Virtual Reality in Education: Shifting Perspectives through Immersion and Embodiment

Topics: Future of Learning

Virtual reality has been getting increasing attention as displays have become cheaper and platforms have become more accessible. While it is developing at a rapid rate, its uses in education are still early days, making it an ideal time to look past the hype to consider how the technology might support the creation of responsive learning environments that engage students, personalize learning and build learners’ social-emotional skills through a deeper understanding of themselves and others’ experiences.

Virtual reality is a computer-simulated, immersive digital environment. It is typically experienced through head-mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift or HTC VIVE. Some platforms, such as Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, allow users to experience virtual reality with only their smartphones.

Virtual reality can be purely spectated, meaning that the user simply views 360-degree, three-dimensional tours or exhibits. For example, Google Expeditions enables students to take virtual field trips and feel as if they are walking on Mars or swimming in a coral reef. It can also be more interactive and generative, with users creating virtual artwork or building three-dimensional worlds. In one such application, the Washington Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C., is building its own fully immersive and scientifically accurate virtual reality chemistry lab.

In the context of learning, virtual reality has potential to help learners or adult education stakeholders explore settings other than their own, engage in simulations, solve complex problems, engage in world building or content modeling and embody other identities for learning and understanding. Imagine, for example, the possibility of using virtual reality to create immersive narratives that enabled education decision-makers to walk in the shoes of the students and families that their decisions affect. Doing so could increase empathy, helping education decision makers take more perspectives into account when developing policies.

Leveraging Digital Depth for Responsive Learning Environments: Future Prospects for Wearables, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality explores the potential for wearables, augmented reality and virtual reality to help create more responsive learning environment.