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Implementing Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in Classroom Learning

By Bryson Pather - Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Manager at Regent Business School

by Tia

CAPTION: A visual representation of a classroom with students using VR and AR technologies. On one side, students are wearing VR headsets and interacting with immersive digital environments, while on the other side, students are using AR on tablets and smartphones, overlaying digital information on real-world objects. The classroom setting is modern and futuristic, highlighting the integration of these advanced technologies and showing that the students are engaged and motivated.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have rapidly evolved from their nascent stages into powerful educational tools over the past few decades. As an Academic and the Teaching, Learning & Manager at Regent Business School, Bryson Pather has observed how these immersive technologies revolutionise the way we teach and learn. Initially limited to experimental and niche applications, VR and AR have expanded their reach into diverse fields, including education. They offer transformative potential for creating engaging, interactive, and inclusive learning environments. By transporting students into immersive digital realms or overlaying digital enhancements on their real-world surroundings, these technologies make abstract concepts tangible and foster deeper understanding. In this insightful piece, Pather explores how VR and AR are being integrated into educational settings, from virtual labs and historical reconstructions to business simulations and architectural visualisations. By embracing these advancements, educators can offer personalised and dynamic learning experiences, preparing students for the demands of a digital future.

Over the past few decades, VR and AR have evolved rapidly. From early experiments in the 1960s and ’70s to the commercial availability of devices like Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens, these technologies have advanced in accessibility, affordability, and functionality. Today, they are increasingly used in various sectors, including gaming, healthcare, and education, demonstrating their broad potential. But what is Virtual Reality (VR)? VR creates a fully immersive digital environment that users can interact with, often requiring headsets and motion controllers. On the other hand, Augmented Reality (AR) overlays digital information in the real world, enhancing the user’s perception of their environment through devices like smartphones or AR glasses. Both technologies offer unique experiences but differ significantly in their execution and application.

Immersive technologies like VR and AR not only capture students’ attention, making learning more interactive and enjoyable, but they also promote inclusivity in the classroom. By providing a dynamic and stimulating learning environment, these technologies can significantly increase student engagement and motivation. Studies have shown that immersive experiences can improve information retention and understanding. VR and AR allow students to visualise complex concepts, interact with 3D models, and experience scenarios that would be difficult or impossible to recreate in a traditional classroom setting (Brown et al., 2023). These technologies facilitate experiential learning by enabling students to practice skills and apply theoretical knowledge in a safe, controlled environment. For instance, medical students can perform virtual surgeries, while engineering students can test designs in a virtual lab (Gonzalez & Torres, 2021). Advancements like these are a boon for various learning styles, offering visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic learners’ opportunities to engage with content in ways that suit their preferences. Together, VR and AR can provide customisable learning experiences that address individual needs, thereby supporting students with disabilities.

Examples of VR and AR in education include virtual science labs where students can conduct experiments without physical materials, historical reconstructions that bring ancient civilisations to life, and business simulations that allow students to experience real-world decision-making processes. One notable example in South Africa is the implementation of AR by the University of Cape Town in their architecture programmes. They have developed an AR application that allows students to visualise and interact with 3D models of buildings and structures. This innovation enables students to explore architectural designs in a more immersive and hands-on manner, enhancing their understanding and creativity Universities and business schools also use VR for leadership and management training simulations, providing students with realistic scenarios to practice decision-making and problem-solving skills. VR and AR also facilitate collaborative learning by enabling students to work together in virtual environments regardless of physical location. These technologies benefit remote learning, offering immersive experiences that traditional online education often lacks.

Bryson Pather

However, the cost of VR and AR equipment and the need for robust technical infrastructure can be significant barriers to adoption. Ensuring all students have access to these technologies is crucial for equitable implementation. Some educators may hesitate to adopt VR and AR due to a lack of familiarity or training, however providing professional development and demonstrating the benefits of these technologies can help overcome this resistance. Environments where VR and AR are the norm raise privacy and ethical issues, particularly regarding data collection and student interactions. Establishing clear guidelines and policies is essential to address these concerns (Davies, 2022). Phased implementation, starting with pilot programs and gradually expanding, can help manage costs and technical challenges. Engaging stakeholders, including educators, students, and parents, is critical for successful adoption.

Technologies such as 5G, AI, and advanced haptics are set to enhance VR and AR experiences, making them even more immersive and accessible. These developments will likely expand the educational applications of immersive technologies, resulting in long-term benefits in education including better-prepared graduates with practical experience, enhanced critical thinking skills, and improved collaboration abilities. These technologies align with industry trends towards digital transformation and lifelong learning (Brown, 2024). Business schools can lead the adoption of immersive technologies by integrating them into their curricula and promoting their use in executive education and professional development programs. It stands to reason that educators, HR managers, and business professionals should explore and invest in VR and AR technologies to stay ahead of the curve to ensure they have significant potential to transform education and training. Ongoing research and collaboration between educational institutions and technology developers are essential to fully realising the potential of VR and AR, such partnerships can drive innovation and ensure that these technologies meet the evolving needs of education.

Educators can provide more engaging, effective, and inclusive educational experiences by integrating VR and AR into classroom learning. Embracing these technologies can transform how we teach and learn, preparing students for the future in an increasingly digital world.

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