VR developer focused on creating immersive storytelling experiences. Follow me on Twitter: @VRHeavenNews
October 8th, 2023

What is Virtual Reality (VR) Education?

Virtual Reality (VR) Education refers to the use of VR technology to enhance teaching and learning experiences, by immersing students in a three-dimensional, interactive virtual environment. VR can transport students to different places, times, or situations, making abstract concepts tangible.

Benefits of Virtual Reality in Education

teacher wearing vr headset education

The 5 main benefits of virtual reality in education are:

  1. Enhanced engagement
  2. Interactive learning
  3. Improved retention
  4. Special needs education
  5. Safe practice environment

According to data from Goldman Sachs, the global educational VR market was expected to reach $700 million by 2025.

1. Enhanced Engagement

Unlike passive learning methods where students might listen to a lecture or read from a textbook, VR requires active participation. Users can interact with the virtual environment, making choices, exploring, and experimenting, all of which foster engagement.

Novelty Factor: The newness and excitement of VR can captivate students’ attention. Experiencing content in a way that’s different from traditional methods can stimulate interest and curiosity.

Multisensory Experience: VR engages multiple senses simultaneously. Students can see, hear, and sometimes even “feel” (with haptic feedback) their lessons, leading to a more holistic and engaging learning experience.

Emotional Connection: Engaging stories or experiences in VR can elicit emotional responses, which have been linked to better memory retention. For instance, virtually visiting a historic site and witnessing events can create a deeper emotional connection than merely reading about it.

2. Interactive Learning

Students wearing vr headsets in class

VR allows students with a hands-on experience, whether it’s dissecting a virtual frog, constructing a molecule, or navigating a historical site, students are actively involved in the learning process.

In a virtual environment, students can experiment without fear of real-world consequences. They can make mistakes, learn from them, and try again, fostering a deeper understanding.

Many VR learning platforms offer real-time feedback. If a student makes an error, the system can immediately point it out and provide guidance, ensuring that misconceptions are addressed on the spot.

3. Improved Retention

Research by National Training Laboratory suggests that retention rates for VR training can be as high as 75%, compared to reading (10%) and lectures (5%).

Edgar Dale’s often-cited “Cone of Experience” proposes that people generally remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, but up to 90% of what they do or simulate. While the exact percentages are debated and might not be scientifically rigorous, the overarching principle – that active participation leads to better retention – is widely accepted.

4. Special Needs Education

Using Virtual Reality (VR) in education for students with special needs has been an area of interest for researchers and educators. VR offers unique tools and methods to address challenges faced by students with disabilities, creating more inclusive and tailored learning environments.

  1. Customized Learning Environments: VR can be modified to cater to the specific needs of a student. For example, for a student with autism, a virtual environment can be designed with fewer stimuli to reduce sensory overload.
  2. Sensory Stimulation: For students with sensory impairments, VR can be adjusted to provide heightened visual, auditory, or tactile feedback, enhancing their interaction with the content.
  3. Social Interaction Training: For students with social interaction challenges, such as those with autism spectrum disorders, VR can offer scenarios where they can practice and learn social cues and interactions in controlled settings.
  4. Engagement and Motivation: The immersive nature of VR can be particularly engaging for students who might find traditional classroom settings overwhelming or unstimulating.

Various studies have shown that VR provides effective support for development of basic and complex social skills in autism sprectrum disorders. In these studies, children practiced social scenarios in VR, helping them transfer these skills to real-life situations.

5. Safe Practice Environment

Making errors is a natural part of the learning process. VR allows students to make and learn from their mistakes without any repercussions, fostering a growth mindset.

Especially in fields like medicine, chemistry, or engineering, mistakes can be costly or dangerous. In VR, a medical student can practice a surgical procedure or a chemistry student can conduct volatile experiments without the fear of causing harm or damage.

Disadvantages of VR in Education

The main disadvantages of using VR in education are cost, limited content, technical issues, physical side effects and safety concerns.

Prolonged use of VR can lead to motion sickness, eye strain, or headaches in some individuals. Around 60% of people who’ve tried VR has experience some form of VR motion sickness, with women experiencing it more frequently than men. Ensuring breaks and proper ergonomics is essential.

Users immersed in a VR environment might also be unaware of their real-world surroundings, leading to potential physical accidents or injuries.

Meanwhile, the initial investment in VR equipment, including headsets, controllers, and possibly high-end computers, can be prohibitive for some institutions. Ongoing costs for software, content updates, and maintenance can add up.

How VR is Used in Education and Schools? (6 Examples)

1. Virtual Tours and Excursions

Not every school has the resources or the geographic proximity to take students to historical sites, museums, or natural wonders. With VR, students can virtually travel anywhere in the world, making previously inaccessible locations available for educational exploration.

  1. A history class can virtually visit ancient Rome, walking its streets, entering the Colosseum, and witnessing gladiatorial combats, providing a more tangible understanding of the era.
  2. Art students can take a VR tour of the Louvre in Paris, zooming in on artworks, exploring different wings of the museum, and even accessing areas that might be restricted to the general public.
  3. Biology students can explore the coral reefs of the Great Barrier Reef or trek through the Amazon rainforest, observing wildlife in their natural habitats and understanding ecological systems more vividly.
  4. Chemistry students can take a VR tour inside a human cell, witnessing cellular processes or exploring molecular structures up close.

The benefits of VR excursions are that it’s engaging, cost-effective, safe, and time efficient.

2. Lab Simulation and Research

Lab simulations and research tools in education have been increasingly enhanced by the incorporation of digital technologies like AR and VR. These tools offer students a safe and controlled environment to conduct experiments, learn complex topics, and gain hands-on experience.

Platforms like Labster provide virtual chemistry labs where students can conduct experiments, mix chemicals, and observe reactions without the risk of real-world hazards. This also allows for experimentation that might be too expensive or dangerous to perform in a traditional school lab.

Brainlab offers mixed reality tools to study brain structures, neural pathways, and cognitive processes, enhancing the understanding of this complex organ.

Meanwhile, tools like 3D Organon VR Anatomy offer detailed 3D models of the human body, allowing students to dissect, explore, and understand human anatomy without needing actual cadavers.

3. Language Immersion

There are several language apps in VR – all have their pros and cons. The most popular ones being: Noun Town, Immerse, Immerseme, Mondly and Language Lab. Some people also use social platforms like VRChat to practice speaking another language to natives of that country.

Interactive Conversations: VR apps can simulate one-on-one or group conversations, allowing learners to practice speaking and listening with virtual characters or other real students.

Realistic Scenarios: VR can recreate everyday situations like ordering food at a restaurant, checking in at a hotel, or navigating a train station, giving learners the chance to practice their language skills in context.

Cultural Exploration: Beyond just language, VR allows students to explore the cultural nuances of a region, such as traditions, festivals, and landmarks, enriching their linguistic learning with cultural context.

4. Special Education

For students with sensory, cognitive, or physical challenges, VR fosters engagement, inclusivity, and adaptability, allowing them to access enriched educational experiences that might be challenging to replicate in traditional settings.

FloreoVR is a tool for neurodiverse learners, helping students develop social communication skills by simulating real-world interactions, such as reading facial expressions or understanding personal space.

The Blue Room is a treatment plan created in collaboration with Third Eye NeuroTech and Newcastle University. This VR environment aids children with autism by helping them confront and manage their phobias, such as crossing streets or interacting in public spaces.

VRTherapy is designed for students with phobias, anxiety disorders, or PTSD, this tool offers exposure therapy in controlled VR settings, gradually helping students cope with and overcome their fears.

Meanwhile, inclusive VR classroom solutions like ClassVR offer VR lessons tailored for students with special needs, including sensory environments, life skill simulations, and interactive learning modules.

5. Skill Training

With VR, students can practice specific skills, such as surgery, car repair, or electrical work, in a simulated, risk-free environment.

Medical students can practice surgeries, diagnostics, and patient interactions using platforms like Oxford Medical Simulation.

Applications like VirtualSpeech place users in front of virtual audiences, helping them hone their public speaking and presentation skills.

6. Art and Design

Platforms like Tilt Brush and Vermillion allow students to create 3D designs, sculptures, and art pieces in a virtual space, expanding the boundaries of traditional art creation.

Related: 10 VR painting apps and games

7. Remote Teaching

Unlike standard video lectures or webinars, VR creates an immersive classroom environment where students can feel as though they’re sitting in an actual classroom, interacting in real-time with instructors and peers. Collaborative VR spaces facilitate group projects, discussions, and peer interactions, making remote learning more communal and less isolating.

Best VR Headsets for Education

male teacher wearing vr headset

As of 2023/2024, the best VR headsets for education are:

  1. Google Cardboard: A cheap way to offer virtual tours and excursions to students
  2. ClassVR: Specifically designed for the educational sector, ClassVR comes with features tailored to classroom use such as curriculum-aligned content, teacher controls, and a simple interface designed with younger users in mind.
  3. Meta Quest 3: With it’s color passthrough, mixed-reality capabilities, this is the ideal higher end headset for education. 
  4. Meta Quest 2: Is a cheaper solution that doesn’t offer the AR capabilities of the Quest 3.
  5. Redbox VR: One of the primary advantages of RedboxVR is its seamless integration with Google Expeditions, a popular educational VR platform. This gives educators access to a vast library of immersive lessons and field trips.

Cost of VR in Education

For a medium-sized school or institution wishing to adopt VR comprehensively, a rough initial estimate might range from $10,000 to $50,000 or more, depending on the choices made in hardware, content, and infrastructure.

On the lower end, Google Cardboard-style devices can cost as little as $10-$20 each and offer basic VR experiences when paired with a compatible smartphone. Mid-range devices, like the Meta Quest 3 can cost $500 and higher end systems cost upwards of $1,000.

However, hardware is just one part of the equation. There’s also the cost of software and educational content. While some content can be accessed for free or at a minimal cost, custom content creation or licensing premium educational VR software can add significant expenses.

Is VR the Future of Education and Learning?

While VR offers transformative potential in education and is undoubtedly a significant part of the future landscape, it’s unlikely to fully replace traditional methods. Instead, the future of education will likely see a blend of traditional teaching, VR, and other technological tools, each contributing its unique strengths to the holistic learning process. As technology advances and becomes more accessible, VR’s role in education will grow, but its integration will need to be thoughtful and balanced.