Virtual reality is giving educators powerful tools to shape new kinds of learning experiences for students, from school children to postgraduates and beyond.

The immersive quality of VR is perfect for education. It gives learners an interactive rather a passive learning experience. It minimises distractions, creates engagement, helps with retention, and aids in learning and mastering complex subjects.

Here are five ways virtual reality is already beginning to transform education.

  1. Engaging with subjects in ways not possible in real life
    VR makes it possible to go places you can’t go and do things you can’t do in real life, allowing learners to engage with almost any subject in new ways. School children in Washington, DC, have been able to take a virtual tour of the Mars landscape on a real school bus driving around the streets of Washington.  The World of Comenius educational infoverse allows students to move atoms around to see how they interact and take a swim in a cell. Through virtual reality, we can make history come alive by visiting the past, tour difficult to access and endangered heritage sites, and travel through the human body or through outer space.
     
  2. Learning from remote locations
    VR can equalise opportunities for learners in remote locations by allowing them to have comparable learning experiences to those in urban areas. Recently, two School of the Air children in the Flinders Ranges were able to go on a guided dive in the Great Barrier Reef via videoconference. With virtual reality, this kind of experience will become even more immersive.
     
  3. Enhancing interest in STEM subjects
    VR brings a sense of wonder, immediacy, and confidence to subjects which some students otherwise find dry or overly complex. A group of Irish primary school students visited the monastery of Clonmacnoise and then spent two weeks creating a 3D model virtual model of the site. John Mcgregor and his friends use a VR tool called the Tilt Brush to work their way through their calculus homework. I remember when I studied advanced calculus, differential equations, classical analysis, and other maths subjects at university. There were chalk boards lining three walls of the classroom. The lecturer would start at the top left of one chalkboard and work his way around the room, covering it with equations, proofs, and poorly drawn 2D representations of 3D figures. By the end of class we were completely surrounded. Now you can do this yourself in VR, but instead of a classroom you have black space around you, and instead of chalk you can paint your equations and draw your models with light, in beautiful colours. And you can stream it to your classmates on YouTube. Definitely a more fun way to do your maths homework. The VR version of the wildly popular game Fantastic Contraption lets you experiment with building machines with your own hands and get a feel for physics and engineering while you see if your contraption will work the way it’s intended to.
     
  4. Training in complex procedures
    VR offers an exceptional and low cost way to learn complex procedures. Medical Realities offers surgical trainees the ability to experience and learn from real operations through virtual reality.
     
  5. Training for difficult environments
    VR offers a safe, low cost training environment to simulate difficult or dangerous conditions where it’s hard to train on the job. ADMS-Fire uses augmented reality to help firefighters learn and practice nozzle tactics, ventilation techniques, recognition of hazardous situations, and wayfinding.  Army medics are using virtual reality to practice bandaging a wound while under enemy fire, or to administer an injection when the air is filled with smoke.  

These examples are just a small sample. As collaboration becomes easier in VR and as the cost and usability of the hardware improves, VR and mixed reality will truly be game changers for learning and education.