The Pros and Cons of VR as an Educational Tool

Girl using VR

Written by Patrick Foster, Written by Patrick Foster, Ecommerce Consultant at Ecommerce

The way the popular perception of VR has wavered over time is quite fascinating. It went from a delightful pipe-dream to an underwhelming reality, then caught fire with the Oculus Rift before seeing the hype slowly settle to a gentle buzz.

But however many drawbacks the current generation of technology might have, it’s hard to overstate just how engaging it can be — particularly to younger people who lack the cynicism of older generations. To them, it can be borderline magical.

Over time, VR tech stands to serve as a fantastic educational tool with applications in countless scenarios, but it does have its downsides that need to be mitigated. Here are the pros and cons that you should be aware of before deploying VR in classrooms:

It’s superb for accessibility

Technology has incredible power to bring us together as a society and allow us to share experiences that we otherwise never could. When it comes to accessibility, VR technology can bring wondrous virtual environments to students who are physically or mentally incapable of visiting comparable environments in the real world.

Think about something like going snowboarding, climbing a mountain, or seeing a live concert. Fully-able people can take them for granted, but to those who can’t move very easily, those experiences can feel frustratingly out of reach. Now, a VR headset isn’t fully immersive, and it can’t make someone feel what it’s actually like to climb a mountain — but it can certainly help.

So for students facing difficult challenges with their health (or in their lives in general), being able to enter a VR world and have a virtual adventure can be hugely valuable and fulfilling. It can even help students who struggle to communicate normally find ways to express themselves and spend time with others in safe digital environments.

It supports personalized tuition

Generic courses can often fail students with unusual needs — most notably those who struggle to keep up, need additional challenge, or simply don’t like to learn in the style they’re being encouraged to use. Yet in-depth personalized one-to-one tuition is hard to achieve. It’s far too expensive and time-consuming for the average school to accomplish.

But through easily-customized VR environments featuring unique and ever-shifting combinations of educational materials and interactive elements, a school can give each student their own profile that will become steadily more personalized over time. The hardware can be completely generic, and the teachers will only need to know the source material: the specific presentation for each student can change based on their preferences.

Imagine the prospect of each of the 40 students in a class slowly nurturing their own educational hub over time, with the system learning how they think and what drives their best performance. It wouldn’t be something to be used all the time, of course (it would be dangerous to rely on it too heavily), but it could definitely be a major part of standard schooling.

It’s still quite expensive

Though prices have come down hugely in recent years, VR headsets (even with costs mitigated by school funding) are quite expensive, and introduce elements of complexity that most institutions aren’t yet ready to handle. AR (Augmented Reality) may already be changing the way we see the world, but AR can be done using an average smartphone — VR is much trickier.

Having just one for a full class might be more trouble than it’s worth (likely causing students to fight over it and possibly damage it), so it should only be widely implemented if a headset could be provided for each individual student. Thankfully, it seems realistic that prices will get that low within the next decade, so this is really just a matter of time.

It needs to be handled carefully

As powerful as VR is for education, it’s just as powerful (if not more so) for entertainment, and avoiding too strong an overlap would be a major concern for any school that sought to use VR technology. The worst-case scenario would see students using the headsets to play around with games and ignoring anything educational (there are also concerns about safety).

Again, though, this isn’t a long-term roadblock: as VR tech settles further, schools will develop standardized VR software systems (and physical setups) that are locked-down to ensure that the headsets are only used for safe and approved purposes. But it’s a roadblock regardless!

VR’s potential for helping people learn is staggering, and it seems reasonable to think that we can expect big things in the coming years. There are some minor hurdles to be overcome, but it’s just a matter of time before young generations have virtually-unlimited educational opportunities.

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