The concept of virtual reality is not that new. The first ever iteration of virtual reality as we know it today dates back to the early 80’s, but its development has been on-going ever since the 50’s. It’s also been part of countless pop culture novels, films, and TV shows, which is why virtual reality in modern times is well-received by the general public. Since the turn of the century, its use eventually permeated countless industries – from entertainment, science, warfare, and even education.
For the past few years, the potential of virtual reality in education has been talked about countless times. With its potential to transform the way educators teach and students learn, it helps students understand complex ideas in-depth and understand complex concepts.
Barriers to Virtual Reality Adoption in Education
However, there are a couple of concerns in using virtual reality in classrooms for students.
One of the most prominent impediments to VR in education is technological literacy. Since VR is technology-heavy, it’s important that its users – students and educators alike – are well-versed in using technologies that make it work. This creates a technological gap, as pointed out in a 2016 article by Brookings. Schools that have students who are not as familiar with technologies that make VR work may find themselves at a disadvantage compared with children more familiar with VR technology.
“Similar to gaps that open up early on in a child’s life in terms of word acquisition, on average, students from low-income households are at a disadvantage in terms of technological literacy. Low-income families on average have fewer, older, and less portable devices, and students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to use the internet for entertainment and social purposes rather than education.”
Additionally, VR technology can be costly for schools. Oculus Rift headsets are still priced at around A$540 apiece, though alternatives such as the Google Cardboard VR headset available at around A$14 – A$20 (without a smartphone, which is required for this to work).
It’s also worth noting that content currently available for VR education is limited. Thankfully, major tech corporations such as Facebook and Google are constantly developing programs and apps that could make VR more affordable for wider use in education.
Positive Effects of Virtual Reality to Learning
Though there are a few hurdles before VR becomes prevalent in school systems, its effects can already be seen and observed. In fact, in a study conducted way back 2009, 100 university students in Australia were immersed in virtual reality were introduced to aspects of the Chinese language and culture prior being sent on an exchange program in China. Data gathered from this research shows significant improvements in key areas such as:
- Reduced apprehension and embarrassment that is usually present in real-life activities such as role-playing
- Encouraged interaction between students which were immersed in a virtual world, rather than just interacting through email and forums
- Allowed students to explore and gather information independently, making it easy for students to create their own understanding
Moreover, additional studies were able to identify additional benefits of virtual reality in the classroom, such as increased student motivation and better teamwork & knowledge-building among students.
A Safe Environment for Failures and Mistakes
In a world where applicable skills and scholarly knowledge is just as important, virtual reality is slowly solidifying its relevance in learning new skills. Even outside the usual school set-up, anyone can simply download apps on their phone and immerse themselves in virtual reality to learn and master new skills.
For example, Google’s Daydream Labs is an experimental VR learning initiative where users were able to immerse themselves in a coffee shop, with a 3D model of an espresso machine that works in the same way as a real-world espresso machine would. While the experiment acknowledges that VR simulations for real-life training are far from perfect due to lack of gears that imitate real-world sensations, the experiment was able to establish that people were able to learn faster and better with VR.
Public speaking could also be a tricky skill to master because it takes courage to get up at a stage knowing your public speaking skills are not as good. With apps such as VirtualSpeak, provides a safe space for learners to get used to public speaking without having to endure shame and judgement whenever a user commits a mistake.
Ultimately, virtual reality provides a student with a room to make mistakes without suffering real-life consequences, making it easier to try again and achieve mastery through practice.
Undoubtedly, whether or not technology experts and education scholars agree on the effects of virtual reality on a person’s learning process, virtual reality is slowly making a change in the education sector, allowing new learning methods to be developed for future-ready students.