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How virtual reality will change education

With all the buzz about Oculus VR recently being acquired by Facebook, there is renewed excitement about the possibilities of using virtual reality in education.

In Earnest Cline’s science fiction novel Ready Player One, he creates a world where students can attend a virtual classroom from the comfort of their own homes. His characters can design an avatar, a digital representation of themselves, to look completely different from their everyday selves.

Students in his book are able to have a front row view in history class as world-changing events unfold before their eyes. For science class, they can digitally fly through the human body and marvel at how all of the organs and systems work together. Virtual reality is perfect for experiencing changes in scale- things that are microscopically small can be enlarged to reveal intricate details. Large objects can be reduced in size to show how they interact with their environment.

Currently, simulations such as the CAVE at the University of Illinois allow a person to step inside a large room with projections on all sides that is proportionately geared for virtual reality. Just like the Holodeck in Star Trek, visitors can journey to the sub-atomic world and watch as atoms interact.

These types of experiential learning is where virtual reality excels. Learning retention is vastly improved when students can tangibly see the subjects they are being taught.

Virtual reality is not only for learning in a classroom. A company called Welcome To College is working to create virtual reality tours of universities so that students can simplify the college search process and find a college where they can be happy and successful. No physical travel or cost is necessary because the powerful experience of a campus tour can be recreated with the use of a virtual reality headset like the Oculus Rift.

Now that the technology for digital experiences is becoming affordable and practical, there will be much more attention placed on virtual reality and its applications to education.