BY Saashya Rodrigo

In the traditional classroom, a child absorbs information in at least four ways: visually, auditorily, tactually and kinaesthetically. While research suggests that incorporating all forms of input is necessary for a truly wholesome learning experience, two modes stand at the forefront of traditional instruction delivery.

They’re visual (information that is internalised through sight such as written or printed text, pictures or diagrams) and auditory (information that is internalised through hearing such as spoken words or recordings).

The two-dimensionality of traditional learning is becoming outdated with learners facing decreased levels of engagement, motivation and excitement for learning. The harsh reality is that in the 21st century, outside the boundaries of the school environment, children are immersed in environments that extend beyond visual and auditory input.

Two-dimensional learning materials pale in comparison to interactive smartphone apps, Wii gaming systems, IMAX theatre experiences, and countless other devices and features that stimulate, engage and excite the modern brain in ways not previously experienced.

And thankfully, with technology reaching greater heights, classrooms now have an additional set of tools to consider – i.e. VR (virtual reality) and augmented reality (AR). VR is the more immersive form of the two.

Using a head mounted display, which is a headset that’s specific to VR technology, learners are immersed in a computer generated world that combines both visual and auditory stimulation. It even allows users to manipulate objects in the computer generated world.

In contrast, AR technology uses digital overlays to enhance objects in the real world. Unlike VR, it doesn’t need a headset but does require some form of device such as a smartphone in order to activate the digital enhancements. The most relatable use of AR technology is Pokémon GO.

Simply put, in the classroom students can learn about the Amazon rainforest using AR to watch certain elements of the rainforest pop out from a text book. This provides them with a close up or more three-dimensional view of animals or foliage.

With VR, students would get to travel through a digital recreation of the Amazon, providing them with a more interactive learning experience that tricks the senses into perceiving the computer generated environment as a real world experience.

David Fayerman is a Project Manager at inMedia Studio and an expert in incorporating technology in the classroom. He explains that VR could potentially eliminate the use of textbooks. By immersing the student in a three-dimensional virtual world, hands-on learning takes place.

This can be particularly useful in science subjects where multisensory and problem based learning is highly recommended. Where traditional classrooms may explain the concepts of marine biology through text books, a classroom with VR technology can virtually transport the student to a computer generated 360° field trip to the depths of the ocean.

Similarly, teaching geometry using textbooks and two-dimensional images of shapes and angles can now be replaced by VR and AR. The latter provides a three-dimensional virtual representation of a shape while VR allows the student to manipulate the image as if it were a real world object.

VR offers a more authentic representation of geometric concepts and enhances student understanding. It can even be used in language and literacy fields – who better to explain the works of Shakespeare than a virtual representation of the man himself.

Fayerman also claims that VR and AR could be particularly beneficial in special education. He explains that VR and AR hold potential for those with attention deficits since they enable them to learn in a stimulating environment that encourages high degrees of engagement and concentration.

However, these claims remain largely unsupported. An article published in the Journal of Educational Technology and Society in 2014 states that VR and AR are mostly used in science, humanities and the arts with minimal research focussing on their potential for students with special needs. While AR and VR encourage independent and self-directed learning, research indicates that it is most beneficial when used in conjunction with teacher facilitation.

A literature review conducted by researchers in Greece and Cyprus notes that the existing challenge in implementing VR and AR in the classroom is how to increase the active involvement of both the teacher and learner.

Despite this hurdle, all studies that have incorporated AR and VR in classrooms have found positive effects on student participation, motivation and learning outcomes.

The high cost of AR and VR technology – particularly in an underfunded industry such as education – has hindered the extent of their use in classrooms. However, their potential is infinite if used wisely. VR and AR can enhance and transform learning, creating a relatable and stimulating environment – one that fosters motivation, engagement and excitement to learn.