The impact of virtual reality on learners and learning

dreamstime_xs_51016496Judging by what L&D professionals are telling me, over the next two to three years, we’ll start to see examples of the use of virtual reality (VR) in our field, over and above the current few early experiments in this emerging area of digital learning.

I think it’s fair to say that we have an inkling of how VR could enrich our learning solutions, but with little experience of the application of VR outside of gaming – and with too few vendors yet in a position to translate our ideas into reality – we still have more questions than answers.

One area that is undoubtedly bound to interest us is how VR might suit the learning preferences of individual learners and whether VR will ultimately deliver better learning over the many alternatives.  Given how “new” VR is in our industry, it’s not surprising that there is very little data out there in both points.  In this post I will share what I’ve uncovered so far.

I’ve had to go back in time and look to the education sector for data.  Although we see it as something “new”, forms of VR have been around since the 1880s; and the academic world has been using later formats for over a decade.

Impact on learners
Guided virtual reality delivers greater returns for all learning styles.


Chen, Toh, Fauzy, 2005

Learners who were offered guided virtual reality (rather than without guidance) learned better regardless of their Kolb learning style, due to VR appealing to elements of all learning styles.
Virtual reality learning appears to accommodate all learning styles.



Lee, Wong, Fung, 2010

There was no significant difference in the cognitive and affective learning outcomes for students with different learning styles in the VR-based learning environment, suggesting that the VR-based learning environment offers promise in accommodating individual learning styles.
Virtual reality is particularly well-suited to active, visual, inductive and global learners.


Bell, Fogler, 1995

In terms of Felder and Silverman’s learning styles, virtual reality appeared excellent for reaching the active, visual, inductive [observation] and global [big picture] learners.
 Impact on learning
More learners improved using virtual reality than those who didn’t.

Anne Bamford (2013)

86% of learners improved from the pre-test to the post-test in the VR classes, compared to only 52% who improved in the non-VR classes.
There was a higher level of improvement from learners who used virtual reality than those who didn’t.

Anne Bamford (2013)

Individuals improved test scores by an average of 17% in the VR classes, compared to only an 8% improvement in the non-VR classes.
Learners who used VR demonstrated better and deeper learning retention.


Anne Bamford (2013)

Individuals who used VR were able to recall more 4 weeks afterwards than those who didn’t.  It was noted that they could better recall details and process sequences, had a deeper knowledge of the concepts and an overall greater depth of understanding.
Learners were significantly more attentive during the virtual reality portions of the lessons.


Anne Bamford (2013)

On average, 46% of learners were attentive at five minute interval tests during the non-VR part of the lesson, compared to 92% of learners being attentive at five minute intervals during the VR part of the lesson.
Learners who learned in a virtual environment saw an increased level of learning effectiveness.

Stanford University/Technical University Denmark (2014)

There was a 76% increase in learning effectiveness when using virtual laboratories over traditional teaching methods.


Learners using VR completed the tasks faster than those who didn’t.

Emory University School of Medicine Atlanta, GA (2004)

VR-trained learners completed the tasks 20% faster.
Learners using VR made far fewer errors than those who didn’t.

Emory University School of Medicine Atlanta, GA (2004)

VR-trained learners made half as many errors in one task and one-third fewer errors in another. Those who hadn’t used VR made 40% more errors overall.

I hope that these findings – albeit limit – are of value.  Hopefully, as with any new learning format, more studies will be undertaken in the future to reveal more about the effectiveness of virtual reality learning.


The impact of virtual reality on learners and learning

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