Agroup of friends are out in the city, shopping. While they are walking down a crowded sidewalk, they hear a siren. That siren is a warning of an attack. People begin to run and scream when the friends hear a loud sound and see a bright flash. They can hear multiple explosions far away. Everyone starts looking for shelter. As the friends start running, they hear another, bigger explosion and a voice saying: game over!
As human beings continue to develop, modern technologies and the diverse applications of them are simultaneously evolving, too. Virtual reality is one of these evolutions. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) defines virtual reality as “the use of computer technology to create the effect of an interactive three-dimensional world, in which the objects have a sense of spatial presence.” Virtual reality is a perception of something we cannot tangibly touch or see or hear, but that our senses perceive to be real. It focuses on the incorporation of engineering, design, and computer systems, with the main purpose being the simulation of different worlds. In virtual reality, users can experiment with a world that does not exist. “Virtual reality submerges humans into altered environments and processes, intensifies experience and imagination, thereby augmenting research and education” (Meinhold, 2013).
Even though virtual reality was created based on ideas developed in the 19th century, only recently has it become sophisticated enough and affordable enough to interest large groups of people. Different devices, such as headsets, omni-directional treadmills, and special gloves, are utilized to stimulate human senses with immersion, interaction, and involvement (Pinho 2004). Virtual reality has many potential applications in today’s world, such as architecture, medicine, engineering, entertainment, sports, and the arts.
Virtual reality could be a vital addition to the classroom. Even though the technology is still developing, many experts are aware of its possible educational benefits. Nowadays, many teachers struggle to keep students engaged with classroom topics. Virtual reality could keep kids more engaged and help them better understand the material. VR hasn’t yet become widespread in the classroom: according to a survey by Samsung Electronics America, around 2% of teachers have employed virtual reality technology in the classroom. Despite this, the survey also found that teachers believe that virtual reality is a tool that could engage and motivate students.
Today’s generation of students has been widely exposed to digital technologies. This familiarity with technology has changed how today’s students learn. They’re primed to use VR and other new technologies to enhance their education.
One of the areas where virtual reality might be most effective is “experiential learning,” which is defined as any learning that supports students in applying their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems or authentic situations where the instructor directs and facilitates learning (Wurdinger & Carlson, 2010). Any type of activity related to experiential learning not only helps teachers to cover the topics needed, but also helps to increase students’ motivation to learn. According to the University of Texas at Austin, experiential learning brings many benefits to students, such as producing more autonomous learners, deepening learning, and helping students to apply the skills learned through authentic activities.
According to the Virtual Reality Society there are multiple benefits when incorporating virtual reality into the classroom: a more active learning experience, an immediate engagement that helps students to simultaneously develop their knowledge and skills, improved concentration, and a better understanding of complex theories and concepts. VR is suited to all types of learning styles. The physicality of it increases retention. As Derek Hughes says, “Members of the digital generation thrive on creative and engaging activities, varied sources of information, and a more energetic environment.”
Research conducted using the Vive VR platform in China has shown that virtual reality offers new ways to unlock student potential. According to this report, titled “The Impact of Virtual Reality on Academic Performance,” VR can deliver significant and rewarding outcomes for students and teachers by increasing cognitive memory. The results also showed that test scores and knowledge retention improved when a VR-based education was utilized. “The more a learner is able to participate in life-like engagement, the easier it is to personally feel a connection to the subject material, making it easier for application and retention of the subject matter” (Kolo, 2017).
Not only can VR expose students to new ideas and environments, it is also an accessible tool that can bring new practices to disadvantaged students, students in remote locations, and students with mobility issues.