When to use VR in eLearning


Is it necessary to use virtual reality in eLearning? Wouldn’t it be cheaper, faster and easier to continue using traditional methods – classroom learning, textbooks, online eLearning courses? In this article, I would like to explore the benefits of VR in the field of eLearning, and how to decide when it’s useful and appropriate.

I will make the assumption that the reader is already familiar with what VR is, and how it works. An important consideration to using VR in eLearning is the hardware requirement. A VR learning station will require a fairly decent computer as well as the VR goggles. In the case of a room scale system such as the HTC Vive, a couple sensors need to be mounted on the walls. Due to these requirements, VR facilities at most learning centres may be limited to one or a few workstations. This imposes a limit of how many learners can use the VR stations simultaneously, often requiring some kind of “sign up” system to participate in the experience.

VR workstations are an expensive affair, requiring both a decent computer and the VR hardware. Currently, you’re looking at about $2,500 USD to set up a VR station. Furthermore, room scale systems such as the HTC Vive require some space to move about, which might not be available at every location. Mobility is also an issue – although backpack VR laptops promise to make VR mobile, it’s not comfortable to have to carry a computer on your back during the VR experience.

With all of these expenses, restrictions and requirements, one might ask why bother going VR in the first place? Why not continue teaching in the traditional way? Let’s examine some of the reasons.

VR is not here to replace traditional learning; it is here to supplement it.

Virtual Reality is an experience. As such, it brings several important benefits to learning. Firstly, a memorable experience is impactful, interesting and… memorable! It helps the learner retain the material due to the immersive nature. The learner feels as if they have participated, lived the experience rather than just read it or listened to it.

Secondly, virtual reality engages the senses. Some students are good at learning by reading, or listening. However, virtual reality can create a hands-on experience, where the students can learn by doing. We have discussed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences in a previous article, and virtual reality is one method that allows us to engage the learner in ways not available to traditional learning. VR allows us to present curriculum in a multitude of ways, including spatial, bodily-kinesthetic and musical in addition to the traditional ways of linguistic and logical-mathematical. If a multi-player experience is created, we can also address the interpersonal intelligence. Additionally, intrapersonal are always available via the VR format, essentially covering all of the multiple intelligences developed by Dr. Howard Gardner.

Thirdly, VR allows us to bring the location to the student, rather than the student to the location. The place where the VR experience takes place doesn’t need to be a real place, but if a real location is important, it can be recreated precisely and meticulously with the use of photogrammetry. For more information on photogrammetry, feel free to read my earlier article on the subject.

Virtual Reality learning is not a replacement for traditional learning, it is a supplement to it. As an analogy, consider a high school chemistry class. Most of the class is spent learning in the traditional way, by listening to the teacher and studying the textbook. When the material is learned, the class breaks up into groups and puts that knowledge into practice by doing chemistry experiments. At the end of the day, it’s the experiments that are the most memorable experiences of the class. In eLearning, virtual reality is what the experiments are to the chemistry class; it is the hands-on experience that helps reinforce previously learned material.

Certainly, VR can be used to create complete courses from start to finish. However, this approach may not be the most cost-efficient, time-efficient, or necessary. It may be more practical to blend VR learning with traditional learning and eLearning, especially if there are many students who need to share the same VR workstation. VR content is more difficult and time consuming to create than traditional eLearning content, and requires a dedicated team of developers to create it. Although more and more content is available online – often freely – initially it may be sensible to analyze which experiences are best suited for VR learning and focus on developing those.

Our company, Pathways Training and eLearning, is among the first to bring the VR eLearning experience to our customers. If you would like to learn more about our projects, please visit us at our website: http://www.pathwaystrainingandelearning.ca/

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