Virtual Reality in Education: The Next New Norm

Discover the benefits of VR in education, explore real-world use cases, and learn how you can incorporate VR into your own teaching practice.
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Growing up, you likely heard that most people are either visual, auditory, read/write, or kinesthetic learners. While it may not have meant much to you back then, understanding these different types of learning styles can drastically impact the way teachers educate students, set up group projects, and adapt individual learning.

We don’t all learn the same way, so how can we expect to take a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching? But with immersive technology, it’s possible to use all these learning styles in the classroom together.

Virtual reality (VR) in education is opening the door to a new way to train students by incorporating diverse learning styles.

Teachers need to deliver lessons in an equal, uniform way that engages all their students. If that’s not tricky enough, they also have to juggle a shortage of qualified teachers and limited (or no) access to additional resources.

Virtual reality is gaining significant traction in education for one simple reason: It offers students a unique opportunity to explore and experience concepts in a way that traditional teaching methods cannot.

Up for a virtual field trip to historic cites? What about simulated lab experiments? Regardless of the educational use case, VR has the potential to revolutionize the way we teach and learn.

Understanding the Role of Virtual Reality in Education

VR is a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional environment that users experience through a headset or other immersive display. With VR, users are fully immersed in the environment, which fosters a genuine sense of being in the moment.

Because students can interact with the simulated environment, VR offers unique learning experiences in education. It’s measurably effective, too.

According to a study by PwC, they found that – with VR – learners are:

275% more confident

275% more confident applying the skills they learned

4x faster

Learn 4x faster than traditional methods

3.75x more engaged

3.75x more engaged with the content

4x more focused

4x more focused than their e-learning peers

And the opportunities for students are endless. They can explore historical sites or scientific concepts through virtual field trips, allowing them to see and experience things they may not have the opportunity to do in real life. Or they can be virtually exposed to dangerous or costly training environments, such as surgery or piloting an aircraft, without any risk.

Maybe they’re more focused on language learning. VR can create immersive environments where students can practice and improve their language skills by interacting with native speakers, ordering food at a restaurant, or asking for directions on the street.

But the best part of VR learning is that it emphasizes equity for all walks of life, including special education support. For instance, students with autism can benefit from virtual reality environments that help them practice social situations in a safe and controlled environment.

Benefits of Using Virtual Reality in Education

VR is powerful because it lets students learn through experience. It changes the entire educational experience by offering a range of benefits for both students and teachers. Some of the benefits of using VR in education include:

Virtual Reality in Different Educational Settings

Teaching hasn’t evolved much throughout history. Whether studying hand-written notes for tests, sitting in lectures, or trying to retain every important historical event through a textbook, fact retention is usually the basis for the conventional classroom experience.

Now, VR is adding an immersive and engaging twist to both students’ and professionals’ experiences. They’re being transported from their desks to the Aztec ruins, experimenting with volatile chemicals and observing the explosive reactions without being physically harmed. Students using VR can even step into another’s point of view to complete more impactful diversity and inclusion training thanks to VR soft-skill training developers like Bodyswaps.

Primary and Secondary Education

Elementary schools use VR to enhance learning in a variety of subjects, including science, math, social studies, and art. Students can use VR to explore planets, galaxies, and asteroids in the solar system. They can visit the locations they learn so much about in textbooks – or create digital art in a virtual environment. Whatever they use it for, VR makes learning fun and engaging for elementary school kids.

Southborough CE primary school is already creating unforgettable learning experiences for its students using VR. With a central, dedicated Discovery Center acting as the technology hub for the whole school, they’re delivering immersive reading and writing experiences. Using VR, the students can walk into the pages of the books they’re reading and immerse themselves in an entirely new world.

virtual reality in education southborough primary discovery centre
Image source: ClassVR

At middle school and high school levels, students use VR to learn more complex concepts in biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering. Because theory-based conceptual subjects like these can often be difficult for students to visualize and comprehend, students can use VR to simulate experiments or build virtual models of complex systems firsthand. At this point in their education, VR plays a large role in molding students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Orewa College is another school leaning into this technology to incorporate unique educational experiences within the classroom. After seeing success with preliminary VR experiments, the school gave students the chance to develop their own application in their classrooms. Under this program, teachers interested in incorporating VR into their curriculum can collaborate with student ambassadors to learn more about the technology and its potential.

Virtual Reality in Higher Education

In colleges and universities, VR creates immersive and interactive learning experiences to supplement traditional teaching methods. Now, medical students can use VR to simulate surgical procedures, while engineering students use it to simulate the design of gearbox assemblies.

In the case of Concordia University, VR can be used to bring history to life. Concordia University’s Debates & Challenges in contemporary Quebec Society class sought to find answers to what happened to Faubourg à m’lasse, a working-class, Francophone neighborhood located along the shore of the St-Lawrence River in Montreal. With the help of VR and meticulously documented archival material, the team virtually reconstructed a historically authentic Faubourg apartment of the 1960s.

Before After

By immersing themselves in the apartment, they uncovered tidbits about Faubourg residents’ lives and found answers to everyone’s lingering questions.

VR can go beyond STEM applications, too, though. In language and cultural studies, it can create immersive language-learning environments, complete with real-life conversations and situations. And of course, VR eventually comes full circle, back to creative expression.

Using VR, Stanford VR Design Lab conducts artful research specifically for the purpose of human expression and creativity. In their quest to support design research projects at CCRMA, they also collaborate regularly with Computer Science, Art/Art History, and Communication at Stanford and other Ivy League schools.

"There are a lot of challenges using XR – for example, managing content. We’re using ArborXR specifically so we can track headsets and manage XR content remotely. When you’re working as a team on an XR project, you need software that allows everyone to work together collaboratively, and ArborXR enables us to do that."
Erik Brown
Associate Creative Director Stanford Digital Education

Vocational and Technical Virtual Reality Training

Though not necessarily a traditional application for the technology, VR has a wide range of applications in vocational and technical training. Like most settings, it can simulate real-world scenarios and environments, allowing trainees to practice and develop their skills in a safe and controlled environment. This is particularly useful for technical skills training, where learners need to practice hands-on skills and procedures (i.e., automotive or HVAC repair jobs).

It can also be helpful for students like those at Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS). Instructors at IVRS are incorporating VR into their curriculum to captivate their special needs students and support their development of STEM-based work skills.

Because VR enables instructors to conduct interactive demonstrations of technical concepts and procedures, learners who may struggle to understand abstract or complex concepts get a more comprehensive education. Take welding, for instance. Instructors can use VR to create immersive training environments that simulate real-world welding scenarios. Trainees can practice welding in different contexts, such as construction sites, factories, or repair shops, and learn how to adapt their welding skills to other settings.

But aside from the hard skills, VR helps cultivate soft skills for those preparing for job interviews or customer service scenarios. By using VR for soft skill training, learners can gain valuable communication skills in a realistic, immersive environment, leading to more effective learning and better outcomes in the workplace.

Air University’s Squadron Officer College now integrates virtual reality as a learning tool in the SOC education program. With what they refer to as a mixed reality learning experience (or MRLx), they can set the stage for realistic, immersive two-way conversations with an avatar.

This way, they prepare their trainees with opportunities to put their leadership skills to the test for difficult but necessary conversations.

Professional Development in Virtual Reality

VR use cases in training and professional development settings are climbing. In healthcare settings, professionals can use VR to practice procedures and protocols in a safe and controlled environment before putting those skills to use on a patient. And because safety is such a big concern in construction, construction crews can use VR to simulate dangerous or complex scenarios before tackling the real thing.

Consider an operating room (OR) fire scenario (as if surgery wasn’t stressful enough). Baylor Health Care System conducted a study to evaluate the impact of an immersive VR-based OR fire training simulation system.

Image source: ResearchGate

Their results were jaw-dropping: VR-trained professionals showed a 250% improvement in their ability to perform the correct sequence of steps in extinguishing the simulated fire when compared to traditionally trained professionals (no VR).

Challenges of Implementing Virtual Reality in Education

Education is, undoubtedly, the backbone of our society – and VR is only strengthening it. But even with all its achievements, there are a few challenges to using virtual reality in education.

Cost and Resources

One of the main challenges of implementing VR in education is the cost and resources required to acquire and maintain the necessary hardware and software. It’s more than just a one-time VR headset expense. Once teachers get the headsets and start exploring content, they often realize there are tons of problems associated with managing it – not to mention that the headsets have unrestricted access to the app store and web browser. Keep in mind that for successful implementation, you’ll need to pay recurring XR content and XR MDM costs. Factor each cost in carefully so you can budget accordingly.

Technical Challenges

Technical expertise is required to set up and maintain the hardware and software. Whether it’s compatibility issues between devices and software, troubleshooting technical problems, or ensuring that the VR experience runs smoothly, technical help is a must. Because of this need, schools and universities need to invest in technical support if they haven’t already.

Lack of Content

While many applications and resources are available, finding high-quality, relevant, and effective VR content that aligns with curricular goals can be difficult. Educators may need to invest significant time and resources in creating or adapting VR content to meet their specific needs.

App Store Content

Most educators considering VR for their classrooms think the “where” of content is easy; they’ll simply download XR content from an app store. Using app stores for educational purposes seems like the path of least resistance, but it may cause problems in the long run (and is a pain to manage). There is no process for one parent license in a consumer app store which means you would have to create an individual account for each headset/student and then manually download the desired content to each headset. Then, students would also have unrestricted access to the app store and native VR web browsers. Sure, this isn’t a big deal with a handful of headsets, but it's an absolute pain to deal with. So, the best way for educators to use XR content is to actually work with third-party app developers like VictoryXR, Bodyswaps, or EngageXR. If you want to roll out VR, find an educational content developer upfront.

Learning Curve

The user interface of VR applications can be complex. Educators need to set aside time and resources to train students on how to use the technology – not to mention for learning it themselves. Both parties need to spend time learning how to integrate and navigate VR tech in order for it to reach its full potential in the classroom.

Device Management

Existing device management solutions for companies using VR won't work in educational settings. But managing multiple VR devices in a classroom setting is nearly impossible to do without help. There’s the restricting of web browsers, finding educational content from XR content developers, updating that XR content, and controlling the user experience – all on top of the “business as usual” educators' responsibilities. Obviously, this is even more challenging in large classrooms or in schools with limited IT resources, so you’ll need a dedicated solution for XR devices.

Best Practices for Rolling Out Virtual Reality in Educational Settings

When rolling out virtual reality (VR) in educational settings, there are several best practices you can follow to minimize the challenges you encounter along the way.

Identify Learning Objectives and Content to Fulfill Those Learning Objectives

VR content should be designed to support specific learning objectives and outcomes. As an educator, you’ll need to carefully identify the learning objectives and desired outcomes for the VR program. Then, select VR content that aligns with those objectives to set you and your students up for success.

Ensure Adequate Resources

Implementing VR in educational settings can require significant resources like hardware, software, and personnel. Make sure that you have adequate resources and funds in place to support the program, including the headsets, content, mobile device managers, and any supplementary technical support.

Provide Training and Support for Educators

Everyone – educators included – should be trained on how to use VR devices and software. As an educator you’ll also need to take your training a step further to nail down how to integrate VR into your curriculum. Make sure to have technical support in case of any issues!

Find an MDM Who Can Manage Your Devices

A mobile device management (MDM) provider is an essential tool for managing VR devices in educational settings. In addition to managing all the devices seamlessly, an MDM can remotely install and manage all VR content on all devices to control what your students see and do. This can ensure that students use VR effectively and safely and reduce the workload for educators who may be managing VR devices.

But keep in mind: not just any traditional unified endpoint manager (UEM) or MDM will do. Because of all the requirements associated with VR in education, you’ll need a dedicated, specialized MDM like ArborXR.

When using XR in classrooms, it’s essential to lock down the headset and know what students are working on. ArborXR provides ArborXR Home and kiosk mode to keep students out of app stores and web browsers and control what they can see and do in VR. And educators see the benefits firsthand.

"Teachers have a duty of care to students,” said an educator on G2. “With Meta Quest, students can access apps unsuitable for minors and even interact with strangers. ArborXR solves this problem, providing a locked-down experience that limits what students can do in VR."
Educator on G2

Monitor Students’ Progress and Adapt to Their Changing Needs

VR can be a valuable tool to report on students’ progress and performance. By monitoring students’ progress, educators can adapt their teaching strategies to better meet students’ needs and improve learning outcomes.

With these tips in hand, you can make sure all VR programs are aligned with your learning objectives, effectively managed, and provide students with a safe and engaging learning experience.

Final Thoughts

VR offers vast potential to revolutionize the education sector. From improving engagement to enhancing learning outcomes, VR has already demonstrated numerous benefits for learners and educators alike. Despite its promising benefits, however, there are still some challenges to overcome, including the high cost of entry, the lack of content, and the search for the right MDM.

Fortunately, innovative companies like ArborXR are addressing these challenges with dedicated XR MDM solutions. After all, ArborXR was created to make XR experiences in education seamless – and it shows. We’re trusted by 2,000+ companies worldwide, we have more than 420+ schools on the platform, and we have customers in 90+ countries.

Now, as we move towards a more technology-driven future, it’s essential for educators to explore the use of VR in their classrooms. By embracing VR technology and integrating it into their curriculum, we can all provide an immersive and engaging learning experience that will equip students with valuable skills and knowledge for the future.

Want to explore the use of VR in your classroom? Starting out a new XR pilot program? Need help managing XR headsets across classrooms, campuses, and school districts? We do it all. Get started with a free trial  today.

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