The classroom is changing at a rapid pace. Most schools are already using tablets in their curriculum and some schools are pioneering with the use of Virtual Reality. Anyone who has ever experienced some form of VR can understand that it can be an impressive experience, but when and how should you use Virtual Reality in education? What are the downsides and aspects to take into consideration? In this article we share our experience and lessons learned while creating our educational VR games. What works and what doesn’t.

We have developed several VR games for education and healthcare. In this article we will mostly discuss the VR implementation of education in ‘Reducept’, a Virtual Reality training for managing chronic pain. In the game, players shrink to the size of a blood cell and explore different parts of the body to learn about how their body and pain works. By teaching patients about how pain works in their body and how they can influence the experience of pain, their chronic pain reduces and they learn strategies to manage their pain outside of the game. The educational part in this game is a direct translation of the therapy to a Virtual Reality environment.

reducept-vr

The advantages of Virtual Reality in education

Based on a number of scientific papers and studies, we can conclude that using Virtual Reality has a few advantages:

There have been a lot of studies on using Virtual Reality in education. The studies mentioned above are only a small selection. If you are interested, a simple google search turns up a lot more results.

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Challenges when using Virtual Reality for education

While these are certainly convincing arguments to use Virtual Reality for the purpose of education and in our case pain education and pain relief, the use of VR also has some downsides that we had to learn the hard way during development:

neurons-vr

Motion Sickness

For motion sickness there are already a lot of great solutions found by other developers and described in other articles. Here are our main considerations to reduce discomfort and motion sickness:

Especially the last decision posed some design challenges. But we got used to working around the only move forward restriction quickly. In the end, the overall experience was way more comfortable.

Distraction

Especially the first time someone experiences Virtual Reality, people can completely lose themselves in the environment and a constant ‘wow-effect’. Although this is a very nice and sometimes funny thing to watch, it is also a great distraction from the educational content. Imagine being in space for the first time, looking down on earth and someone is trying to explain Newton’s law of universal gravitation to you. Nobody is paying attention when gazing upon such beauty. So how do you make sure you still get all the information across?

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Translation of the visualization

When we were trying to explain ‘pain stimuli’, signals that travel over nerve tracts to the brain and signal to the brain that there is pain, we realised that everyone has a different idea on how these stimuli would look like. We didn’t expect this to be really important for being able to understand pain and how to cope with it, but it still seemed like something important to visualize. As soon as we tried to translate these pain stimuli to little creatures, we received a lot of feedback on what they should or should not look like.

stimuli-character-vr

For some players, the pain stimuli were the bad guys, because they were causing pain. According to others they were just signals, doing their job and usually helping the human body to protect it from harm. No matter which visualization we chose, there were always players who felt less engaged because of how the pain stimuli looked like. This also caused distraction from the important parts of the education.

In the end we chose a very neutral and abstract visualization of the pain stimuli. Although we had to pass on the chance to create an interesting character and story element, the decision worked out well for the effectiveness of the game and the transfer of information.

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Conclusion

All in all using Virtual Reality, like all technological advancements, creates opportunities but also poses challenges. By understanding how Virtual Reality works, what its limitations are and what the effects are on players, we can create amazing new learning experiences. Maybe our next project should be to create a Virtual Reality game that teaches how Virtual Reality works!

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