Commissioned by the Netherlands Initiative for Educational Research (NRO), we have performed an extensive literary study on the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in primary education. The petitioner – the administration of a significant comprehensive school – provided the NRO Kennisrotonde with the following question:
What do we know about the use and effectiveness of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality when applied to primary education?
We finished an English translation of the report, which can be downloaded here.
At this time, it is too early to draw any concrete conclusions in regard to the effectiveness of VR or AR in education. However, responses of those who study VR and / or AR in the educational field appear to be positive, as both technologies are expected to be able to provide new ways to educate and learn. The biggest challenge lies in the development of quality content that is both educational and compatible with educational programs.
While solid research on the effectiveness of VR as an educational tool is available, these cases discuss the use of “screen-based VR”, a form of VR that does not utilize a headset, but a monitor. Our study, however, focuses solely on HMD-based (Head Mounted Display) Virtual Reality (which does utilize a headset) as we consider this form to be most commonly associated with VR.
Enthusiasm about VR
For this form of VR, there are currently no high-quality publications that bring to light any concrete learning outcomes. The general tone of the academic literature, however, is largely positive, reporting on successful educational experiments with motivated students. We have noticed a similar enthusiasm towards VR in the educational practice. The surprising responses that often follow initial VR experiences play an important role in this enthusiasm. In addition, the idea behind VR’s ultimate promise – that anything we can imagine, can be made in Virtual Reality – seems to be a source of inspiration and creativity. After all, this also implies the possibility to create a complete learning environment for students in VR.
As such, both researchers and educators feel there is sufficient reason to experiment with VR in the classroom. Teachers Jasper Bloemsma and Jeffrey Swerissen, for example, enrich their classes with all kinds of applications and 360˚ videos. Regardless, it is important to realize that at this time, the educational value of many Virtual Reality applications is still limited.
Whereas the goal of Virtual Reality is to experience a complete, virtual reality, Augmented Reality focuses on enriching or expanding upon the “real”, physical world with use of virtual elements. Augmented Reality can have many forms: phone applications that work with QR codes, headset applications like Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens or projectors that display a surface. A more in-depth example would be an Augmented Reality sandbox, where a height map is projected onto a sandbox. Considering the wide variety of different forms, we are particularly critical of existing applications, especially in regard to the relationship between virtual- and real elements, which we believe to be Augmented Reality’s most promising characteristic.
As a medium, Augmented Reality is somewhat more advanced than Virtual Reality; as such, literature on AR is further developed. Though a number of studies suggest positive learning effects, the quality of these studies is not always as high as one would hope. Additionally, these learning effects often turn out to be less effective than those found in normal classroom education. Furthermore, both the forms of AR and the educational subjects to which they are applied vary widely. Thus, it is still too early to establish to what extend Augmented Reality can be an effective learning tool.
While VR is not yet fully accessible via a headset, Augmented Reality has been available in the form of a smartphone application for quite some time. Several teachers experiment with AR in their lessons, for example by enriching their textbooks with videos or additional explanations. This way, students have access to additional information whenever they require it.
Want to know more?
Read the complete study ‘Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in primary education by Robin de Lange (Leiden University, Virtual Reality Learning Lab) and Maarten Lodewijk (Virtual Reality Learning Lab).