Using virtual reality in education is no longer a fantasy, but a reality for numerous companies and educational institutions. The creation of VR content can substantially enhance the field of education, bringing multiple advantages and opportunities to the traditional classroom. Although there are several threats to a successful integration of VR in the field of education, proper structuring, efficient content development, and greater accessibility of VR devices can overcome these challenges and make VR an integral part of education systems all over the world.
There are several reasons why VR is the technology that holds the potential to revolutionize the field of education: visibility, engagement, safety and focus. The application of cutting-edge VR technology in education not only makes the learning materials simpler and clearer for students, but also fully immerses them into a given subject, transforming learning into an engaging, game-like process. Using VR, students stop being passive observers and instead become active parts of the learning process, assessing and solving interactive tasks in a VR lesson by, for example, testing a jet engine or improving fire-fighting techniques – without any risk for the student. In VR, we can create a virtual space using computer graphics where students are immersed into the world of a given subject, commanding a student’s full concentration. Students can travel inside a semiconductor or a chemical compound, finding themselves in the world of physics or chemistry surrounded by atoms and their particles – being able to focus completely on the content. VR empowers us by taking learning, comprehension, and engagement to a completely new level. We quite literally revolutionize the way in which students interact with educational materials by placing young minds inside the learning process.
Current Efforts in Creating Educational Content
The first step to successfully integrate VR into educational systems is to create and accumulate engaging and relevant educational content. At present there are several projects that are trying to popularize VR in education. Labster project, developed in partnership with leading global universities, gives users the opportunity to access and conduct experiments in fully equipped scientific labs. Google’s Expeditions Program allows students to virtually visit exotic places all around the universe. RCSI Medical Training Sim enables medical students to experience being in an emergency situation after an accident. The Apollo 11 Virtual Reality Experience is a high-profile case in the area of educational VR, allowing the user to travel to the moon aboard the “Apollo 11” spaceship. Another project, Lecture VR, “allows us to recreate any historic lecture from the past or record any current live lecture to be replayed infinitely” in VR. Japan has gone even further, creating a virtual avatar populated school for students suffering from anxiety disorder. Speech Center VR gives users an opportunity to improve their communication and public speaking skills through a series of lessons in different simulated social environments.
Content Delivery: How VR Can Enrich Different Educational Formats
It’s not sufficient to simply develop educational content. The content must be successfully integrated into the educational system. Some of the educational formats that VR can enhance are full-time education, distance learning, full-time and distance learning combined; and self-learning.
VR tools do not replace the classical educational format in this scenario, but instead they complement each lesson with five to seven minutes of VR immersion – illustratively demonstrating the covered material. The traditional lecture remains a core component of each lesson, with a teacher remaining fully empowered to add his or her personal touch to make it unique every time. Generally speaking, it can be said that VR does not have to replace the classroom and the teacher, but rather can provide the teacher with a tool to enhance the classroom experience for his or her students. Using an administrative dashboard, a teacher can moderate the VR lesson, launching different modules when necessary. The teacher receives signals from students’ head-mounted displays and controls their learning progress in real time. To go one step further, he or she can also become part of the virtual environment by customizing an avatar and participating directly in the immersive learning process.
In this scenario, a student and a teacher can be located in two different corners of the globe. Unlike the current video conferencing format, through VR students and teachers have their own avatars and can thereby be present in a virtual classroom with other students. Together students can listen to the teacher, collaborate, and even perform group tasks using VR social features.
With the help of VR and a 360-degree videos, a panoramic video of the entire classroom can be streamed to a student in a remote location.
Such students can see what is going on in the classroom as if they are in that same classroom. They can likewise observe their classmates, communicate with the teacher, and take part in joint VR lessons.
Any of the developed VR educational courses can be adapted for self-learning. The lessons can be stored in online stores, such as Steam, the Oculus Store, Apple’s App Store, and Google Play Market. Every student can study and revise the material independently by using a simple VR device, like Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.
Challenges delaying VR’s integration into education
Despite all the advantages that VR can bring to the field of education, it is important not to underestimate the challenges associated with the incorporation of the technology into a traditional field such as education. The overwhelming amount of content and the complexity of its creation and the cost of the equipment falling on educational institutions, are some of the issues associated with VR in education. Nevertheless, when acknowledging these challenges and tackling them properly by using the most efficient and effective development tools and by structuring the development process properly – as well as with the advancement of more affordable VR solutions – the field of education can soon be revolutionized, providing students all over the world with opportunities that they would never have had by simply attending regular classes.
Post co-authored by Dmitry Kirillov, Olga Peshé and Askar Akhmetshin at Cerevrum, a startup focused on educational virtual reality software.