VR in Education: Opportunities vs Challenges

In a previous post, we shared the beginning of one Further Education and Training setting’s journey to implementing virtual reality (VR) into their teaching and learning programmes. (If you haven’t already, read the background story here on how the journey began and why we chose ClassVR). 

The previous post posed many questions, but ended with these:

Have we made the right decision to put time and energy into incorporating virtual reality? Have we chosen the correct option to make this a success? Will the challenges overcome us?

Staff: Initial Thoughts

Before any introduction to the actual headsets, teachers were asked to share their thoughts on using VR in their classroom:

Read comments from teachers in the setting – wait a moment for the subsequent comment!

The challenges quickly become apparent! 

When introducing anything new, mixed feelings are to be expected. We can see from the teachers’ initial thoughts that there was a mixture of excitement and uncertainty. After our first training session, the mixed feelings continued. One teacher noted feeling overwhelmed, another highlighted the fact the headsets gave her a headache, and a number of teachers were concerned about finding the time to review the vast number of resources available and how VR would fit with their current programme. However, amongst these feelings, there was acknowledgment across the board that the students would more than likely enjoy the opportunity to use the VR headsets. 

Pit Stop – What’s the ‘why’? 

For this particular setting, the ‘why’ is based on the identified need to increase engagement and motivation of students through the introduction of more active, 21st century relevant, visual, and real-world learning. Aside from specific research in VR (referred to in the first blog post), many researchers in education highlight the fact that to increase engagement, learning needs to involve more than “rational thinking”. Engagement increases when students enjoy what they are doing and have the opportunity to apply new learning to physically doing something (Barkley, 2009). In addition, using new technology has been reported as an effective way of engaging learners in the 21st century (Wolpert-Gawron, 2017). 


So, where does this leave us? Teachers’ initial thoughts do indeed suggest they believe students would enjoy using the VR headsets but as researchers and job descriptions highlight, and rightly so, the role of an educator goes far beyond simply facilitating ‘enjoyable sessions’. The main challenges identified at this point include:

  • Time and headspace for teachers to become familiar with ClassVR, explore content, discuss where and how VR aligns or can be used to engage students in subject areas and current programs
  • Wifi connection – it turns out the setting is not on a fiber-optic connection and this is causing the headsets to ‘drop off’ mid-session
  • In-class time: there is already a multitude of reasons why students and teachers miss time to complete the current assessments. Hence, time to try new approaches is a risk teachers potentially don’t have the time to take.


The setting has a very supportive and open-minded staff culture. Based on the challenges outlined above, teachers could set the headsets aside and refuse to engage further, but teachers have remained open-minded and initiated conversations with students on the use of VR. Teachers have also recently attended another online training session with Ian Stuart from ClassVR.


As a result of initiating ClassVR, one student brought his own VR headset to the classroom. Ironically, he has the Oculus Quest headset which we compared on an educational basis in the first blog post. The student demoed the Oculus headset for other students and teachers. The graphics are extremely impressive! His initial thoughts were that ClassVR headsets were inferior in terms of graphics and interactivity. As conversations progressed over a number of days, the same student explored both VR headsets from an educator’s perspective, changing the roles of the student and the teacher. The engagement, communication, and strengths-based approach to involving this student in such discussions may very well demonstrate a tangible example of why VR can meet this setting’s ‘why’! The enthusiasm, knowledge, and articulation shown by this student were beyond expectations. 

Student comparison: ClassVR and Oculus Quest

Oculus Quest on the outset has better graphics and more interactivity. However, the student identified that although some apps are educationally based these would be limited, individually paid for and some involve the need to forcefully swing one’s arm into the air, which was identified by the student as a health and safety concern (now, I am sure we could put a risk assessment in place but an enlightening conversation from the perspective of a student). 

Alternative Learning Space 

The conversation veered towards voice proximity which is a feature on his Oculus headset. This is also a feature in ClassVR, we simply have not yet utilised it. The student highlighted how this would be positive for himself and his peers as it created another environment beyond the classroom where students can interact. In our follow-up training session with Ian from ClassVR, teachers were able to explore this a little, and there was indeed an increased level of engagement and energy. 

Digital Divide

Another student, who has never used any form of VR headsets before, expressed his want to do something different, other than “typing”. When it was suggested that perhaps we could simply utilise videos, apps, etc., the student maintained he wanted to try the VR headsets. (On a side note, as the uptake in VR increases at industry level, perhaps the digital divide is another reason why we should be exposing students to virtual reality in their education?) 

Our second training session highlighted how we can use ClassVR with Avantis World, CoSpaces, and ThingLink. Avantis World is where students can explore various settings and where voice proximity can be utilised to initiate conversations on a wide range of topics. As part of the package, teachers and students have access to CoSpaces. CoSpaces allow students to learn and practise various levels of coding to create an environment that can then be explored by classmates. Coding options vary from block coding to Java. Our expert VR student has shared his eagerness to be allowed to code a virtual reality environment, which led to conversations about the use of Minecraft in education (for a whole other blog post!). Thinglink allows educators and students to create interactive visuals (also a whole other blog post). Basically, the potential links for VR in education seem almost as vast as using videos to introduce new concepts or initiate learning conversations and more! (And we haven’t even touched on 3D models yet!)

If you want to read more on how ClassVR can be used to heighten engagement, check out 50 creative ways to use ClassVR .


If we look at Gagne’s “Nine Events of Instruction” we can see “Gaining attention” as a second step (Gagne, Briggs & Wager, 1992). Gagne’s first step is knowing the learning outcomes, and as ClassVR trainers also highlight, VR as we are hoping to use it in this setting, is a method of engagement. The ClassVR headsets are not going to ‘teach’ a lesson, they are not a continuous virtual reality one-hour session and they are not replacing everything in our traditional teaching approach. VR headsets are an enhancement, and the questions remain…

Have we made the right decision to put time and energy into incorporating virtual reality? Have we chosen the correct option to make this a success? Will the challenges overcome us?

Teachers left the most recent training session feeling less overwhelmed and more aware of how ClassVR, and its capabilities, can be utilised in their subject areas. Again, there was widespread acknowledgement of the potential ClassVR has in education. Students are also positive and the setting has the opportunity to change the teacher-student dynamics by tapping into student expertise. However, time, assessment, and aligning the engagement potential in current programmes remain challenges to overcome, leaving some teachers wondering what the future holds in terms of how much use the VR headsets will get in the long run. For now, some teachers are going to set them aside, while others are excited by the potential they offer and are searching for the time and headspace to utilise their full potential. 

Perhaps this journey leads us to bigger questions around our educational structures, purpose, and methods of assessment? On that note, check out our recent blog post by Michael Halissy on OCED suggestions for what education may look like in the future!


Barkley, E., 2009. Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. John Wiley & Sons.

Fredricks, J., Reschly, A. and Christenson, S., 2019. Handbook of Student Engagement Interventions. Academic Press.

Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). Forth Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

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