VR: Teacher replacement or supplement? We investigate

Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones
— Mark Zuckerberg

It’s getting harder and harder to see science fiction as a genre…so many “futuristic” concepts have already entered the consumer market. Driverless cars are in production. We have Artificial Intelligence (AI) on our phones, with Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon), Home (Google) and Cortana (Microsoft). Plans are in place to colonise Mars within the next 10 years

Virtual Reality (VR) is no longer a concept. We have it, with competition really firing up between top tech companies (Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook for example) for dominance in the market.

But how does VR fit into education? There have been many discussions about #edtech in the past, but does VR have a vital role to play in the future of schools?

Most importantly, how will VR affect teachers? Will it prove an aid in the classroom or will it replace teachers all together?

VR in education

The application of VR in the classroom has been met with the usual mix of praise and trepidation, when it comes down to #edtech. Yes, it has lots a solid applications in education (in principle) but no, it is too disruptive to the very tried and tested learning methodologies of today.

These fears come from a common place - VR is too new to have solid grounding as to why it is beneficial to learning. However, if we look beyond statistics and apply thought and innovation to how VR (and AR / MR / AI) can be effectively used in the classroom, some exciting new realms open up.

VR pros

  • VR as a learning tool is immersive - it transports pupils into learning environments they have interactivity with
  • It offers pupils a new learning methodology; one that is active and highly engaging
  • VR has few limits - it can broach any subject in new and interesting ways
  • Visual, interactive content is more likely to be retained as knowledge over traditional text-book study
  • It removes the need for actual classrooms - offering remote access to billions of people across the world (often with just a mobile device and a VR viewer, like Google Cardboard)
  • It also removes the language barrier - it is easy to have different languages programmed into the VR simulations 
  • Can be tailored to suit pupil's level of learning
  • Can help address personality issues, such as shyness
  • IT IS INTERESTING!!! Pupils of all ages will likely find something to enjoy from VR, plus it removes that sense of being school work

VR cons

  • Untested waters, so hard to quantify its actual impact on learning
  • Learning becomes reliant on functionality - technology, as we all have experienced at one point or another, has a knack for going wrong at inopportune times
  • Unknown impacts on pupils' health - concerns can be linked with issues such as addiction to the virtual world and a deterioration of human connectivity
  • Currently, can be expensive (though costs will undoubtedly go down once VR becomes more mainstream)

Teacher's aid?

So, can VR replace teachers? For us, the short answer is simply no.

As The Guardian rightly puts it... 

The use of technology in the classroom should not reduce the need for great teachers. Instead, it should require great teachers to properly facilitate its use in the classroom and make it a key part of pupils' education.

VR - still very early in its development and implementation - will be a hugely beneficial tool for teachers, we have very little doubt about this. However, it can never reach pupils in the same way a teacher can. It lacks humanity at its core - and this is what all great teachers have. 

Examples of VR in schools 

VR is still a baby, but forward thinking schools are already using it as a source for great education. 

JESS Dubai are one such school. Under the guidance of Steve Bambury (Head of Digital Learning & Innovation), they are making headway in how VR can be used in the learning process. Check out Steve's model for using VR in the classroom:

Another school, based in the UK, is Sevenoaks. Their drive with using VR is for pupils to "feel" the content being taught; to be immersed in the learning experience fully. Writing on the topic, Sevenoaks' Director of Innovation & Outreach, Graeme Lawrie comments...

In that article, Graeme mentions Google Expeditions - perhaps the most popular app for VR at the moment. Expeditions allows pupils to visit anywhere in the world using just a mobile device and the Google Cardboard viewer mentioned earlier.

We'll leave you with this video showing Expeditions at work - transporting a junior school class to the Great Barrier Reef! 


VR is a very exciting development in #edtech, one that we will be following closely!

With great teachers, VR will no doubt prove an incredible tool for schools. Have you had any experiences with VR yet? Do you think that it has a place in education? We'd love to hear all your thoughts about this topic. Please comment below.