Virtual Reality and e-Learning

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July 9, 2019

More and more we are seeing new uses for virtual and augmented reality, but this technology has been around for quite a few years in some form. Virtual reality is the term used to describe an immersive experience through a computer generated environment which doesn’t actually exist. Our senses give us the perception of how we view the world around us. Everything we know about reality comes from what we have learnt through our senses. 

Virtual reality uses various technologies to create an all encompassing simulation of an environment, which can yield great results for learning and development. VR has been used with great results in the healthcare, science, research and training areas.

The use of virtual reality can be traced back to the mid 1800s. Charles Wheatstone researched the idea that the brain is processing two, two dimensional images to create depth of view, so we can perceive the world in three dimensions. The research concluded that viewing two images through a stereoscope provided a sense of immersion and depth.

Augmented reality on the other hand does not create a virtual world, but rather imposes holograms on the users environment. The term augmented reality came about in the 1990’s, with Thomas Caudel using the term to describe the head mounted displays that electricians wore whilst undertaking complex assembly work. Many new AR apps are being released, which are mixing computer generated images with the real life environment. AR Google Maps is a good example of what can be achieved for apps of this kind.

For Learning purposes, VR can be used to mimic the environment the student will be working in. This means the student can interact, manipulate objects or carry out a series of tasks, for the purpose of training and gaining experience. For example a mockup of a workplace.

Education is an area that has great applications and opportunities for virtual and augmented reality. Learning is conducted much more efficiently, is more engaging for the user and can be a fun experience too. Primarily these technologies have been seen in the gaming industry, but studies have shown using VR/AR in the training realm has significant benefits.

Virtual reality enables the student to enter a 360 degree video shot or immerse themselves in a 3D environment. A great example of this technology is the VR training for marine biologists. They can enter into the natural environment of the ocean all without stepping foot near a boat or the coast. The lecturer will activate a series of scenarios and wearing virtual reality glasses, the students can experience the actual environment. Virtual learning environments are also created in online education where students can send, create and manage coursework, as well as study digital material.

The benefits and drawbacks of using VR and AR in eLearning

Over the last few years, VR has really taken center stage as a great innovation in the world of learning and eLearning. The delivery of this sort of training will have an upfront cost (from purchasing VR headsets and Smartphones for example). 

The Benefits of Virtual Reality

Realistic Scenarios 

The nature of virtual reality means that trainers can enhance learning content and create a remarkably interactive learning experience.

Mistakes 

With virtual reality technology it does not matter if the student were to make a mistake, it’s just a part of the learning process. In certain training situations such as nursing for example, it would be impractical not to mention dangerous, for a student nurse or doctor to train on a real patient. With VR, trainers can replicate a real life scenario, but the trainee is safe knowing that they cannot harm a ‘virtual’ patient.

Suitable for different learning styles 

This type of learning can really help people who benefit from a more tactile style of learning and who struggle with the theory side.

Resource Saving 

Setting up training in a traditional training environment can be costly and take up a lot of room. VR offers trainees a safer environment, which can also use less floor space than a full sized mocked up environment. This space can also be converted to be utilized in another way while training is not in progress.

Innovative and Enjoyable 

Elearning specialists are always looking for cutting edge ways to deliver their training and using virtual and augmented reality is making the whole learning experience more enjoyable and immersive. It can be used in many different scenarios, from customer service to teaching, healthcare and even engineering.

Drawbacks of Virtual Reality

Integration

For the moment, it is quite difficult to convert all learning types to virtual and augmented reality, as it requires a lot of resources to convert and test VR/AR products. For this reason, careful consideration is required when choosing which courses to convert and where this technology will have the most benefit.

Costly 

Even though there are virtual reality devices to suit all budgets, investing in VR for large scale training is a real wallet drain, particularly when the training needs to be delivered to many students or employees.

Training Locations 

With traditional eLearning, a student can learn quite effectively and quietly sitting at a desk. With VR the trainee will need more room to function, so there is no risk of falling over desks or bumping into chairs. Due to this an employer or training provider will need to provide suitable space for the trainee and the VR equipment.

eLearning into the future

The future of eLearning is evolving and set to advance further, with VR and AR applications bringing two technologies that will enable this to happen. These technologies can facilitate the learning process in various ways, particularly in industries which involve more complex and/or high risk practices.

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