Advancements In Virtual Reality: Emerging Tools In Education

Advancements In Virtual Reality: Emerging Tools In Education
ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Summary: The advancements in Virtual Reality (VR) have brought with them new and unique ways to enhance the educational experience of the masses. The implications are far-reaching and begin with the conceptualization of the curriculum throughout the entire education life cycle. The time has come to prepare for VR.

Virtual Reality Now Creates Deep Experiences

The $155 billion global gaming industry of 2020 contributed to the accelerated transformation of Virtual Reality (VR). With these advancements comes the dramatic ability to change the way we work with and interact with a wide variety of systems. Now, Virtual Reality is a much more regularly discussed technology than ever before. This is due to the rapid spread and the vast number of uses for this technology across many industry segments.

VR technology gives an interactive three-dimensional visual environment to the user or content consumer. It should be noted that when we talk about Virtual Reality we should also include under that subject matter heading many other more recent and expansive terms. Those terms include Augmented Reality (AR), which takes the real-world objects shown in the VR environment and offers the ability to enhance them through the use of other, sometimes newly created, technologies. Some have come to use the term extended reality (XR) as a step change from VR/AR. Now seen as another extension is the term human augmentation (HA), which is sometimes referred to as Human 2.0 by some in the field. Perhaps the most advanced of all of this is immersion (I).

New Ways Of Interaction

One interesting aspect of virtual 3D-environment immersion is the audio changes in volume coupled with switching between one ear and another. This supports the visual perception of movement—distant to close, and one side to another. Another immersion mechanism is the gloves that provide a rudimentary feeling of touch. No, this is real and it will soon become widely available commercially! All these Virtual Reality expansions provide the user/content consumer abilities to absorb, use, and interact with enhanced representative information in multiple consumption formats.

There is little doubt this is now far more than just a digital imaging of a setting; it has increased influence on the users’ senses and enables them to integrate with, and interact with, a much more robust environment. This interaction can be physical (via bodysuits/sensors) through body movement (arms, legs, eyes, hands/touch, etc.), or verbally through what the content consumer/user speaks. At this time an increased amount of work is underway to fully leverage VR/AR in educational settings. There are some that have come to believe that even at the current state of VR/AR, it has the ability to increase the students’ grasp and retention of the content delivered by this technology.

Note: While this topic was briefly touched upon in an earlier article on SMART classrooms, the impressive functions, features, and rapid growth of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, immersion and human augmentation deserve additional coverage.

VR/AR Technology Is Growing

Virtual Reality was first created and more notably demonstrated back in 1968. Its progress has been rather slow up until just recently. Back in 2020, the global market for VR/AR technology stood at a meek $4.5 billion. That is undergoing a striking change! Many technical factors have come together to create quite stirring systems. The current forecast for the global VR/AR market is that it is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 45% through 2028. That robust of a CAGR has many now projecting the global market value for VR/AR at over $84 billion in 2028 [1]. These figures include hardware, software, and content production, products, and services. They clearly indicate advances in use.

This sizable global market growth is clearly supported by a number of uses, and they are growing. The current use cases back applications in multiple industries. Top industries for VR/AR usage include (in alphabetical order):

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Defense
  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Gaming
  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • Retail
  • Robotics

VR/AR integration has begun and is growing. The delivery of enhanced virtual experience has and will expand the ability to increasingly engage and inspire content consumers, stimulate their senses, and enrich their learning experiences, in ways that were thought of as science fiction just a short time ago. It will soon be much more widely available and put into educational use than it is today. The strategic value of VR/AR has many in education rethinking how they will integrate VR/AR into curricula and courseware.

Insight: At this time, many have come to believe that China is the leading country when it comes to VR/AR/HA/I technology adoption. The VR/AR/HA/I technologies are in various stages in their evolutionary process. Some advanced features include monitoring of the wearers’ facial expressions, monitoring blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and analysis of verbal responses including voice pattern stress analysis. There are some future full-body suit sensory enhancements that include movement response time to the wearer experiences.

One enhanced application of VR/AR/HA/I leveraged a full-body suit of the user tightly coupled to a physical-world robot. This coupling allowed the robot to mimic the movements of the human wearing the suit. Clearly, this is far beyond the headset that usually comes to mind when many think about VR. It is also at a level that calls for the examination of the impact on education. This is for integration into curriculum development and delivery, as well as the courseware for training the engineers and technical workforce required to create and support VR/AR/HA/I and other technologies.

A Few Common Questions

  • When will the broad educational environment begin to use VR/AR/HA/I enhanced instructional materials?
    Answer: Estimated to occur in three to five years.
  • How will the use of VR/AR/HA/I experiences become fully integrated into the curriculum throughout the education life cycle?
    Answer: Adoption is driven by the value and that will likely be measured by test score improvement.
  • When will educators require training in the use of these technologies for the delivery of educational programs?
    Answer: Estimated this should begin now.

Insight: The use of VR/AR/HA/I to create a virtual hands-on experience for the user/content consumer in a low-risk environment will be beneficial throughout all levels of learning. There is little doubt that VR/AR/HA/I will become one of the top integral parts of several industries, and education is clearly one of them. When you expand your technology thinking to consider the use of 5G and software-defined network (SDN) infrastructures, you begin to see just how expansive and impactful VR/AR/HA/I could become in the next few years. This creates a number of issues and opportunities for a broad variety of professionals.

Once again VR/AR/HA/I is still early on in its integration with a number of other emerging technologies to create unique applications and solutions that have been unimaginable before the recent advancements in technology. The best advice at this point for professionals is to foster their basic knowledge and understanding of VR/AR/HA/I. They should routinely monitor at a high level the advancement of this and other high-impact technologies in their profession and prepare for change.


[1] Virtual Reality (VR) Market to Reach USD 84.09 Billion by 2028