A VR Education Application

A thought experiment to explore what VR platform would be right to create a VR education application. The VR app I have in mind is to enhance the MOOC learning experience with a virtual classroom and lab portion. Video, text, and multiple choice quizzes don’t seem to be enough. But VR may be able to create a more interactive and hands-on learning experience.

Sample Persona

Sylvester, 45

Age: 45

Occupation: Web Developer, full-time employed

Name: Sylvester

Quote: “I wish I could get back to school.”

Motivation: Spends 10+ hours/day in the office dealing with e-commerce and web-marketing but his heart still lies in math, science, computer graphics and other interesting topics he loved in school and college.
To stay in touch he spends his spare time taking online courses. While MOOCs offer great learning opportunities, they are limited in terms of a hands-on classroom and lab experience.

Experience level with VR: Intermediate experience with game, sports, arts, 360 media and educational VR apps. Started with Google Cardboard and Daydream, eventually upgraded to Oculus Rift.

Q: How accessible would each VR platform be to your target student in terms of price?

The middle-aged full-time employed target student will have sufficient income to afford a highly immersive VR system like the Oculus Rift. There may be some hesitation in the beginning, but if it’s introduced as part of an online course lab, they could see the value beyond a pure gaming or entertainment system. The first contact may still be Daydream. Other MOOC target students in developing countries may even start with low-cost entry level systems like Cardboard.

Q: How interactive does your lesson need to be? For example, do I need to pick things up or could I get away with just looking at objects?

Some content and simulations could be pretty static, you could get away with just looking at them from different angles, perhaps with some controls to speed up/slow down, scale up/down, rotate. A more immersive lab environment could involve picking up and arranging electronic components to a virtual breadboard, and measuring circuits using virtual oscilloscopes.

Q: How realistic do your visuals need to be in order to teach? For example, could I use 2D images and videos in a 3D Environment or do you need high poly 3D models.

The visuals don’t have to be hyper-realistic, simplified/minimal objects to illustrate concepts would work fine. The app would need 3D models to create a virtual lab experience, but those could be more schematic than true-to-life as well.

Q: Does my student need to feel like a participant in the experience or can they be a passive viewer? Could they be both?

They could be both. Some content may be presented as a video or animation, others may be more interactive (navigating around a 360 object), and others may be even more free form and invite the student to create (e.g. build circuits). Depends on the course, topic, and where they are within the topic.

Q: Given the answers above, what are potential platforms you could use for your experience?

Course content could be divided into a theory and lab portion. I could see mobile VR like Daydream perfect for the theory class, and an immersive system like Oculus for the lab. An online course could offer a standard VR enhanced track for the theory, and an immersive track for those who want to dig deeper and practice what they’ve learned in a virtual lab. One of the drawbacks about massive online courses is that everything is limited to lectures and quizzes. Some courses that tried to add a practical lab portion (electrical engineering) had some problems with the scale and amount of students, purchase/ordering of parts and equipment, as well as licensing fees for software. Online classes with thousands of students around the globe, varying access to equipment, and varying time availability could vastly benefit from VR lab offerings.