In 1962, Morton Heilig's Sensorama Simulator was listed in a promotional flyer to the public for $6,000. In today's market, that would be $57,438.87. To just use the product for what it was intended only cost $0.25. Given the astronomical price for the purchase of this tech, use anywhere other than the novelty that it was at the time, including arcades, malls, movie theaters, and more, was entirely unreasonable. Mass production was out of the question, but even back then, Heilig understood the key benefits of virtual reality in education, as well as many other areas of life.
In this same flyer, he gives four areas where VR might be used, and under education, he states, "Because the simulator conveys more information in a given period, it dramatically shortens the length of learning time and helps make complicated ideas clear." He continues to state that the academic world can use the simulator as a tool for mechanics, physics, surgery, or anywhere that spatial recognition is vital. Pilots and drivers could use the simulator for training because it is "very effective in training employees in interpersonal relations." (Source)
2. What is Virtual Reality?
About the Author: Anna Taylor
Virtual Reality is a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional environment that can be interacted with on a digital level using sensory processing equipment to make it appear to the user as physical. It's a subset of extended reality, where a user places a headset over their eyes and is entirely immersed into a virtual world. When it was first created, Heilig programmed the simulator with a motorcycle simulation, complete with wind, sights, and sounds to make it seem as real as possible.
Even in 1962, Heilig understood the scope of what he had created. At the time, using VR in schools was impractical for several reasons. The price is definitely not one that any school board could justify. At $57,000 today, that would be nowhere in any reasonable budget. The size of the machine was also something to balk at. Much like the first computers, however, the size has been scaled down to meet the desires of the public. Now, headsets are small and compact, and a quick google search revealed many headsets for less than one hundred dollars. Of course, users should do their own research in determining the quality of a headset and what price they're willing to spend.
Now that VR is more accessible than it was 60 years ago, and the ability for schools to have them as an effective learning tool has gone up, here are some of the benefits of using virtual reality in education.
3. Enhanced Learning Experience
Many parents today grew up watching Magic School Bus as children, both because it's a fantastic show and because of its educational benefits. Many schools even used it as a supplemental practice in science classes. The show, using a school bus with magic properties as its method of teaching, was able to show things like the inside of a blood vessel to show the differences between white and red blood cells, and why some animals live in certain habitats while others live in one completely different.
Think of VR as a magic school bus. It enhances the learning experience by allowing the student to follow their questions and interact with the environment they've been given. Whether it's using combustible materials or exploring an anatomy textbook in a 3-dimensional way, virtual reality allows the student a more hands-on, and therefore effective, way of understanding course material.
4. Shorter Learning Curve
Many schools struggle with meeting the needs of every student. With movements like the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the world began to realize the disadvantages of trying to cater toward every student- an impossible feat, even with the use of extended reality. The fortunately unfortunate reality of schooling in this standardized way is that every child is unique. Their capacity to retain information, the speed at which they can learn a given subject, even the preferred learning method of each child is vastly different, making it difficult to meet the needs of each student individually.
VR changes that. While there is a slight learning curve in using virtual reality headsets, the overall time for immersive learning is much faster. In a study done at the University of Gothenberg in 2015 for the effectiveness of a VR headset to teach a given subject, where effectiveness is defined as "the accuracy and completeness with which users achieve specified goals," 0 out of 25 users chose non-VR for effectiveness and only 3 out of 25 stated that both VR and non-VR were the same. Participants also stated that the application allowed them to focus better because they were actually immersed in the learning environment. (Source)
5. Learning in a safe environment
Most people learn by doing. By getting hands on experience in whatever subject matter they're studying. For instance, baking a cake. A recipe is there as a guide to explain how to bake a cake. It can explain certain things like what ingredients are to be used in the recipe, the method of mixing, the baking temperature, but there are certain things that the baker doesn't know until they get their hands in the dough. Like, why would they use baking powder over baking soda, why the cake is baked at 350* and not 400*, the effects of using softened butter versus melted, etc.
Experiencing the subject hands on is the most effective way to learn. But some subjects can lead to more injuries than others. Chemistry, mechanics, and yes, even cooking, are all areas in which learning what not to do are essential, but mixing together unstable ingredients, or exploring the underside of an F-250 can pose potential problems and lead to serious injury. With a VR headset, the student can use the wrong ingredient and blow up a few beakers without hurting themselves, or anybody else. They can look at 3D images of car engines and understand the most intricate of details before ever getting under a hood.
6. Concept Visualization
For a long time, students were grouped into categories of learners; auditory, visual, or kinesthetic. Recently, observational has been thrown into the mix. Because every student has a different method of learning that works best for them, being able to solidify a concept in their mind as a group is essential. VR takes each type of learning and expands on it by allowing the student to physically interact with their subject to visualize the concept they've been trying to understand. Virtual reality takes the concept that they've learned about passively and turns it into active learning and allows the student to fully understand their subject.
60 years ago, VR was still in its infancy with Heilig's Sensorama Simulator. Today, every major tech company has their own version of virtual reality headsets. While it has been largely used for entertainment and gaming, the key benefits of virtual reality in education cannot be ignored. From fully immersible education to concept visualization and a reduced learning time, VR is revolutionizing the way the world learns. To find courses in virtual reality for educators and individuals, visit XR Guru's immersive learning hub.
Anna Taylor is a freelance writer and avid researcher- a jack of all trades, but a master of none. She graduated from the University of Hawai'i with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts because she had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up. She has since found her love of Extended Reality and the possibilities it brings to the world, as well as gardening, cooking, and writing. Anna lives in Interior Alaska with her family.