Ever since the release of virtual reality (VR) headsets, educators explored how to use the immersive technology for teaching others, whether in a classroom or in the workforce. Educational VR has the power to teach new skills to schoolchildren and adults alike, building their expertise and ability to tackle new challenges.
A range of apps are available to teach children across a range of topics; but what makes them effective? Why is the technology effective in teaching students, and how can teachers use them in classrooms to help improve the learning experience?
The Immersive Wire looks at the best apps on offer, as well as the qualities that helps them make a great impact. And if you are interested in immersive technologies beyond education, check out the free weekly newsletter. It looks at how the metaverse is impacting everything from business to the arts, investigating the area beyond VR:
What is educational VR?
Educational VR is any sort of content playable on a virtual reality headset. Users typically wear one and interact with the virtual world via a selection of controllers.
The types of content can differ depending on the context. In classrooms for example, students may learn more about history or geography by being transported to previous times or new locations. For employees, the content may be more sophisticated such as learning the ropes of a submarine or dealing with worker relations. The definition is broad, reflecting the many ways VR can help others.
Headsets that can play immersive learning content include:
- HTC VIVE Pro;
- HTC VIVE Focus;
- Oculus Rift S;
- Oculus Quest;
- Oculus Go;
- Valve Index;
- Windows Mixed Reality;
- HP Reverb G2;
- Lenovo Mirage VR S3;
- … and many more.
What are the benefits of virtual reality in education?
Evidence shows that VR has a significant impact on the competency of students. One study from the Korea University of Technology and Education compared two engineering courses to present the differences between VR-based teaching and traditional methods. The study showed that there was a significant difference between the two, with VR developing student’s comprehension in select areas. However, the study also showed that it does not improve all areas of a student’s comprehension; just select areas such as ‘interdisciplinary fusion,’ ‘communication,’ ‘challenging practice,’ and major foundation.’ The University of Glasgow is conducting research via Project Mobius as well.
What this shows us is that the benefits of virtual reality in education can be vast. Used correctly, and students can flourish with the right tools, provided the students have access to VR headsets. Traditional methods still work well. That said, it cannot supplant all areas of VR, and must be used in conjunction with other methods. For instance, ClassVR can be used as a teaching tool to help students learn via 360-degree images.
VR can benefit education by:
- Increasing student’s basic understanding of a topic;
- Improve core competencies in a topic;
- Develop particular competencies in a topic;
- Develop communication and team-building skills via collaborative experiences.
Will VR change learning?
VR is already making seismic changes in the sector. With the evidence supplied earlier in the article, there is a lot of information to show that immersive technologies will help students flourish.
Yet like with other skills in life, it should not be used on its own. Relying on VR for teaching is like using solely TV for children; while an effective distraction, it lacks impact if it does not mix with other methods. A blend of immersive and traditional teaching approaches improves the impact of both.
For example, Charles Coomber uses VR to teach mathematical concepts in Tilt Brush VR. The mini lesson breaks down the concept, then shares it with his class for watching. Mr Coomber does not use the technology on its own but uses it to help his students. This is how VR will change learning; by improving it as an addition to the skills that teachers can use.
Best educational VR apps
There are many types of content to try out, with a diverse range of options to choose and try out. From the history experts to students wandering between the stars, immersive content opens new doors to step through. Here are a few to try out:
Ever wanted to explore space? Mission ISS allows people to wander around the International Space Station (ISS), gaining an immersive insight into how the world’s most expensive object operates. From swinging through the compartments to hearing audio logs on its capabilities, the experience gives a great overview of what it is like to be an astronaut.
After exploring the station, users can then take a walk outside in a space suit. Shooting between the compartments and solar panels, kids and adults can feel like an astronaut as they inspect the outside of their celestial home. Across all VR content, Mission ISS is one of the best educational VR apps available today.
Anne Frank House VR
Set in Amsterdam between 1942 and 1944, Anne Frank House VR offers an emotional insight into the struggle of the family during the German annexation of the city. Walking through the home of eight Jewish individuals, as excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary detail the struggles they dealt with during their time.
Quiet and impactful, the VR experience teaches everyone about the experience of many Jews who struggled during World War Two. The immersion gives a new kind of depth to the story, as people can virtually stand in the same places as others. While some people may not be able to travel to Amsterdam to see the home for themselves, Anne Frank House VR lets those with a VR headset see how they survived the two terrible years of their lives.
National Geographic Explore VR
Not everyone can visit Antarctica, or Machu Picchu in Peru; distance, time, and money are key barriers to travel. But with National Geographic Explore VR, VR users can be transported to the locations and set out to new expeditions, navigating icebergs and alpacas as they explore the thrilling locations.
The great features of the educational VR experience are the interactive elements. Using ice picks to navigate through an area, or discovering citadels while walking through the building, are both great ways to learn about the stunning locations. Best of all, it does not cost a plane ticket.
While the planet is under danger, many groups are fighting for the protection of their environment. ecosphere shows an immersive insight into their activities, covering locations ranging from the savannahs of Kenya to the coral reefs of Raja Ampat. Think of it like an immersive documentary, placing viewers into new locations.
Produced in partnership with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Silverback Films Ltd and Oculus, this ground-breaking series is narrated by Emmy Award winning actress Anna Friel.
The Body VR
A classic in educational VR apps, The Body VR covers the inside of the human body. Zoom through veins and learn how the body keeps life flowing while fighting dangerous viruses constantly. The game has been played repeatedly for many years as a staple of the genre, and it is still a classic to play today.
Titans of Space PLUS
Space is big. Judging the scale of the cosmos is incredibly difficult, as we deal with celestial objects far beyond our comprehension. Titans of Space PLUS helps to put context to the size of our universe, as players roam around the solar system learning about the planets that orbit around our Sun.
The project has been updated constantly, leaving Early Access in December 2019. If the child loves space, or wants to learn more about the cosmos as a whole, check it out today.
1943 Berlin Blitz
Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend historical events. Bombing locations during World War Two conjures images of slowly-falling missiles, destroyed buildings, and broken families crying over their losses. 1943 Berlin Blitz takes a step further as the user rides on a Lancaster bomber, listening to archive footage of BBC war correspondent Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s reaction.
Sitting on a plane during a night-time raid of Nazi Germany is not the most warm-hearted activity that users can experience today – but it is memorable and important.
7VR Wonders does what it says from the tin. Explore the seven wonders of the world, recreated in VR in great detail, such as:
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon;
- Statue of Zeus;
- Mausoleum at Halicarnassus;
- The Great Pyramid of Giza;
- Colossus of Rhodes;
- Temple of Artemis;
- Lighthouse of Alexandria.
Best of all it is one of the cheapest experiences available today. If you have some spare change and want to look at the most beautiful objects in human history, take a peek.
No, players do not ride the eponymous Titanic as it crashes into the iceberg. Instead the perspective focuses on a diver who navigates the wreck of the ship, looking among precious items as they piece together what happened. The educational VR experience ponders on the events of 1912.
At select moments, the perspective shifts to a survivor on lifeboat 6 who watches certain events in action. Yet ultimately. Titanic VR is a diving adventure with more historical context thrown in.
Finally we have Everest VR, an experience set on the world’s tallest peak. Join an expedition climbing the mountain over five iconic scenes, from the basecamp through Khumbu Icefalls, ending at the summit.
Like other titles in the list, Everest VR provides a compelling introduction to VR. Far from reading about it in a textbook or watching archive footage via YouTube or TV, the VR experience lets people get a small insight into what it might feel like.
What is the future of virtual reality in education?
Overall, educational VR will have a massive impact on education. With the range of products and services available, classrooms and teachers can access some of the best experiences available today/ Even without access to a VR headset, children can wear a Google Cardboard and watch 360-degree YouTube videos.
That said, the technology will not diminate the world immediately. Not all schools can access headsets, with bigger priorities to focus on. But once the hardware is in classrooms, the future of virtual reality in education looks bright.
Virtual reality will likely remain relatively niche for some time. But for the small number of people who can try it out, they will have a blast.