Virtual Reality for Education

Niharika Prasai Quito, Ecuador

Virtual Reality, or VR, has existed in entertainment and gaming industries for a few years now. Its goal is to fully immerse the user, visually and audibly, in a virtual world. With the influx in the use of new ed-tech, will VR translate into a tool for education as well?

A key argument for VR’s potential in education is the immersive nature of the technology. According to eLearning Industry, “on average, the brain is capable of remembering 10% of what students read, 20% of what they hear, and about 90% of what is being done or stimulated.” VR presents the unique opportunity to present information in a more stimulating way than ever before.

From simulated field trips to lab sessions, VR can take a student anywhere. This means increased accessibility to experience lessons first-hand. All courses from STEM to history or literature can now come alive with limitless possibilities of experiments and excursions. Younger children can engage in more sensory-based learning, which would improve their retention of basic skills. Moreover, VR in the time of social distancing can be an effective way to bridge the gap between the classroom and online learning.

Despite these facts, and our recent market influx in ed-tech, VR is not gaining any traction. In fact, there is an estimated increase of 11% in Quarter 1 and 24% in Quarter 2 from last year’s VR headset sales. While VR is technology’s answer to being in two places at one time, it has not been implemented in distance learning for primary or secondary schools for several reasons.

The cost per headset is a big discouraging factor. The cost vs value argument varies for different courses. For medical schools, some of the bigger buyers of VR tech, the value outweighs the cost for biology labs and surgical simulation. For a physics course, however, many online physics simulators can do exactly what VR simulators would do, without the 3D immersion, which is not a big loss.

Another issue is the design process, which involves a lot of prototyping. The rising demand for ed-tech is ultimately due to the pandemic, and therefore VR might not be a wise investment as the process to create the finalized software are long and demand for the technology is right now. Buying existing VR products for distance learning is also a risk, as there needs to be a time allotment for digital literacy as well. If many students cannot navigate VR systems, then introducing them during a state of emergency might prove inefficient.

Mid-pandemic, we have not reached the right moment yet for VR to have a meaningful place in education. It will still take more time for development of both the software and the students (and teachers) ability to navigate the technology. While VR is ground-breaking technology, that has a lot of potential, it still has a long way to go.

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