I have been involved in VR for over 20 years. I am therefore writing this to try to help educators learn about why I think VR is going to be important.
There was a fad in tech a few years ago with 3d TVs and movies. This was a repeat of fads from the 60s and the 80s. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now. You see, adding 3d to a 2d surface doesn’t transform the experience. It’s not like the jump from color to black and white. The big problem with 3d on a 2d surface like that is you can’t move your head. This causes the view to slightly change in perspective which your brain expects. It’s called parallax. You don’t really get that with a 3d movie. The most important thing though is it does not create a new experience.
Virtual Reality is different. Our brain builds an internal representation of the outside world based entirely on the 5 senses we have. We take in this information but most people don’t realize how totally depended we are on it. For example, the sun is about 93 million miles away. It therefore takes the light from the sun about 8 minutes to reach the earth. Therefore if the sun had exploded 7 minutes ago you wouldn’t know about it yet. Ok, yes that is a bit dramatic. But it’s true. :)
What Virtual Reality technology will do is to completely replace your senses of vision and hearing, which are your most important of the 5. If it is done well enough, at high enough fidelity, your brain won’t be able to tell the difference and will incorporate the new information into it’s internal reality model. I can’t overstate how significant this will be.
When you see what VR looks like now, you have to put a bulky, heavy headset on to experience it. This will dampen the experience that’s true but keep in mind this is only the start. The original iPhone could not run third party apps and was only a fraction of the power of today’s model (and that was only 8 years ago). The technology is primitive right now but I have had remarkable VR experiences with much more primitive equipment. VR promises to be able to let you live new experiences. Let me give you a few examples.
A writer at Gizmodo got to do this VR game at E3. He said it was creepy. Watch it for yourself and see if he’s right. (the trick here is to imaging what you are seeing is real for you, not just a game on a monitor).
See with a VR headset on, you can’t look away. Oh sure you can look away, but you can’t leave the experience without removing the headset. This is what we call fully immersive.
Check out this VR horror game.
The player is scared to death because you are really there. At least your brain is saying you are.
Finally, here is a demo of you in a dinosaur’s nest. :)
It’s impossible to capture the true experience on your monitor and that is my point. VR is not a fad like 3d on a flat monitor. This technology is going to open up a whole new form of entertainment. We will be able to do things we can’t do right now and that is why it’s important.
The implications for learning are huge. This will capture the attention of children in a way that lecture and videos cannot do. They will start building their own experiences and will share them around. It will allow them to see things from a different point of view (literally). I think this technology will be as transformative as the smartphone was although it might take a little longer. Let’s see how long it will take for Apple to release a VR headset (I guarantee they are working on a few now). As for me, I am looking forward to finally seeing the technology finally catch up to the potential.