The Use of Augmented and Virtual Reality in Education


Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two technologies that have gained unprecedented popularity across many industries. Statista forecasts the market size of AR and VR to grow to $215 billion soon. Entertainment and education are among the industries that make up significant niches for AR and VR technologies.

Before getting deeper into the application of these technologies in entertainment and education, let’s first recap on what AR and VR are.

Augmented reality uses computer-generated sensory inputs like graphics, sound, video and GPS to augment physical, real-world environments. It uses layers of computer generation to mix virtual reality with real life to provide users an enhanced interaction with reality.

Virtual reality, also known as Head Mounted Display (HMD), creates completely artificial environments with software and presents the environments in ways that make the user believe that they are real. VR artificially creates sensory experiences such as touch, smell, sight and hearing.

Most people first know about AR and VR through entertainment devices. However, artificial reality applications extend far and wide across sectors. With regard to educational and entertainment mixed reality applications, the technologies remain basically the same despite the varying applications. However, there are some notable differences between educational VR / AR devices and those used for entertainment. Below are examples of AR and VR applications that can help to understand these differences.

AR and VR in entertainment

In video gaming, it is critical for VR devices to ensure that that the virtual image moves in correspondence to the movement of the user’s head without causing motion sickness.

Entertainment AR and VR has to be incredibly immersive. This is especially important for VR movie theaters. The technology aims at fully immersing the user into the experience mainly for enjoyment purposes. Usually, the physical setup includes not only HMDs but also comfortable chairs and a thematic atmosphere, all of which aim at entirely integrating the user with the virtual world.

VR theme park rides use HD movie screens, motorized seats, and booming sounds to simulate varying kinds of adventures. These simulations take users into space and beyond even without the use of head-mounted displays.

AR and VR for education

How do educational VR / AR devices fit in the education system?

Just like other fields, the education system needs to grow with the advancement of technology to effectively realize its mission. AR and VR have been instrumental in the evolution of the system. These technologies enable curriculum developers to integrate fine recreations of study aspect to make the education process more interactive and memorable.

Studies have shown that application of mixed reality in education has made educative processes better and faster. A Warwick University research found out that VR headsets are among the most brain stimulating methods. They immerse learners in virtual locations which help them to organize and recall information. A learner is able to associate the new information with visual features in the environment. As such, it’s no surprise that education is expected to form the 4th biggest market of all VR technologies. According to Statista, VR investment in the education sector will reach over $700 million by 2025.

Classroom mixed reality tools are unique in that they put more emphasis on brain engagement for learning purposes. Examples of AR/VR tools for teaching include digital puzzle boxes — breakouts, scavenger hunts, augmented field trips, teacher-created virtual expeditions (such as Google Expeditions), and varying student creations that require no coding. Here are the features of these mixed reality tools:

i. Mixed reality tools should intrigue learners

The major reason why many teachers incorporate AR and VR into the classroom is to grab the learners’ attention. The students should be wowed by the tools such that they are left asking questions like “How was it able to do that?” and “Can it do this?”

Physically interactive cubes, for example the MERGE Cube, enliven the study subject. Apps that can be downloaded and installed on a student’s smartphone transform the cube into things like the earth, human body, a customized aquarium, or even the solar system. This enhances more effective studying of aspects such as weather patterns, the human anatomy, marine life, and the solar system.

ii. Immersive technology that can use typical classroom resources

Unlike immersive technology for entertainment, educational VR / AR devices have to be adaptive to available learning platforms. Most of these tools and applications can be used across classroom devices.

The ability to share the mixed reality experiences is also a critical point of consideration for AR and VR creators. Scavenger hunts are popular among educators because they are easy to create and share using AirDro, email and text message. They allow for the extension of immersive, educative content beyond one headset, thus enabling many students to participate in the lesson.

iii. Mixed reality increases student interest

Through content creation, AR and VR open up endless possibilities for students to become creative. They can create their own digital worlds. An application like 3DBear enables a student to create a digital universe with 3D objects like animals, robots, dinosaurs, and so on. Such apps can stretch the creativity of the student beyond conventional limits.

The use AR and VR in the education process has the following benefits:

– Expanded teaching opportunities

– They make the education system more inclusive. This is achieved through solutions like Near Sighted VR Augmented Aid that helps students with visual impairments and SignAloud gloves that translate sign language into human speech in a VR environment.

– Increased attention in the classroom by keeping away distractions

– Improved learner engagement through immersion into learning environment

Health concerns, safety tips, and best practices for using educational VR / AR devices

Mixed reality application in education also has its downside. There are a number of health, safety and psychological concerns associated with using the technologies in the classroom.

Firstly, VR deteriorates human connections. The use of VR turns the user’s world in such a way that the only thing that matters is the software. Overall human to human communications and relations can be damaged, which is against the aim of education to inculcate interpersonal communication and relating skills in learners.

Secondly, use of mixed reality can result to a lack of flexibility. While in a classroom students can enjoy flexibility, ask questions, and receive answers from different points of view, mixed reality uses specific software that have been programmed to work perfectly. The student is almost always able to do only what they are guided to do by a machine.

Thirdly, mixed reality can make the virtual world addictive. Most of the times, the experiences users get from mixed reality is better than their normal existence. This makes it highly likely for users to get addicted to the virtual experiences.

Fourth is a user security issue. We’ve seen funny and sometimes horrifying videos of what strong virtual experiences can do to people. Some users have endangered their lives while using HMDs. It is also usual to see first time users get disoriented and cause injuries to themselves or other people as they try to adapt to the virtual experiences.

In light of the increasing use educational VR / AR devices, experts have proposed a number of best practices for using the technologies in the classroom. These include:

– Flipping the experience and making it student-centered

– Making VR experiences more social

– Combining physical and virtual objects

– Using VR to enhance but not to replace already existing learning tools

– Allow students to use mixed reality to create their own objects and collaborate as well

In all AR and VR applications, users need to maintain situational awareness during and after using these technologies to avoid physical dangers such as buckled sidewalks, traffic, falling off buildings and other real-life hazards.

Augmented and virtual reality is a truly effective educational technology combination. With proper and appropriate ground rules, it can help teachers and students to achieve the most out of learning experiences.