The classroom is changing at a rapid pace. Most schools are already using tablets in their curricula and some schools are pioneering the use of Virtual Reality.
Anyone who has ever experienced any form of VR can understand that it can be an impressive experience, but when and how should VR be used in education? What are the issues and the concerns?
The Advantages of Virtual Reality in Education
Based on a series of articles and scientific studies, we can conclude that the use of Virtual Reality has some advantages:
Greater engagement and immersion: Players can be instantly transported to another otherwise inaccessible location. They can see the environment as if they were really there. Immersion is enhanced by the more direct translation of the player’s movements into the virtual world, by using the head-mounted screen instead of a controlling peripheral. The Virtual Reality headset also closes the user off from other visual and often auditory stimuli from the real world. This level of immersion is so strong that it is even used to reduce acute pain.
Ability to visualize things we normally cannot see: As soon as we want to show things that are not visible to the naked eye, for example, something that is really small or something that is inside a living body, we need other tools and instruments to measure and visualize the things we want to explain. Virtual Reality gives us the freedom to visualize cells at the molecular level as if we were really there. This also extends, for example, to historical events and inaccessible places. In this study, the effectiveness of using a VR environment for information transfer is analysed in comparison to a lecture.
Positive Emotions: Studies have shown that students who use VR to learn, experience more positive emotions. This leads to a better learning experience compared to traditional and video learning methods. The fact that interactive and virtual reality experiences are more exciting than passive ones does not surprise us game developers, but it is good to know that there is also scientific support.
There have been many studies on the use of Virtual Reality in education. The studies mentioned above are only a small selection. If you are interested, a simple Google search gives many more results.
Challenges in the use of Virtual Reality for education
While these are certainly compelling arguments for using VR for educational purposes and, in our case, to educate and relieve pain, the use of VR also has some disadvantages that we had to learn the hard way during its development:
Dizziness: this is not a new or uncommon problem, but it is even more important for the target audience of educational VR games. As the game is played a lot by people who have no previous experience with VR and have no interest in games, they are more inclined to quit as soon as they experience discomfort.
Distraction from educational material: Virtual Reality can be beautiful and overwhelming. There is much to see, hear, and experience. Unfortunately this can also cause a distraction from the information that needs to be learned.
Translation of the visualization: When you visualize things that cannot be seen with the naked eye, it is necessary to make an interpretation, translation or abstraction of what you want to explain. Some people immediately accept this visualization, but others reject the image, making it more difficult to explain the underlying concept.
For motion sickness there are already many excellent solutions found by other developers and described in other articles. Here are our main considerations for reducing discomfort and motion sickness:
Never move, rotate or tilt the camera. The player should always have full control over the movement and rotation of the camera. Any discrepancy between the player’s movement and the view of the game can cause discomfort.
Always have a visual reference point. Players travel in a “pod”, a simple vehicle with a chair and a cabin.
Especially the first time someone experiences Virtual Reality, people can get completely lost in the environment and a constant ‘wow’ effect. Although this is very enjoyable and sometimes fun to watch, it is also a great distraction from the educational content. Imagine you are in space for the first time, looking at the earth and someone is trying to explain Newton’s law of universal gravitation to you. No one is paying attention to contemplate such beauty. So how do you make sure you keep getting all the information?
A reliable and proven method. Simply repeat the important parts of the educational material over and over again until it sticks. It’s not the most elegant way, but it’s effective.
Time and portion control: Create moments where the player can “Aaah” and “Wooow”, but don’t try to convey important information during these moments. This way you can use the power of VR to surprise and immerse players. An example in Reducept is when the player first enters the body through a cell wall. As if entering a new game world, the player passes through a small door in the cell wall and a wonderful visualization of the inside of the human body emerges. Only a long time after this beautiful visualization, a voiceover begins to explain the educational material.
Guiding the attention: The danger of being able to look in all directions is that you can miss important visual explanations. Use objects in the world to guide players’ attention to where you want them to focus.
Switching between active and passive: Just like when you are following a lecture, if you are just listening, no matter how good your concentration is, at some point you may lose interest, miss things or get lost. To avoid this, put the player into “active mode” from time to time. Give it something to do. The power of Virtual Reality and games is that they are an interactive experience.
Translating the visualization
When we were trying to explain “pain stimuli” – signals that travel through nerve pathways to the brain and indicate to the brain that there is pain – we realized that everyone has a different idea of what these stimuli would look like. We didn’t expect this to be really important in order to understand pain and how to deal with it, but it still seemed like an important thing to visualize. As we tried to translate these pain stimuli to the little creatures, we received many comments about how they should or shouldn’t be.
In short, the use of Virtual Reality, like all technological advances, creates opportunities but also poses challenges. By understanding how Virtual Reality works, what its limitations are, and what the effects are on players, we can create new and surprising learning experiences. Perhaps our next project should be to create a virtual reality game that teaches how virtual reality works!
How can VR be used in education?
Virtual reality is THE perfect combination for education and training. Educational applications of VR and educational simulations have been very successful according to several research studies. There are many reasons to use VR in education. All the educator needs to do is define when and where this new technology should be applied.
The future of VR-based education seems to have great potential. It is clear that the use of VR will increase in the coming years. As VR enhances good and old-fashioned teaching concepts, the impact of VR on education will undoubtedly increase. VR makes the learning process effective, engaging and enjoyable.