Virtual Reality or VR is a new trend in e-learning. In the context of training, VR simulates real-world experiences for educational purposes. It requires the use of special equipment such as a helmet, goggles, and/or gloves to enable the user to immerse in the virtual environment.
Virtual reality vs Augmented reality vs Mixed reality
Some people confuse virtual reality with augmented reality, but these are two different concepts.
Virtual reality replaces your environment, whereas augmented reality enhances or adds to the environment.
In VR, there is a complete immersion experience, so the user feels like he is in another world. E-learning applications using VR allows you to interact in real-world environments—swimming in the middle of the ocean, flying a spaceship in outer space, or rescuing people amidst an earthquake. These may seem out of this world, but VR is used extensively in aviation, military, and crisis training.
In AR, digital elements are added to a given environment. Since its introduction in 2016, popular AR game Pokémon Go earned over $2 billion in total revenue. The game gives the players a lot of control to collect as many Pokémons they can Why are Snapchat lenses and Instagram filters so popular? Apps like these allow users to experience an altered environment and take the experience to a different level.
Then there’s a newer experience—Mixed Reality or MR. A hybrid of VR and AR, there is an interaction between real-world and digital elements. Microsoft HoloLens seems to be at the forefront of MR technology, and it is definitely a promising innovation that many users will want to try.
Is VR technology accessible?
Procuring VR equipment used to be a challenge, but over the years it became fairly accessible.
In 2014, Google launched the Google Cardboard, using low-cost materials made mainly of cardboard, lenses, magnets, a fastener, rubber band, and an NFC tag. It’s far from being fancy equipment—but at about $20, it’s not so bad for most users.
Beyond this, VR headsets with higher-end features start from at least $100.
This is where the main issue comes in, at least for anyone who plans to launch a VR course to the average user. Not all learners are willing to invest in good-quality VR headsets for an e-learning course.
Even if companies may sponsor VR equipment for their employees’ use, it will demand higher costs. However, there are some corporations that willingly invest in VR equipment to enhance their training programs. If it means better results, then it is a wise investment for them, as is the case with Fortune 500 companies such as UPS, Walmart, and Boeing that incorporate VR into their employee training programs.
How can VR be really used?
Although VR is not applicable in all e-learning scenarios, the common applications include the following:
Virtual classroom setting
What do e-learners least like about online learning? They may feel disconnected from instructors and fellow learners. Some learners may feel the need for actual human interaction.
VR brings the best imitation of a traditional classroom to the learner. Classmates can engage with one another while the instructor supervises the entire course. Other elements can also be added for a heightened learning experience.
Actual field trips can be expensive and often difficult to carry out. Budget constraints, adverse weather conditions, and safety concerns are often the common issues that make field trips challenging to plan.
But VR has a way around this. In e-learning, you can walk the Great Wall of China, cruise along the Nile River, or fly above the Egyptian pyramids. It will obviously take a lot of work to make virtual environments with this much detail, but it’s the next best thing when actual field trips are impossible.
Situations that call for practical skills can benefit from VR learning.
The healthcare industry has integrated virtual simulations into e-learning courses, from typical clinical scenarios to outside emergencies. This benefits both medical professionals and civilians.
Even in simpler situations like public speaking, VR can effectively improve the learner’s communication skills. Imagine standing in front of hundreds of people while you speak, act, or sing—only that it is a virtual simulation of the real thing. This can give a major confidence boost, too.
Reinforcing positive behaviors
Beyond simulation, immersion, achieving the goal of learning, and everything in between, when can you say that you have truly learned?
Through VR, you can experience what another person is experiencing at any time and place, or you can observe from a distance just how two or more people interact in any environment.
The ability to empathize is what makes the learning experience like no other. Retail companies like Walmart have integrated VR training to simulate possible problems that might happen in their day-to-day operations. Even Hilton, the international hotel chain, also trains their employees using VR to simulate client interactions.
In effect, service industry workers learn to be empathetic in their professional and personal dealings. Even socio-cultural issues such as discrimination can benefit from a little empathy.
For instance, while donning your VR headset, you play the part of a deaf-mute customer while a hotel employee is struggling how to communicate with you. This role reversal helps you, as the actual service worker, to truly understand what people with hearing disabilities feel.
VR has a way of reinforcing positive behaviors and challenging our perception of the world.
It is also wise to make sure that your VR course is convertible into other formats. There are applications such as Jackdaw Cloud that feature this kind of backup plan.
By now, you might be thinking that VR seems to be the future of e-learning. However effective it may be in several scenarios, it may not be a one-size-fits-all solution.
Not all learning situations are well-suited for VR, especially when VR headsets are limited. You should also consider that some people may not find VR effective for them, so don’t put all your eggs in one virtual learning basket. In such situations, VR should not be the sole solution but rather a supplement to a primary teaching platform.