwide. Students can join classes with their peers around the world in a virtual school.
Race Leys Junior School, UK – invested in VR headsets so the entire class could go on virtual school trips during the pandemic period. As the school found VR boosted student performance, they have permanently integrated VR into their learning strategy.
The Open University, UK – created a VR experience to tackle bullying, by enabling students to understand different perspectives and rethink prejudiced attitudes.
Humanitarian organization Terra Pura, Ukraine – using a VR/AR app created by Fectar to teach children about the dangers of landmines and other explosives and how to recognize them. This is a life saving (and limb-saving) tool for millions of children living in an active warzone.
As we can see from the above examples, there are many different ways learning can be enhanced with VR – and these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Given the future growth of these technologies it’s also worth thinking about teaching VR as a subject, giving students the knowledge they need to create 3D spaces and immersive content. This skill may be as useful as computer literacy has been for the past few generations.
The costs of using VR in Education
There’s always the cost to consider, and this comes from several areas. First, there’s the equipment – as each student needs access to their own headset for VR. The cost of these is coming down, making them more accessible, and already comparing favorably to something like an iPad.
Next there’s the learning content. This will be highly variable, depending on whether you’re using a specialized ‘VR classroom’ solution with its own content, or if you are using free resources, or learning material you create yourself.
With both free content and subscription-based content, you’re limited to what’s available and how it’s presented. By contrast, you can make your own learning resources and get better control over the focus and depth of materials, but there’s the time and expertise involved in making it to consider.
If you’re just starting out, it’s far easier to start using the free VR educational content that’s already available, unless you find a perfect match with a subscription-based provider. This can help you determine which VR lessons are most effective, and why.
Building custom content and VR classrooms
The next stage is to create your own materials based on your lesson plan. The advantage of this is that you’re not limited to pre-existing content, and you can update it yourself when needed. You can also use a basic template that enables you to add more depth for advanced learners.
Thanks to new tooling, it’s now possible for non-experts to create their own VR and AR spaces, including educational content and training material. As a result, it’s much easier for educators to build VR lessons they can use in their own classrooms, and customize them exactly as they want. Given the high potential value for students, this opportunity should not be missed.
Want to see for yourself how easy it can be? Discover the Fectar Studio, and start creating VR & AR without needing any code.