Why virtual reality is enticing educators and improving student engagement

[Category: In Class] Why virtual reality is enticing educators and improving student engagement

Graphic description: Virtual reality helps educators increase their efficiency in the classroom while offering new opportunities in blended learning for students.


Close to 25% of teachers have already experimented with VR within the classroom and another 55% plan to do the same based on “the benefits of student excitement and deeper understanding,” according to one VR news source in October 2016. At least two sources state that the academic subject this curricular VR-based exploration seems to have caught the attention of the most is science, with one stating that 52% of educators who have done so specialize in this subject.

The same source states that history teachers come second, comprising 29% of educators who have tried using VR within the classroom.


VR should prove an effective fit for subjects ranging from the sciences to history and literature as it offers the possibility of experiential learning that provides “a deeply immersive sense of place and time,” as stated by technology publication TechCrunch earlier this year.

An additional factor that is driving growth in VR adoption within pedagogy: the cost of this technology is being driven down, especially with regard to hardware. In the US, headsets for use with smartphone-based VR content tend to be lower in cost than they have been in years past, with options at time of writing such as

  • Google products including Cardboard for $15, and Daydream for $79
  • Samsung’s Gear VR available for $54+

Of course, schools that have makerspaces can also encourage students to create their own VR headsets as a simple, cost-efficient activity. An additional way to keep costs down: the same headset(s) could be shared among a variety of classes.

The possibilities for safer, immersive, experiential learning at declining costs, combined with growing global adoption of the technology, will allow VR to provide collaborative educational experiences that transcend those that have come before. For example, at a certain point it may be possible for a class in an American elementary school to participate in a VR field trip based on a space shuttle mission simultaneously with an elementary school class in the Philippines. Different students could be tasked with specific responsibilities to successfully take the mission past the Earth’s atmosphere and into space, and/or they could all be taught about the different levels of the Earth’s atmosphere and interplanetary bodies in the solar system as they “travel” past them.

Stanford University is already offering a free VR program that allows participants to take a deep ocean dive to see the effects certain processes have on ocean life, and to collect related data.A study based on this program found that it was more effective in inspiring empathy versus using a video to convey the same information, attributed to the effect one’s physical actions have on one’s intellect.


Incorporating virtual reality as part of a blended learning environment helps support an increase in student engagement, empathy and learning. It allows educators to focus on those students that may require additional attention, which in turn will enable more students to achieve their full potential. It may even enable educators to spend less time covering a topic if the technology speed up student learning and increase information retention due to its engaging and experiential nature.

Of course, incorporating some highly-developed VR technologies may require a significant budget increase. The next blog post will cover another emerging technology – augmented reality – that can help achieve many of the same student outcomes as VR, at lower cost.