October 24 2016

Virtual reality: could it revolutionise education?

Posted by Emma Watson

2016 has truly been the year of virtual reality (VR). Companies, such as Oculus, Sony and Samsung, have been in a fierce arms race to bring their VR headsets to the market resulting in the technology being more accessible than ever before. Gamers have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of VR technology to transform their gaming experience, but what impact will it have to education and learning?

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is a 3D computer generated environment that allows viewers to explore and interact with what they see. By using software, any environment can be designed which can be experienced as if it were real. This means that with a flick of a switch, we can be transported to Australia, the North Pole or the moon! We can even be thrown into a dangerous situation whilst being in the comfort of our home.

Virtual Reality in School

We’ve all had to sit in a class, fighting to stay awake, as teacher talks at us in a monotone drawl. As students today are far more clued up about technology than older generations, it could be argued that approaches to education should be changed to incorporate the new up-and-coming tech to motivate and excite students. Virtual reality is an active experience with no distractions, allowing viewers to engage right from the start, aiding retention and recall. It has excellent potential to transform lessons into a fun, immersive experience where students want to participate and learn.

Google have started Expedition Pioneer programs, where they travel to thousands of schools to take students on immersive school trips. The teacher can guide their students through a virtual voyage using a tablet but students are encouraged to explore the locations independently. With over 200 locations to choose from, students can be transported to the Galapagos Islands or be taken to the Taj Mahal. The program also gives students an opportunity to learn about different careers, such as a civil engineering or becoming an airline pilot. There are even options to visit some colleges from home, allowing students to investigate potential schools without moving from their chair. With the use of cheap cardboard headsets and Android phones, Google Expedition in a very inexpensive alternative to traditional school trips.

Students also have the opportunity to learn about anatomy in an interactive way. Curiscope have designed the ‘Virtuali-Tee’, a smart t-shirt that reveals the wearer’s internal organs in graphic 3D. Using the app, children will be able to isolate and learn about different physiological systems as if they are being seen through skin. A boring Biology lesson is transformed into an interactive experience that allows viewers to gain a contextual understanding about how our bodies function. The brains behind Virtuali-Tee say they are going to continue to produce more experiences to get everyone excited about subjects they previously found dull.




Experiencing danger without the risks.

Another key use for VR is enabling people to learn how to react in difficult, dangerous scenarios. By simulating specific environments, people can gain invaluable experience without the risk of injury. The military have started using virtual reality for training purposes to ensure they get enough practice working under pressure before they have to use their skills in the field. In comparison to the traditional training where the environment must be physically built, VR can be reset quickly meaning you can repeat the exercise, improving each time. The environment can be designed to simulate an unlimited amount of scenarios, allowing soldiers to rehearse for missions or carry out live fire exercises. 

Virtual Reality in Hospitals

Virtual reality also has fantastic potential to aid learning in medical and dentistry training. Quite often, medical students don’t have the freedom to make mistakes which can be detrimental to the learning process. Whilst performing actions on living patients, students are under high pressure to carry them out safely without causing harm. However, this can all be changed with the use of virtual reality.

VR can be used to create walk-through programs to help students gain knowledge and confidence on how to perform different procedures. The system can be modified to challenge the student, allowing them to experience complications and learn how to act accordingly.  When the student faces these scenarios in real life, they will have had the practice needed to carry out the tasks confidently.

Communicating Important Safety Messages

Anyone who has ever experienced a car crash will know it’s not an experience you’ll forget in a hurry. So in order to educate young drivers, Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service and Samsung have partnered up to create UK’s first road safety VR project. Students experience a simulation of a car crash involving actors as well as real emergency services professionals. The crash is designed to be as close to real life as possible in order to discourage young drivers from acting carelessly on the roads. The program appears to have fantastic results, with 90% of viewers saying they would take less risks on the road after the experience. Students also seem to enjoy this new method of learning, with 80% of participants saying that they prefer the use of virtual reality to communicate important safety messages It is clear that this form of media has great potential to engage and captivate its audience.

Watch this space!

There is still a long way to go before virtual reality is used on a daily basis in school and work, but it has been shown to be a game changer for education. It is important to keep up to date with technology and with VR becoming so accessible, businesses and schools should be starting to use this new technique to motivate and engage the new generation. Virtual reality has an important and growing role in education and it is definitely one to watch.


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