Virtual Reality In The Classroom: Immersing Students In Learning Environments

Man walking with VR headset on

What's Virtual Reality?

Virtual Reality (VR) technology has recently been making waves in various industries, including education.

Even though VR is rapidly earning a reputation as the learning aid of the 21st century, many educators have only a limited understanding of how virtual reality works, mainly based on ideas from science fiction plots. Virtual Reality is the combination of hardware and software systems needed to perfect the sensory-illusion of being present in a different location simultaneously.

Simply put, VR is a computer environment that can simulate physical presence in artificial worlds by recreating sensory experiences like virtual sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch.  

What is immersive learning?

VR has been around for quite some time but recently, advancements in immersive technology have made VR very attractive to educators.

Using VR in education allows students to immerse themselves in learning environments that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to experience in reality. This can make the learning process more engaging and effective, and is being used to teach various subjects.

Immersion into virtual reality is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. In immersive learning, instructors guide students to engage in a fully digital environment that imitates another reality. Immersive learning provides learners with an environment that is highly interactive and effectively reduces distractions.

girl wearing virtual reality headset

How can VR be used in education?

In the classroom, VR can be used to create immersive learning experiences that help students imagine abstract concepts and practice skills in a safe and controlled environment.

One of the ways VR in the classroom is applied involves using a virtual reality learning platform. These platforms provide a center for educators and students to access VR content and activities, and often include tools for tracking student progress and providing feedback. This allows teachers to easily integrate VR into their lesson plans and to see how their students are doing in real time.

The main benefit of using VR in the classroom is that it allows students to visualize complex concepts in a way that is difficult to achieve with traditional methods. For example, students learning about the inner workings of the human body can use VR headsets to “explore” the body in a virtual environment, which can help them understand the relationships between different organs and systems. Similarly, students learning about ancient civilizations can use VR to “visit” historical sites and better understand how the historical events took place.

Another advantage of VR in the classroom is that it allows students to practice skills in a safe and controlled environment. For example, students in fields such as medicine and engineering use VR simulations to practice procedures without risking harming themselves or others. This can also be helpful in fields such as firefighting and law enforcement, where simulations can help trainees safely experience the stress and pressure of real-life scenarios.

VR can bring academic subjects to life, giving students new perspectives, but when deciding to use VR in the classroom, instructors should consider that it does not support all subjects. Using VR to teach grammar classes may not be sensible since grammar is an abstract topic, but it can be effective in teaching  science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) topics.  

In virtual reality classrooms, educators engage students by using technology like interactive videos, virtual field trips and narrative websites to support lessons. Despite technical and ethical limitations, virtual reality has demonstrated its ability to motivate students and improve knowledge retention.

VR technology is a powerful tool for educational reform but it should be used as a supplement, rather than a replacement for traditional teaching methods. It is noteworthy that while VR enhances student engagement and understanding, students also need to develop other skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.

The benefits of virtual reality in education are embraced by many educators, but some are still reluctant to use it in their classrooms for reasons such as glitches and cost of equipment. Some others consider VR as entertainment instead, feeding into some myths that must be dispelled for virtual reality classrooms to thrive. 

Myth busting: Common VR misconceptions

It is necessary for educators to recognize that virtual reality is not just a passing tech trend, but a significant learning tool. However, the myths and misconceptions surrounding VR can hinder its successful implementation. These are the most common VR myths in the education industry:

1. VR is only for gaming and entertainment

Although VR technology was first created for gaming and entertainment, it has since been developed for use in many industries, including education.

2. VR is expensive and difficult to use

While VR technology can be expensive to implement on a large scale, but now it is becoming more affordable and accessible. Besides, many VR learning platforms are designed to be user-friendly and easy to use, making it possible for educators to integrate VR into their lesson plans without needing to have a lot of technical expertise.

3. VR is a replacement for traditional teaching methods

VR can be effective for improving student’s grasp and participation. However, it cannot replace traditional teaching methods. Students still need to develop core skills such as emotional intelligence, which needs an educator’s guidance.

4. VR causes headaches and other health issues

There has been some concern about the potential negative health effects of VR, such as headaches and nausea. However, most of these symptoms can be prevented by using VR responsibly and taking regular breaks. The majority of research studies found that negative health effects are rare and usually caused by prolonged use, not by occasional use in a classroom setting.

5. VR is only for STEM subjects

While VR can be particularly useful for teaching subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), it can be used to teach a wide variety of subjects, including history, literature, and art. For example, students can use VR to “visit” museums, explore the insides of famous works of art, and even experience literature in a new and exciting way.

Image of someone using virtual reality devices in a learning environment.

By understanding the facts and benefits of using Virtual Reality in education, educators can make informed decisions about how to incorporate this technology into their teaching practices. As VR technology continues to improve, it will be exciting to see how it is used to enhance education and learning in the years to come. 

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