Virtual reality (VR) is an exciting technology with almost limitless potential. In the education space, virtual reality can be used to engage students, replace outdated technologies, and make learning more practical. Younger students are often digital natives, having never known a world without advanced technology. They acclimate to new technologies quickly and may balk at older, less efficient means of instruction. For these students, virtual reality can be a powerful tool. Instead of reading about ancient Rome in a textbook, VR can take the student there visually.
The immediate feedback from the VR system appeals to these technologically adept students. Virtual reality and augmented reality (layering virtual content over real-world images) also have the ability to compete with the constant stream of visual stimuli from streaming services, social media, and Internet sites.
There are also practical considerations for using virtual reality in education. Schools and colleges often operate with limited budgets. Science labs can be expensive to build and maintain, even to support just a few specialties. Virtual reality devices and peripherals can expand the school’s instructional footprint at a reasonable cost. For a few thousand dollars, students can virtually study geology, biology, and astronomy, all with a single device. Rather than reconfigure a space for biology dissections one day and chemistry experiments the next, that single space can house virtual experiments of all kinds. With little setup time and no concern for cleanup, more time can be devoted to learning.
For students with anxiety, special needs, or learning disabilities, virtual reality can be extremely helpful. More than half of U.S. students experience some level of test anxiety, which could be mitigated with VR. Far beyond taking a simple practice test, virtual reality can put the user in the classroom and simulate the entire testing experience. Repeated exposure to these stimuli could help the student to recognize and conquer their test anxiety. All VR is not for students, however. In one study, teachers who experienced a simulation of dyslexia reported higher awareness of the challenges faced by dyslexic students.
Experiences like these could help educators design curricula more attuned to the needs of these pupils. And students with learning disabilities may have trouble processing information at the same speed as their classmates, but virtual reality allows these learners to experience places and events in a controlled way. They can take as much time as they need completing a task or exploring a virtual museum without fear of embarrassment. Similarly, students with autism spectrum disorders can safely experience VR social situations that might otherwise cause anxiety.
Virtual reality is a powerful tool for education today. Given the rapid advancement of the supporting technologies, VR could undergo transformational progress in just a few years. Integrating virtual reality into traditional education systems could usher in a new experiential model. That means students learn by doing, engage more fully with their lessons, and develop a passion for subjects that might otherwise have remained dry and unappealing. As VR systems increase in sophistication, barriers will fall away. The cost of devices will continue to decrease, enabling more students to experience VR education. And improved visual fidelity will bring about truly immersive environments, allowing participants to forget the user interface and concentrate on the experience.