As the use of digital technology expands across the K-12 spectrum, newer tools like virtual reality (VR) are creating quite an impact. A slew of ed-tech companies have introduced VR apps that can transform the way we teach and learn by bringing vivid experiences to the classroom, which can attract and inspire young minds.

VR-based lessons, virtual field trips, and immersive science labs all have immense potential to increase student engagement and performance and boost learning outcomes.

How can VR impact education?

It is a known fact that the socio-economic profile of a district often determines its performance. Low-income districts suffer from a severe funding crisis and struggle to provide resources and tools for education.

A lack of funds limits comprehensive experiences, which often translates into low test scores. In most cases, it is a matter of providing the bare basics of a curriculum and pushing for higher graduation rates. If we could pave the way for immersive education in these schools, there would be higher student engagement, better academic performance, and, in turn, improvement of the overall community.

Tools like Google Expeditions and Tour Creator have done wonders in this regard. Guided virtual tours take students to places they are learning about and create a deep-seated knowledge of each subject. VR can provide equity where there once was none. A few instances:

  • A visit to the Parthenon may not be possible for all students, but with a VR app, they can have a virtual field trip.
  • Elementary kids could spend a day in class visiting a zoo of their choice.
  • Programs that recreate a Holocaust survivor’s experience go beyond museums and offer children a first-hand view of the tragedy that befell humanity.
  • Similarly, landing alongside D-Day soldiers may have an effect that history books cannot provide.

The collaborative VR learning environments can bring equity to learning, irrespective of whether one is connecting from an affluent or impoverished neighborhood.

In the future, we will have lecture halls where all of the participants and the presenter are in VR. There will be possibilities for constructing new outcomes with AI-driven virtual interactions.

How will VR impact children

The increased use of virtual reality has, however, driven concerns about how it can impact children. While the potential for positive learning outcomes is huge, there can also be some adverse effects of simulation that need to be addressed.

A field trip to exotic places like Antarctica or the Amazonian jungle are not just cost-prohibitive but dangerous and quite impossible for K-12 students. VR has broken those barriers to take them there and teach them via simulation. For detractors, however, breaking these barriers and the laws of physics are dangerous or counterproductive as well.

A recent study, "Future of Childhood-Immersive Media and Child Development," explored the growing use of VR and other immersive media in students' lives. It also touched upon the positive use and potential risks of VR, mixed reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and cross-reality. It showed that experts are still trying to determine how this technology affects a child's development, so they generally recommend that children over the age of 13 for VR usage.

For children, the prefrontal cortex is still developing until they reach their late 20s. VR could impact their functions like impulse control and future thinking in a big way. Due to cognitive load, these types of media put on children's brains; immersive media may be unsafe for children.

There is also the matter of security and privacy threats in a simulated environment. Then, there is a definite danger of physical injury since there are many reports of children bumping into something while using a headset, or experiencing headaches and dizziness (11%) from VR usage.

Experts in the field have advocated that teachers use these VR tools moderately. It should be made a part of the curriculum and interspersed between lessons, not the primary tool for K-12 ed itself. This will ensure that positive, safe, and productive immersive media experiences for children.