VR Cinema as a Possible Model for the Future of Education

My wife and I sat down to watch the 1982 film Deathtrap, which was an adaptation of the popular Ira Levin play. The movie, like the play, relies on a series of deceits and an ultimate shift into meta-theater. Unlike the play, however, the movie struggles to capture the proper viewing experience to take advantage of the deceits. The film adds an extra “distance” to the experience as if we were watching, through a two-dimensional camera lens, the rich, in-person experience of the play itself.

A similar complaint is often made about education. Our instructional methods, whether face-to-face or online, tend to remove students from what we think should be a rich in-person (hands-on) learning experience. By contrast, many of us might say that our best learning experiences have been hands-on and immersive.

With regards to films and theater, it may be that VR (virtual reality)  cinema offers a way forward. In his review of VR films at this year’s SWSW, Sam Machkovech writes:

VR filmmaking at its best replicates the experience of live theater in a really accessible way. (I’ve been saying this for years.) You can’t watch something like Hamilton on DVD and expect the same impact. And when a VR “film” is done right, with smart technical decisions at play, it really meets (or, sometimes, exceeds) Broadway’s best without requiring a flight to New York or a ticket lottery.

And, while AR (augmented reality) and VR projects are still expensive and the delivery technology must evolve, the costs will come down and content delivery will eventually become convenient and widely accessible.

Given that eventuality, how might AR/VR serve as possible enhancers or facilitators for the K-12 and higher education? Here are a few ideas:

Deeper contextualization of information

Whether with traditional textbooks or adaptive learning platforms, most of the information delivered in educational settings is relatively flat and two-dimensional. This makes it difficult to explore or experience information in a way that allows students to understand and master it. AR/VR can allow students to actually experience information in its original, applied context, applied to real-world scenarios. This “in-the-real-world learning” will give students the deep context they need for both relevance and personalized application.

Instruction via direct, immersive experience 

In addition to allowing students to experience information in the context of real-world scenarios, VR can provide students with a more genuine “apprentice” experience where they learn by doing. This could be particularly helpful in developing on-the-job communication skills and giving every student the types of valuable experiences currently only available through competitive intern programs

More equitable access to resources and tools

AR/VR could also be a needed solution for the lack of equitable access to resources that challenge many current schools. AR/VR tools could allow any school to have high-quality laboratories (and lab experience), study abroad experiences, and personalized tutors.

Rob Reynolds, Ph.D.
Executive Director, TEL Library

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