3 Ways Virtual Reality is Changing Higher Education

April 24, 2017 - Sophie Thompson

Unless you’ve been living in a cave in the middle of a desert, you’ve probably heard about virtual reality (VR) and how it’s going to change our lives. While there are some sceptics who aren’t too sure what the future holds, there are universities who are already adopting the technology, confident of the benefits VR can bring. Here are 3 uses of virtual reality in higher education, which universities around the world have started to adopt.

Student recruitment

Recruiting students is a competitive business and campus tours are an essential part of the process. Not only can it become expensive for the prospective student, it’s also time consuming for them and their families. Virtual tours allow students to explore campus from the comfort of their own home, thus reducing the number of universities they look around in real life. Some may even find a virtual tour sufficient to make their decision.

YouVisit have already created virtual tours for some of the most prestigious universities in the world, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Columbia. They have over a 12% conversion rate in viewers going to view the institutions in real-life after viewing a virtual tour. I’m not even applying for college but these tours make me want to visit!

Inside YouVisit virtual tour of Harvard

Inside YouVisit's virtual tour of Harvard.

Enhanced learning

One of the key benefits of using virtual reality in education is that you are learning through experience. It’s often cited that we retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, and 90% of what we personally experience. While these specific figures are not wholly accurate, their principle remains true.

VR allows us to bring 2D objects to life and make visualisation a reality, enabling us to experience more than ever. VR literally brings a whole new dimension to experiential learning and is the perfect use of virtual reality in higher education.

Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience

Cited in the Association for Talent Development.

The practical implications of this are huge as VR opens up a new way to learn skills that were otherwise difficult to teach and quantify progress.

One of the first uses of virtual reality in higher education is using the technology to improve students’ ‘soft’ skills. VirtualSpeech is being used by universities around the world to improve public speaking and communication skills, which are essential for employment after graduation. These skills require practice, which is impossible to achieve on a consistent basis with traditional learning methods.

By using VR, students can learn and practice communication skills whenever they want, and use the speech analytics VirtualSpeech provide to instantly assess their progress in their use of hesitation words, pitch, volume, etc. VR is especially great for this if you’re part of the 74% of people with speech anxiety - practicing in VR is a safe environment that allows you to desensitise from a real-life audience.

Lecturers in Europe, North America, and Australia are using VirtualSpeech to enhance their students’ skillset, including Matt Abrahams at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

In-app screenshot of instant voice analytics inside the VirtualSpeech app

In-app screenshot of instant voice analytics inside the VirtualSpeech app.

VR Labs

An increasing number of universities are offering VR courses and opening their own VR labs. This is a reflection of the confidence in the power of VR in years to come. Opening VR labs is one of the most practical uses of virtual reality in higher education and is an important step in encouraging content development and setting a global standard for VR content

Many of these labs have been facilitated by VR First, who have pledged to create 50 VR First educational labs at universities by the end of 2017. There are already 40 labs around the world thanks to the program, with more on the way and, at this rate, they’ll surpass their figure of 50. The theory behind the initiative is that VR and AR (augmented reality) will have a significant impact on the job market in the future and students should be equipped with the skills around the emerging technologies, and be familiar with their creation and implementation.

An infographic from VR First showing the application and distribution of their initiative.

An infographic from VR First showing the application and distribution of their initiative.

The use of virtual reality in higher education is likely to dramatically increase over the next few years. While it is highly unlikely to replace traditional face-to-face teaching methods, it will continue to be used to enhance learning and educational experiences. From choosing a university to landing your first job after graduation, the next generation of learners will be guided with VR.