How can schools develop VR education environments that lead to deeper learning outcomes?
What is VR in Education?
Virtual Reality (VR) is a digital technology using visual, auditory and other sensory stimuli provided through a head-mounted display, to create the illusion that a learner is present in a different environment and context. The benefits of virtual reality in education have been widely documented and in this article we will explore how this technology can be used to develop practical knowledge in the classroom. VR education is a growing field, and its applications within tertiary, secondary andprimary education are beginning to be understood.
These virtual environments are created in two ways primarily, either the virtual reality environment is artificially created inside software (i.e. a game engine such as Unity and Unreal) allowing users to move around and interact in a computer-generated scenario creating an immersive experience. Alternatively, a more cost-effective alternative is to use 360 video where a camera shoots video of the real-world in two directions, stitching the two video feeds together to create a sphere allowing the learner to stand in the position of the camera in the scene and look around from a fixed point. When using 360 video, a new environment can be captured or a scenario can be acted out to convey a learning experience to a viewer.
What are the benefits of VR in education?
360 video can create a deep sense of presence and immersion in a situation, and this has particular applications for education. Good 360 video cameras offer high resolution resulting in a higher sense of realism in comparison to game engine generated environments. This medium is ideal for transferring emotion and allowing a learner to feel the emotion in a scenario as well as develop empathy by taking the perspective of someone different to themselves. 360 video allows for the learner to be placed in a new simulated environment that may be inaccessible, unsafe or expensive to experience in real-life, allowing for contextual learning and visualization of concepts and context. For educators and creators of educational content, 360 video is relatively easy to learn and a nice entry point into VR and immersive technology.
For what education purposes does VR education work best?
As an educational technology, 360 video is great for placing learners in a different environment outside of the classroom allowing learners to experience a context and visualize concepts and situations in an immersive way. Perhaps most importantly, 360 video allows the learner to experience a situation or environment in the first person, allowing for delivery of emotion and encouraging agency as well as personal, real and active learning. VR has been used for induction to pre-experience a new workplace as well as in diversity training to take a perspective of the other. In addition, 360 video is great for learning about cultural nuances through intercultural encounters as well as providing authentic cultural experiences and virtual tours of historic sites. 360 video is also good for experiencing dangerous or risky situations that can be difficult to experience in reality. As a result it is a natural fit for safety training as well as soft skills training such as leadership and guest relations to experience difficult situations and build emotional intelligence through exposure. 360 video can also be used effectively for developing customer experience prototypes of new environments as well as visualizing standard operating procedures. Furthermore, 360 video can be used to create immersive case studies that position the learner within a first-person perspective and present them with a problem to be resolved.
Using VR-Based learning for developing procedural knowledge
The medium is useful for building observational skills and advancing procedural knowledge e.g. training the eye of the manager in a restaurant to identify angry guests and maintain equipment. After placing the learner in a situation, the student can be asked to take a decision which results in an outcome in the scene based on the learner’s choice. This allows the learner to experience the impact of their actions thereby testing problem-solving and critical-thinking. Exposure to diverse perspective can encourage empathy whilst exposure to psychologically difficult situations (eg. fear of heights) can also be seen to build resilience and confidence in confronting one’s fears.
The challenges of using virtual reality in education
Use of virtual reality headsets does present health challenges including motion sickness, eye strain, headache (Stanney, 2020) and is unsuitable for epileptic learners. A study by Yoon (2021) on prolonged use of VR head mounted displays for 2 hours found a negative impact on the eyes, particularly near point of accommodation (NPA the point nearest the eye at which an object is accurately focused) and near point of convergence (NPC – ability of eyes to turn inward to focus on a close object) as well as worsening of exophoria (where the eyes drift outwards).
It is therefore strongly advised to follow ethical guidelines for responsible development and delivery of 360 content. Educators deciding to use 360 video should become conscious of and understand these challenges themselves, clearly communicate the health and safety precautions to learners upfront and not compel learners to use headsets. Rather educators should provide learners with different options within which to view the experience (such as on mobiles or desktop) as well developing shorter, once-off experiences (approximately 3 – 4 minutes) of high quality (covered in a later post) rather than prolonged, repetitive exposure. The shorter, impactful experiences can then be critically reflected upon in class or extended through in-class role-play. This can be a safer way to address health concerns, however this can also reduce the emotional impact of the experience. Alternative ways of delivering immersive content include augmented reality (AR) on phones or tablets, desktop immersion as well as use of virtual production techniques.
Another challenge is that 360 video does not allow the learner to move around the scene, they are fixed in one spot and can merely look around. There are techniques to create a sense of teleportation or movement from point to point in a scene through recording a sequence of shots along a close-knit pathway. The workflow for 360 video can take 3 -4 weeks in total and the shooting of scenes requires quite a bit of preparation such as a script, good actors with big personalities, good lighting and a decent 360 camera (we opted for the Insta 360 one R). The editing of 360 video will require access to video editing software such as Adobe Premier Pro which takes time depending on amount of editing needed. Use of 360 video platforms such as WarpVR, can enable editing tools to allow you to clip your videos within the platform itself, thereby reducing editing time and the need for video editing software in specific circumstances. In addition, a laptop with a fast processor is recommended for video editing, as most of the time lost is in the transfer or rendering of large video files.
How can schools enhance experiential learning using virtual reality?
TIMELINE: 3 - 4 weeks (can be fast-tracked into 2-3 weeks if working with experienced partners who are working on the project full-time)
When taking a quick and dirty prototyping approach, the typical workflow consists of design or planning of the user experience (week 1), shooting the 360 video (week 2) and editing, testing and publishing (week 3 & 4).
The workflow can be best explained through the description of a 360 project we created to develop skills for first year hospitality students at a University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands on how to be assertive and say no when dealing with a difficult guest within the restaurant context.
- The context: Students needed to master the skill of assertiveness. They were confronted with a hotel guest who had broken the rules of the restaurant. Students were expected to maintain a positive relationship with a guest whilst being assertive and maintaining the rules.
- The problem: Learners were placed in the role of a restaurant manager who needed to say no to a guest who wished to enter the fine dining restaurant (located at the seaside) whilst barefoot. Learners faced the challenge of having to be clear with the guest whilst showing empathy.
- Our learning goal: Provide students with an experience of having to respond whilst in a stressful situation
- The learning experience: We wanted to get students to feel the emotion associated with experiencing an angry guest who is upset due to not being allowed to enter the restaurant due to not having shoes on.
- The theory and content: The situations are based upon the theory of conversation models.
- Teaching Methods: After students experienced the 360 video, we sought to use structured reflection through Kolb’s experiential learning model to relate and apply class theory to the situation faced in VR. The optional in-class roleplay (after the 360 experience) where students can extend their response to the situation, was aimed at the applying level of Blooms’ taxonomy. It is important to note here that the quality of the reflection led by the educator through the Socratic method or group coaching approach, is an important element in making the experience a learning moment. This can be done through critical reflection and application of relevant theory to resolve the situation.
- Location: The scenario was shot in a fine-dining restaurant which serves as a practical learning outlet for students at the University.
- Hardware and Software: Insta 360 one R camera setup, Google Cardboard, WarpVR platform.
Creating your own immersive VR education experience
- Initial Consultation – Learning Needs
Here a short co-creation session was held with lecturers identifying learning needs and what situation would be appropriate for delivering the learning outcome to the learner.
Question that were asked at this point about the learning process:
- What is missing in terms of learning in this course/class? What are the gaps in terms of learning?
- What should the learner achieve through this experience, what is the learning outcome?
- What skill or competency are we try to build as a result of this experience?
- Why are we using 360VR from an educational perspective? Is it the right medium for what we’re trying to achieve? What value will VR add to the education experience? What practical knowledge are we trying to enhance? Does this technology fit with the body of knowledge we are trying to learn about?
- What is the context or environment? Where will the experience take place?
- Teachers were asked to write a few descriptive lines on what would happen in the experience. What is the problem facing the learner? Who is the main character? The following questions were posed:
What situation will the learner experience? Why is this important?
Who are the characters in the scene? Where is the scene set?
How can the learner resolve the situation?
- Design-thinking template and storyboard
After the initial discussion, a short story-board can be sketched to pre-visualize what the scenario will look like in sequence.
The following questions were posed to allow educators to translate their initial ideas into a design-thinking template:
- What is the skills gap, experience gap or context gap within the lesson/course?
- What is the specific learning outcome?
- What behaviours or scenario am I trying to show to allow learners to experience this?
- What tools or processes or design, can help achieve learning outcomes?
- What models or theory can be applied by the learner in the experience?
The template then translates into a Design-thinking storyboard which can include a Beginning, Middle and an End, that visualizes the storyline of the central character and the sequence of events.
- What is the problem that the learner should experience in order to achieve the learning outcome?
- What is the situation? Who is the central character?
- If the experience requires the following of a set procedure, what are the steps in the process and what decisions need to be made?
- Quick & Dirty Decision Tree & Script
From the storyboard, a decision tree is created. A decision tree is a branched story with different endings that are arrived at based on the decisions taken by the learner, through a sequence of choices they are provided within a given situation. The decision tree is the blueprint of the experience and contains the storyline through the situation presented to the learner (eg. an angry guest) and the different options the learner can take to respond. This is a useful way to test decision-making and problem-solving, however the learner is limited to a set number of options, unlike in real-life.
The decision tree should flow naturally out of the storyboard and allow progression through the beginning, middle and end of the storyline. In the opening scene, the learner should be introduced to the character. We developed a draft script out of the decision tree (above) and decided we wanted to focus on delivering a short, impactful experience that conveyed the emotion of a dealing with a difficult guest to the learner. Therefore we decided to have a shorter decision tree where a high (highly emotional response), medium (typical, standard response) and low behaviour (subordinate response) option for the learner was provided, each resulting in a different behavioural response from the guest. After delivering the educational experience, we critically reflected on the scenario in class and had the option to extend the scenario by allowing learners to role-play in class how they would have responded to the guest by the applying the “How to say No” model.
- Adding the Decision Tree into a 360 VR platform
After developing the decision tree and the draft script, the decision tree can be added into the 360 platform. Once the plan has been well thought out and meets the learning outcome for the class/course, the next step is preparation for acting and shooting, video editing and testing the prototype, culminating in publishing of the 360 experience.
These steps will be covered in a follow-up blog post. If you’d like to know more please contact Praneschen (Che’) Govender: email@example.com
Aspects of the findings disseminated in this post forms part of the Transformative Hospitality Education and Tech Abilities Research project (Erasmus +).
MITK12 Videos (2016). MIT Explains: How Does Virtual Reality Work? Accessed on 28/07/2022. Available at:
Stanney, K., Lawson, D, Rokers, B., Dennison, M., Fidopiastis, C., Stoffregen, T., Weech, S. & Fulvio, J. (2020). Identifying Causes of and Solutions for Cybersickness in Immersive Technology:
Reformulation of a Research and Development Agenda. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 36(19), pg 1783 – 1803. https://doi.org/10.1080/10447318.2020.1828535
Yoon, H., Moon, H., Sung, M., Park, S. & Heo, H. (2021). Effects of Prolonged Use of Virtual Reality Smartphone-based Head-mounted Display on Visual Parameters: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Nature – Scientific Reports. 11. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-94680-w
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