Education is one of the more fluid and organic human processes, and begins from the moment we’re born. Sociologists and psychologists have always been fascinated by the mechanisms related to our ability to learn, and our innate adaptation to new circumstances is what hallmarks as a ‘thinking species’. As a result, we are always pushing the boundaries of human cognition – in many cases, this involves constructing and inventing new methods of teaching that are tailored to our capacity to learn new and develop new skills and ideas. At the forefront of this technological renaissance, many researchers have turned to educational VR apps and programs as a next-gen alternative to other conventional teaching practices.
While the rote method of teaching facts certainly has its place, an abundant body of research has pointed to the efficacy of visual stimulation as a way to encourage not only memory but also interactivity, especially in children. Educational VR apps offer themselves up as the perfect medium for this, whether it be in the form of game-like programs where a student can solve puzzles or in an immersive emulation that can teach them about dinosaurs or let them explore the International Space Station. The hands-on approach granted by educational VR apps also means that students (and adults) are able to experience a degree of self-guided learning as well. The auto-didactic capabilities of educational VR apps like Unimersiv for example are broad enough in their scope to permit requisite learning material, but also encourage their users to explore the content – often in direction, and in applications, that might not otherwise be covered in a traditional educational environment.
Below we take a look at some of the upcoming or available educational VR apps and games that have sparked our curiosity.
Unimersiv (Gear VR and Oculus – Free)
One of the premiere educational VR apps available on VR platforms, Unimersiv is an all-in-one learning tool that takes into account the research of Edgard Dale, an American educationist who advocated the idea that 90% of learning can be correlated to what a given person can simulate. Some of the more fascinating programs include a time-traveler app that recreates historical sites like Stonehenge and gives the user the ability to explore the ruins, at the same time offering up information about the archaeology and history of the region. Another fully-immersive 3D component is the aforementioned International Space Station, perfectly rendered.
Perhaps the most useful application of the technology though is in their Anatomy educational VR app, which lets one dive into the human body. Users can explore everything from the skeleton to the circulatory system to the organs in high-definition and with a number of overlaid ‘skins’ for each – while targeted mainly at children and teenagers, the app nevertheless proves the potential of VR as a useful teaching medium that could just as easily be adapted to more complex simulations (i.e. for med students, doctors, etc.). Currently it is only available on the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift, but the fact it’s offered as a free download and promises monthly updates of new apps makes it one of the more promising educational VR apps on our list.
Agent Cayley (Google Cardboard – Free)
One of the most boring subjects in school, at least for me, was math. With your head full of numbers and equations, it can often be a challenge just to pay attention while your teacher waxes eloquent on the nature of algebra, but with Agent Cayley, a new educational VR app demo available for free on Google Cardboard, everything has changed. Utilizing a somewhat silly, but nevertheless amusing plotline, involving a murder investigation, the user has to help Agent Cayley solve a number of puzzles. The beauty of this game is that it answers the age old question: “When I am ever going to need this in real life?” By framing algebraic problems in a real-world context, it’s the perfect interface for both kids and adults alike, and relies heavily on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) approach to learning as Unimersiv – that application should precede actually learning. If the demo is any indication, their Kickstarter won’t have any problem racking up the funds for an Episode 2.
Titans Of Space (Oculus, HTC Vive, Gear VR – $8.79)
If you have ever wanted to explore the solar system, then Titans of Space 2.0 is probably one of the better educational VR apps, offering an easy to digest and self-paced tour through our little corner of the galaxy. All of the planets are shrunk down to 1 millionth their normal size, giving a ratio that allows users to easily maneuver between planets, comets, and other solar bodies, while at the same time getting a dose of interesting facts about each. The high-def quality of the planets – all driven from previous photocompositions sourced from satellites and space agencies – additionally you can also ‘fly’ between the planets in a first person shuttlecraft, replete with a HUD that gives all the basic infor and even lets you tailor the visuals so you can see the moons in relation to their planets. Originally designed for 2D consoles, its recent VR upgrade makes it one worth checking out.
Chemistry VR (Google Cardboard, Oculus, Gear VR – Free)
Developed by Arloopa, this fun Google Cardboard game is actually available on a number of devices, so as an educational VR app makes our list simply because of its compatibility. At the same time, it’s one of the coolest hands-on approaches to chemistry, allowing the user to actually recreate different compounds as they make their way through a procedurally based narrative involve different puzzles. Utilizing Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements, different compounds have to be mixed in specific sequences. Simple and fun, its cartoony like approach and gentle music are worth the free download.
House of Languages (Gear VR – $5.79)
We would be doing our job, or our research, if we didn’t mention the potential for educational VR apps to also shape the way in which we learn languages. While interactive online and computer based media has caught up to the idea of language acquisition in the past, most famously with the Rosetta Stone franchise, it’s only recently that VR has delved into the same field. The brainchild of Fox3D, their new release House of Languages does a great job of introducing both kids and adults to different languages in an easy – and again, practical – environment. Rather than focusing on strict memorization, it features a visual approach where users have to identify and object that they see in VR, and then match it to its corresponding name in a different language, while at the same hearing it repeated. Although clearly tailored toward a younger audience (the indefatigably cute Mr. Woo, a racoon-like creature, is your narrator and guide) it’s the first VR app that we know of that really tries to improve on language acquisition methodology. And it’s a whole lot cheaper – and arguably more fun – than putting out for an equivalent language program.
Toti Submarine VR Experience (Google Cardboard – Free)
Another free to download educational VR app, this one is highly specific, and takes the user right into the heart of a Sottomarino S-506 Toti Enrico Submarine during a 1990 mission in the Mediterranean Sea. This a slightly more interactive and less cinematically driven game, putting you right into the character of a crew member who wakes up and then explores the interior of the submarine. The extreme attention to detail is due in part to studio Luca Roncella’s affiliation with the National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, Italy, where the actual submarine that the app was based on currently resides. Both the 360 degree photo-realistic images and authentic sound effects make it one of the more immersive educational VR apps in our list.
With two settings, one that involves a guided tour where you can take your time and learn about what life would be like in the cramped quarters of a submarine (replete with a voice track and personal anecdotes supplied by real life officers), and another that actively stations you in a mission-based simulation where you have to escape enemy bombers and obey orders from your commanding officer, it’s hard not to appreciate its versatility. Add that to the fact it’s offered for free, and there’s no reason not to try it out.
Although not strictly an educational VR app, per se, Alchemy VR is one of the leading studios attempting to bring storytelling and VR together. They pride themselves on developing quite a number of interesting programs. Unlike Unimersiv though, their application of VR takes the form of a narrative documentary style experiences. They have already teamed up with a number of other companies, including Atlantic Productions and ZooFX, to compile first person 3D documentaries that bring a user right into the action – whether it be in the form of an underwater quest to look at the Great Barrier Reef (with narration by David Attenborough, of course), or a more expansive look at the beginnings of existence with First Life VR.