Immersive environments and Virtual Reality

Immersive experiences look and feel different depending on where and how they are applied – an art exhibition vs. a mobile app AR for example – but all seek to enhance daily life through technology. This chapter elaborates on Virtual Reality.

Lesson goals and objectives

In this lesson you will learn:

  • the three forms of immersive environments
  • what virtual reality is
  • how virtual reality can be used in education

Immersive environments

Immersive environments are digitally mediated learning environments designed to engage users in an artificially created, make-believe “world.” Three different types can be distinguished and this chapter will dive into virtual reality.

  1. Virtual Reality
  2. Augmented Reality
  3. Mixed Reality

What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual Reality (VR) is virtual reality experienced through a computer made 3D world. The senses of sight and hearing are stimulated in this virtual world, so that the user really thinks he is part of this computer simulated environment.

The best way to play VR is with VR glasses. With this you shut yourself off from the outside world and only see what happens in the glasses. VR glasses (virtual reality glasses) are a screen that is worn directly in front of your eyes on the head. Through the glasses (or headset) a virtual reality is experienced because a 3D computer generated environment is shown. To provide a realistic user experience, the image is projected as if it were a few meters away. You no longer receive visual information from the real environment because the glasses completely enclose your eyes. In this way, it seems as if you really have ended up in another reality. VR glasses give you a unique 3D experience. VR glasses are also called: virtual reality headset, head-mounted display (MHD), 360 degrees or 3D glasses. It can also be played on the PC but is less realistic.

There are several VR glasses for sale. These are mostly glasses where you have to use your smartphone. After downloading VR-apps you look through the glasses to the screen of your mobile phone. This is a fun and inexpensive way to get acquainted with virtual reality.

The following 4 categories of VR glasses can be distinguished:
– smartphone VR glasses
– PC/laptop VR glasses
– console VR glasses
– standalone VR glasses

What can you do with VR glasses? 
VR glasses can be used for playing VR games and watching VR movies, VR 360 video or live stream video, but increasingly there are also other applications, for example by real estate agents to give clients a virtual tour of a potential house. Facebook in particular sees a lot of potential in general applications, such as a virtual office where presentations are given and everyone can talk to each other. Actually a kind of conference call in which all participants are in the same room anyway.

Meanwhile, there are several examples where the VR glasses are used. How about a ride on a real roller coaster but wearing VR glasses? You can also go to a VR cinema in Amsterdam where visitors with VR glasses can experience the latest films in a virtual world. Now that virtual reality (VR) is finally starting to break through, partly thanks to groundbreaking models such as the HTC Vive, various organisations and institutions have already implemented VR.

Various companies are already using the VR glasses. Below are a few examples where Virtual Reality can be used to supplement or replace services or communication:

– Business world: Meeting with each other in a virtual reality meeting room.
– Medical world: Training physicians to perform an operation virtually.
– Education: for educational lessons in schools.
– Sports world: learn a new sport or further improve your sport.
– Car industry: a test drive with a new type of car.
– Construction: Architecture, showing the design of buildings in Virtual Reality.
– Real estate: giving a virtual tour of a potential house.
– Travel industry: get to know a holiday destination or hotel in advance.
– Entertainment industry: Virtual Reality cinema to experience the latest movies in a virtual world
– Applying within a Virtual Reality environment.

Where can VR be applied in education?
There are various areas within education where VR glasses can be used. Virtual reality can have its value in, for example, designing a visualisation of a building or 3D designs, simulations of dangerous situations or learning a language. Virtual Reality can also be of added value for students when they simulate certain situations or exciting events in a protected environment. Examples are practicing a presentation or even a job interview. Virtual reality also offers all kinds of possible applications in the field of empathy. With virtual reality you experience a strong connection with the person from whose eyes you look at the world.

An average person remembers 10% of what it hears, 20% of what it reads and no less than 90% of what it experiences. Experiencing Virtual Reality falls into the last 90%. That is the reason why learning material shown through VR has a high retention. And it will turn out to be an extremely effective learning tool.

VR as part of the learning environment
Virtual reality (VR) can be used to design a student’s entire learning environment. Through simulations in virtual reality, students are less dependent on time and place and can plan important events, distant locations or the later working environment.

Example of VR in education: