AR/VR Shows Promise in the Classroom for K–12 and Higher Education; New Report Catalogs Wide Range of Applications and Use Cases

Augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) is proving to have a wide range of promising applications as an educational technology due to its immersive nature, ability to share information in new and engaging ways, and potential to offer virtual experiences that mitigate barriers from cost or distance, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy.

ITIF reviewed the current state of AR/VR in education and assembled a catalog of case studies illustrating how the technology is being implemented across a range of academic disciplines and student learning levels for K-12 classrooms, higher education, and teacher training. The report argues that the federal government should support further innovation by investing in research, skill-building, content development, and equitable adoption of immersive technologies.

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“AR/VR as an educational tool is hardly a novel concept, but immersive learning has only recently transitioned from small-scale experimentation to a multimillion-dollar market with rapidly growing use,” said Ellysse Dick, ITIF policy analyst and author of the report. “AR/VR technologies expand the possibilities of learning environments from K–12 classrooms to medical schools by enhancing collaboration and hands-on learning and providing individualized learning approaches that can help students at all levels.”

Among the examples of these technologies already in use in K–12, higher education, and teacher training:

AR/VR can now provide K–12 educators with interactive tools for classroom learning, such as libraries of immersive content, experiences for specific subjects or learning objectives, and tools for students with learning disabilities.

In higher education, AR/VR can help learners grasp abstract concepts and gain hands-on experience in low-risk virtual settings. This can enhance STEM courses, medical simulations, arts and humanities materials, and technical education.

The report provides more than two dozen case studies of these and other applications in use. Among K-12 applications, the case studies cover publicly available resources such as 3D models and VR experiences from the Smithsonian and NASA; private resources from the New York Times and Google; and edtech services for specific subjects and individual student needs, including those with cognitive and learning disabilities.

In higher education, the case studies include examples of applications for STEM education, medical training, arts and humanities; soft skills and career development; technical education and other specialized training. Case studies also cover applications for teacher training, such as immersive classroom simulators.

Based on its in-depth survey of AR/VR in the edtech landscape, ITIF concludes that policymakers have an important role to play in accelerating the adoption of AR/VR in education. ITIF calls on Congress to direct the Department of Education to invest in programs, resources, and initiatives that can guide the development of these new solutions and encourage further innovations in the field.

The report provides specific recommendations for the federal government to invest in research on the health, safety, and efficacy of immersive learning applications; encourage technical literacy; accelerate virtual content development; and support equitable adoption.

“Going forward, it will be important to ensure instructors have the necessary skills and knowledge to implement AR/VR solutions in their lesson plans and create opportunities to develop necessary content, including equipping students and educators with the skills to do so,” said Dick. “On their end, policymakers should support further innovation by facilitating content development, investing in necessary research on safety and efficacy, and supporting efforts to expand access to these technologies.”

Read the report here.