Magazine excerpt: Virtual reality – enhancing learning outcomes

Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Alexandra Whittington, April Koury and Helena Calle on virtual reality’s impact on work and learning.

Virtual reality (VR) is one of the major contemporary technologies being implemented in teaching today, with examples emerging that hint at how it could play a role in the future of education. It is one of the key innovations that have gathered significant attention, and current examples of VR in the marketplace nclude HTC’s Vive, Oculus Rift and SteamVR.

As a consumer product, VR is a seemingly magical form of entertainment made possible by emerging technology. The nature of VR changes the way people interact with digital information, including data, knowledge and alternative scenarios. The many potential benefits of VR in teaching are only beginning to emerge. 

One of the biggest challenges in education and training is ensuring that whatever is being taught meets the audience’s learning needs. In today’s complex society, where new discoveries and technologies emerge regularly, learning needs can also change rapidly.

In response to these challenges, tools like VR can help educators adapt and refine solutions quickly. This is just the latest instance of innovative consumer electronics tools being employed in teaching; past examples include the internet, social media, mobile phones and video games. 

The classroom

The VR experience allows people to interact with others in a simulated scenario at different and increasingly multi-sensory levels. Educators have found information retention improves when the individual is engaged in such diverse multi-level experiences.

Creating virtual realities helps bring to life aspects of the curricula and learning objectives in a more engaging manner.

Examples include visualising inherently abstract concepts in physics, engineering, mathematics, chemistry and biology, such as exploring geometric shapes in 3D, following signals through the nervous system, and seeing the behaviour of structures under different loads and environmental conditions.

VR allows for exploring scenarios that are difficult or dangerous to recreate in the classroom, such as the impact of combining hazardous chemicals, the behaviour of the heart during a cardiac arrest, and monitoring lava flows and temperatures in an erupting volcano. 

Creating virtual realities helps bring to life aspects of the curricula and learning objectives in a more engaging manner. For example, travelling virtually to a scenario that brings to life the major facts and details of the history of pre-Hispanic cultures or the different conversations and tensions that led to past wars.

For students with special needs, VR enables them to experiment with different learning strategies that do not rely on passive listening or reading. For example, learners with attention deficit, hyperactivity or dyslexia could learn more effectively through experimentation in virtual contexts. 

The work environment

There are also a range of possible VR applications in the work environment, such as demonstrating architectural models and testing factors like human behaviours during emergencies.

And for advanced multi-sensory simulation of complex and dangerous tasks and activities – encompassing surgery, flying a supersonic jet, fixing a component on the outside of a spacecraft, through to rehearsing combat or disaster rescue scenarios.

VR can be used to make abstract data more tangible to help workers understand information more deeply and promote a better decision-making process. The scope and scale of daily choices can be visualised more easily in VR. A 3D map of the likely return on effort invested for different potential customers might make it easier to determine where to focus sales activity.

People will be able to create different virtual worlds and test alternative strategies, solutions and unintended consequences. The creation and exploration of parallel virtual scenarios would enable employees to evaluate which choice might best fit the current strategy.

In corporate training, VR could help accelerate the learning process by allowing people to run through multiple real-world scenarios for the application of a skill, such as trying out coaching skills with virtual people that possess different attitudes and personalities.

Training can also be done in situ, for example providing a VR overlay to guide a remote maintenance engineer through the removal and repair of an aircraft engine part when the plane is 10,000 miles from its home base. 

The bigger picture

VR is also being put to use in ways that can enhance the social, emotional and mental conditions for humanity in general – an increasingly important priority for education and training in a world where there is a growing fear of technology usurping humans.

For example, virtual reality offers the opportunity to bring people together in applications ranging from shared dating experiences and family reunions through to global team meetings and conflict resolution processes.

Whether as our avatars or holograms, we can interact and retain a sense of personal contact with people across the globe in these shared experiences.


About the authors

The authors are futurists with Fast Future. Rohit Talwar is the CEO and Steve Wells is the COO. April Koury is the publishing director and Helena Calle is a researcher. Alexandra Whittington is foresight director of Fast Future and a faculty member on the Futures programme at the University of Houston. Find out more at or follow @fastfuture


This is an abridged version of a piece from February’s TJ magazine. To find get the full feature, subscribe here.



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