Author: Cheryl Eslinger

Virtual Reality is a powerful tool for education since people comprehend images much faster than they grasp lines of text or columns of numbers. Participation is critical to learning and VR offers multisensory immersive environments that engage students and allow them visualize information.

Training and simulation

Perhaps the most practical use of VR is in training and simulations. VR simulators are especially useful for training that would otherwise be too expensive or too dangerous. Different training scenarios can be constructed and simply altered for variety. The US Navy uses flight simulators to help train pilots for general navigation as well as special assignments. Battlefield simulations have been developed using real data from Desert Storm [SCHMITZ93]. These types of simulations can be used for training as well as planning. Distributed simulations allows users in remote locations to participate in the same environment. Training tools can also be used for common citizens. For example virtual cars could be used for driver's education classes reducing the expense of cars and insurance and perhaps minimizing costly accidents by inexperienced drivers.

Classroom Activities

VR offers tools for increased student participation. Classroom activities will use VR tools for hands-on learning, group projects and discussions, field trips, and concept visualization [BRICKEN91]. Traditional teaching involved text, oral and screen-based presentations which do not use a human's full capacity to learn. VR allows natural interaction with information. Instead of reading about foreign places or watching a videotaped program, students can explore new worlds such as foreign countries, ancient times or the human body. A current VR program for seventh-graders lets students act as part of algebra equations [BYLINSKY91]. VR offers a learning experience that many children and adults find interesting, thus giving motivation to learn.

Virtual classroom

Telepresence offers remote learning with virtual classrooms. Students are not limited to classes that are taught at their school, in their town, or even in their nation. Teleconferencing has allowed for persons at different sites to form a virtual classroom with active class discussions. Telepresence has also allowed for remote students to work together on group projects which may be an important part of class participation and learning.

Abstract Representation and Visualization

Virtual Reality provides the tools to visualize and manipulate abstract information, thus making it easier to understand. For example flows of power and data communications traffic can be visualized dynamically in three dimensions. NASA has developed a virtual wind tunnel that allows the participant to use hand gestures to navigate around the virtual aircraft and view the air flows. Eastman Kodak engineers gained new insights using a 3D model showing the interactions of heat, temperature and pressure. Virtual environments can allow participants to experiment with physics concepts such as a virtual physics lab that allows students to control gravity, friction and time.


Bricken, M., "Virtual Reality Learning Environments: Potentials and Challenges." Human Interface Technology Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, WA: 1991.

Bylinsky, G., "The Marvels of 'Virtual Reality'." Fortune, June 3, 1991. pp. 38-9.

Schmitz,B., "Virtual Reality: On the Brink of Greatness." Computer-Aided Engineering, April 1993, pp.26-32.

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Human Interface Technology Laboratory