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Blog post

Virtual reality (VR) in education: A game changer or smoke and mirrors?

Gabriella Rodolico, Lecturer in Science Education  at University of Glasgow Lavinia Hirsu, Senior Lecturer at University of Glasgow

Virtual reality (VR) has emerged as a widely studied and applied medium, making positive contributions in diverse fields (for example, education, medical and military training, and architectural design (Cipresso et al., 2018)). Recent findings suggest that VR-supported lessons yield heightened positive emotions and engagement compared to traditional tools like textbook readings (Allcoat & von Mühlenen, 2018). A recent analysis of VR in education identified potential benefits associated with the implementation of VR-supported learning such as the ‘use of technology to enhance and transform the learning experience in higher education’ (Kaul & Kumar, 2024). All findings propose VR as a possible game changer in how learning and knowledge are constructed with new digital tools.

VR uptake depends on how human-to-human and human-to-tech relationships evolve. It is not enough to unpack the transformative impact of VR on the learning process if we do not approach educators and learners to take advantage of the benefits VR could offer. How do we best equip VR-informed educators and learners who can not only benefit but also co-construct VR worlds to serve their learning needs? In our recent work conducted at the University of Glasgow we started tackling this question (Rodolico & Hirsu, 2023). We began by focusing on pre-service teachers’ (PSTs) learning experiences, examining the impact of VR-supported lessons on their specific self-confidence. We supported PSTs to use and evaluate innovative technologies and to complement them with more traditional teaching strategies. Student-teachers tested several teaching tools in the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) primary science classes in the science curriculum context of body systems. They moved from peak flow meters and body organ aprons to innovative augmented reality t-shirts showing the internal organs, and finally ClassVR headsets with an immersive virtual tour around the body (see this YouTube video on body systems for an example).

‘VR uptake depends on how human-to-human and human-to-tech relationships evolve. It is not enough to unpack the transformative impact of VR on the learning process if we do not approach educators and learners to take advantage of the benefits VR could offer.’

Results from this pilot conducted with 198 primary student-teachers demonstrate that engagement with VR lessons positively influences PSTs’ attitudes towards VR, encouraging them to integrate this technology into their teacher practice across diverse subjects (Rodolico & Hirsu, 2023). Teacher feedback suggests the need for support and also the excitement around the use of VR technologies:

‘Using this form of technology in the initial teacher education (ITE) course has provided me with the confidence to continue to implement and utilise it throughout my learning and teaching…’ (PGDE primary teacher student 1)

Student-teachers understand the importance of working with such digital technologies as excellent learning experiences may be enabled by VR (for example observing the life of a human cell or teleporting in the deep ocean). At the same time, bringing these experiences into the classroom may require that student teachers reflect on, and push beyond, their initial concerns about VR being too complex, too new and different from any previous technology they are familiar with. As researchers, we have a critical role in working with educators to overcome this initial threshold of concerns. We need to continue to engage teachers in the process of exploring how VR and XR (extended reality) technologies might re-write or expand our pedagogies and learning. We are excited to have started this and we hope that the research community will join us in building the evidence to determine how best to deploy these technologies. VR has the potential to enchant, stimulate our imagination and support learning. Yet, VR experiences need all our input to achieve their transformative impact.

Although VR headsets are not new in the education context, we have a long road ahead to fully embed VR into learners’ experiences and future skillsets. As we have uncovered in a recent paper, XRed: Preparing for immersive education, more research, preparation and stakeholder engagement are needed to fully take advantage of the educational power of these technologies. If VR is to make a long-lasting impact on education and other fields, it depends on how best we understand, explore and implement VR technologies. Otherwise, it risks being another technological trend that will come to pass, a ‘smoke’ that will dissipate in the wider landscape of new digital technologies.

This blog post builds on the authors’ paper, Virtual reality (VR) in education: The impact of a short VR-supported intervention on pre-service teachers’ VR technological and pedagogical content knowledge, which received the award for the best EdTech paper presented at the BERA conference 2023. The paper was subsequently published in the British Journal of Educational Technology.


Allcoat D., & von Mühlenen A. (2018). Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement. Research in Learning Technology, 26.

Cipresso, P., Giglioli, I., Raya, M. A., & Riva, G. (2018). The past, present, and future of virtual and augmented reality research: A network and cluster analysis of the literature. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1–20.

Kaul, N., & Kumar, C. (2024). Exploring the landscape of virtual reality in education. In R. Malik, A. Sharma, & P. Chaudhary, (Eds.), Transforming education with virtual reality.

Rodolico, G., & Hirsu, L. (2023). Virtual reality in education: Supporting new learning experiences by developing self-confidence of Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) student-teachers. Educational Media International, 60(2), 92–108.