Remember the saying “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain”? Or was it the other way around? I’m sure you get my point. That concept typically applies to the virtual reality world. Imagine teaching your learners about ancient Rome next to Augustus Caesar’s throne.
Take your learners on a tour through the Amazon rainforest or even take them to space in order to learn about the individual planets in our solar system.
All this without leaving the confines of the classroom. Things learners could only experience through textbooks and videos can be made real.
Learning becomes more practical and visual for learners to have a better understanding of the subject matter.
Places you ordinarily wouldn’t be able to show your learners become a reality and things they couldn’t experience also becomes real.
This article provides some insight into the benefits of virtual reality in the education industry and provides a brief overview of what the technology is.
What is virtual reality
I’m sure most people have heard of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) somewhere. These two technologies are different and have their uses but this article will focus mostly on virtual reality.
Investopedia defines virtual reality as a computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact within an artificial three-dimensional environment using electronic devices, such as special goggles with a screen or gloves fitted with sensors.
To put it simply, virtual reality creates a virtual or digital world that can be interacted with through the sense of sight, hearing, and in some cases touch.
The technology has been advancing at an astonishing pace and is currently being leveraged in gaming, entertainment, education, health care, finance, and many more.
Some educational institutions have already started to adopt this technology in training their learners while others are hesitant to leverage this technology in education.
In some cases, teachers have complained about the readiness of the technology and the cost associated with it.
Nonetheless, the continuous advancement of virtual reality technology means improvement in the overall technology and competition which will lead to reduced cost.
Pros of virtual reality in education
Change is the one constant in life and in this modern age, technology advances at an incredible pace. Virtual reality is here and like most technologies, it aims to make our lives easier.
Let’s look at some of the benefits VR technology brings to the education industry.
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1. Makes learning fun
Gone are the days where going to school was considered boring. With the introduction of technology like 3d printing, interactive displays, gamification, and more, lessons have become engaging again.
Learners come to school expecting to experience something new and determined to learn how to perform these activities themselves.
Adding a virtual reality experience to their lessons will come with the “wow factor” that keeps learners smiling in class.
Lessons supplemented with virtual reality will enable learners to experience new things while learning in class.
2. Immersive learning experience
Most or lessons are textbook-based and although this has been the go-to means of education for years, it can still be improved upon.
The introduction of images helped learners better-associated information they read in a textbook to specific images.
Videos also helped learners better understand lessons that seemed theoretical from their perspective.
In some cases, a flat 2d picture doesn’t seem enough, which is why we take learners outside on field trips to experience some of these things themselves.
With virtual reality, learners will be able to immerse themselves in the lesson to get first-hand experience of the subject matter.
A typical example is learners in a biology class could get to take a look at cells and their components, see and experience for themselves the processes involved in digestion.
Teaching a class of learners about the moon or space? The best option would be to take them to the moon.
Unfortunately, that isn’t an option but thanks to virtual reality, we can bring the moon to the learners.
Want to teach learners about medieval times? Time travel would be cool but unfortunately only possible in movies and thanks to virtual reality, right now.
Simply take your learners on a trip to medieval times in class and let them experience things for themselves.
3. Safe experiments & exploration
Some experiments are dangerous and therefore not done in a classroom.
Using virtual reality, these experiments which would normally be dangerous in a classroom can be conducted in a virtual reality environment for learners to experience firsthand.
Already, practitioners are using virtual reality to help people fight phobias. Be it fear of heights or any or even fear of VR goggles, virtual reality is helping people overcome their fears.
Normally, taking a patient with fear of heights to the top of a building to fight their fear would be dangerous.
In chemistry, physics, engineering, or biology, these experiments can easily be conducted without fear of harm to any learners involved.
Want to teach your learners about animals in their natural habitats? No need to take them to a dangerous jungle or diving.
With virtual reality, your learners can experience this lesson in the safety of the classroom.
4. Inspires creativity & imagination
Leveraging virtual reality in education also inspires learner creativity. Learners will be immersed in the subject matter which sparks their imagination.
Instead of an image in a book, learners get to experience things for themselves and develop interest, based on actual interaction.
Technology is something modern learners are used to in their everyday lives.
To encourage and inspire creativity in learners, more apps like Tilt Brush by Google which enables learners to draw and experience their designs in three dimensions are very necessary.
5. Learn by playing
Younger learners have very short attention spans. Getting them to sit in one place for a class or two seems like an impossible task.
This is because, kids love to play and although we associate playing mostly with kids, grown-ups also love to play, although in different ways.
Most learners are used to playing video games. Using virtual reality technology feels like playing video games, encouraging them to want more, and indirectly learning in the process.
6. Explain difficult concept
As teachers, we all have topics that are quite difficult to explain and by extension for learners to understand.
A biology class on firing neurons in the body can better be explained with a trip inside the human body.
Using virtual reality, teaching difficult topics can be supplemented with virtual reality to enable learners better grab and understand these concepts.
Cons of virtual reality in education
Although using virtual reality in education comes with great benefits, it also comes with some disadvantages.
1. Devalues human connection
At the present stage of virtual reality technology, users are mostly connected to the software which can be a huge challenge in a classroom environment.
This will potentially change as the technology continues to grow but learner interactions will be devalued if learners are mostly connected to the virtual environment.
2. No flexibility
Since the software is pre-programmed, questions and answers are only limited to whatever questions or answers are already programmed in the system.
Learners who have problems understanding what they see will be unable to ask and get answers to these questions in the virtual world.
Like with most forms of technology, a major concern usually has to do with addiction.
Learners can easily become addicted to the use of this technology especially if their interest in the virtual world surpasses their interest in the real world.
The current VR technology is still growing and as more and more competitors enter the market, the technology itself will become less expensive.
As it stands at present, only rich schools will be able to afford to integrate the technology into their curriculum.
Years of research would be required to make the technology equally available to be used by rich or poor schools.
5. Eye health
Some users of virtual reality goggles have reported some form of effect on their eyes after prolonged usage.
This of course has not been proven yet but if the effects of looking at your computer screen for a prolonged period apply in this scenario, it would be advisable to avoid prolonged usage of VR goggles.
This issue is still quite debated but the most important is that learners shouldn’t use VR goggles for a prolonged period at a time
The Bottom Line
Virtual reality is one of the most exciting technologies on the market and its attracting investments from all industries.
Although it has its disadvantages, like most technologies, it comes with great benefits that when properly leveraged, will change the education industry.
This is why companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and many more are currently investing in the virtual reality and augmented reality markets.
If you’re a fan of VR technology, this is a perfect time to get excited and if you’re a fan of the technology, this is the perfect time to learn about it.