Virtual reality learning environments

A virtual reality learning environment (VRLE) is defined as one in which the participant (e.g. student) actively engages with what is going on rather than being a passive recipient.

It also encourages communication between students and their teacher in order to find solutions to a range of problems.

This can take the form of a desktop set up but equally, can involve the student wearing virtual reality glasses or some other form of head mounted display (HMD) and an input device. This enables them to interact with events in that environment.

Another option is the use of avatars: an avatar is a 3D representation of a human being. This virtual being is created by a student who then uses he/she/it to explore a virtual environment. Their avatar can be customised to their requirements and have its own personality and modus operandi.

Advantages of virtual reality learning environments

Virtual worlds are used as learning environments, for example Second Life in which students can interact with others whilst completing a set of tasks. They also have the opportunity to learn new skills such as sharing, spatial awareness, data visualisation and even developing new language skills. Virtual worlds such as this have been adopted by colleges and universities across the globe.

Plus it is a good way of getting your students to explore ideas in real time and in an exploratory setting. Here they have the chance to discover new ways of learning via semi or fully immersive technologies in which interaction is the main focus. For example, they can explore an ancient building or learn about aspects of the human body.

Alternately, they can carry out activities which would be harmful or even impossible in the real world, for example, chemistry experiments. These experiments come with a degree of risk which depends upon the chemicals being used and the process. But virtual reality enables students to perform experiments with no risk to themselves or others – which would not be an option in the real world.

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