The benefits of
extended reality
in education

Author: Katie McNeil

Pandemic virtual learning may have redefined the classroom experience, but moving forward, it's virtual reality that may expand the definition.

Extended reality (XR) in education is the latest innovation to revolutionize how students learn. From a third-grade student on a virtual field trip to Ancient Egypt to a medical student simulating open heart surgery, the benefits of XR technology could make learning more immersive and accessible than ever before. Schools stand to gain from the benefits of extended reality in education as long as their networks can support it.

What is extended reality?

Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term encompassing three technologies: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR). VR is a complete computer-generated simulation of an environment. AR superimposes objects in a real-world environment. MR blends physical and digital worlds, allowing the user to interact with real and virtual objects. The XR market is expected to reach $1.2 billion by 2035. Increasing the use of 5G technology may accelerate XR adoption, and education is one of the fields that stands to benefit most. VR in education is expected to grow to $32.94 billion by 2026 (up from $6.37 billion in 2021).

XR applications in education

Even before the pandemic, K-12 schools and universities were experimenting with XR as a new teaching modality. Dubbed the learning aid of the 21st century, VR immerses students in multisensory experiences never thought possible. Uses for extended reality in education include:

Virtual field trips

One of the potential benefits of XR technology is that students could be immersed in another place and time, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Grand Canyon. The school bus once brought students to the experience. Now the experience could be available anytime, anywhere through a VR headset. Immersive multisensory learning offers different avenues for learning beyond the traditional textbook. The different layers of media could improve learning accessibility, helping students who struggle with traditional print media sources to engage with educational material.

Visualizing conceptual subjects

Extended reality in education could bring abstract topics to life. Rather than studying the parts of a cell from a textbook image, students could hold 3D models of a cell or even dissect a frog virtually. The depths of the ocean and far reaches of outer space could be more easily visualized with VR than text—a game changer for science students struggling to wrap their heads around complex ideas. Additionally, math concepts may begin to crystallize with the use of virtual manipulatives.

Technical training

Another one of the benefits of XR technology is that students could safely train for highly technical jobs. Medical students could practice surgical skills in a simulated environment. Veterinarian students could explore animal skeletons up close. Construction students could practice welding digitally. Even if a student isn't in a technical field, using VR technology could benefit their future job prospects. One PwC report estimates that 23 million jobs worldwide would be using AR and VR by 2030 for training, work meetings or to provide better customer service.

Tools for learning disabilities

Extended reality in education may be able to help students with disabilities practice real-world skills such as crossing a street, shopping and social interaction; in a virtual environment. VR may offer students with neurodivergence practice in a virtual, distraction-free environment. In a virtual world, it may be possible to eliminate physical or emotional impediments.

The benefits of XR technology

On average, a student can remember 30% of what they hear, 20% of what they see and 90% of what they experience. With XR applications, students can hear, see and interact with a lesson, potentially improving engagement, accessibility, motivation and, more importantly, learning outcomes.

Equitable access is one major benefit of extended reality in education. With XR, learning is only limited by the cost of a headset; while upfront costs can be expensive with purchasing headsets, they can be used for several years of classes. Pricey experiences like field trips to other countries and complex science experiments could be accessible to many more students in a virtual world.

The benefits of XR technology in education might seem limitless but likely can't replicate the classroom experience completely. Learning is an inherently social process, and teachers will always remain central to the experience. Like other educational technology advancements, XR serves to augment a teacher's impact, not replace it.

Network requirements for extended reality in education

Innovative XR technologies need robust network connectivity. VR requires a high-speed connection and sufficient computing power to stream massive amounts of data. Significant lag in connection can ruin the learning experience. Noticeable buffering can be a headache on a browser but downright destructive for those immersed in a virtual world.

5G offers the potential to support high data volumes with low lag and could be ideal for supporting extended reality in education.

The future of learning is immersive and schools need the bandwidth to support it. Verizon can help you harness the power of secure 5G Ultra Wideband connectivity and deliver enhanced, immersive learning options to augment the classroom experience and boost learning outcomes.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.