4 Virtual Reality as Experiential Education

Jennifer Kopczinski


Number of people involved:

Students can engage in a VR experience individually, in pairs or in a small group (4-5 students), or in tandem with their instructor


Amount of time scheduled for the activity:

Depends on the length of the VR content. Time should be allocated for engaging with the content followed by a reflective activity tied to the course learning outcomes (e.g. discussion, written/oral response assignment).


Program/Class the plan was used for:

This is not currently in use in the ADED courses (to my knowledge), however it can be infused into multiple courses across multiple disciplines.



  1. Virtual reality headsets can be borrowed from Brock Library’s Makerspace by students (limited time loan) or by instructors (extended loan is available if coordinated by your Experiential Education Coordinator). Most smartphones fit into the VR goggles to allow for viewing web-based VR content.
  2. Students are provided with guiding questions or themes to consider as they engage with VR content selected by the instructor.
  3. Students complete a reflection-based activity (e.g. discussion, written/video-based/audio-based reflection, art-based reflection) following their experience to solidify their learning in connection to the course learning outcomes.


Example of activity:


The use of VR experiences provides students with a no cost, no risk experiential education opportunity. Students can engage in immersive experiences without having to leave the classroom. Additionally, this technology allows students to engage in experiences far beyond those available within the local community. High quality VR content is widely available online.  Two examples of websites/apps offering such experiences include Within (https://www.with.in/) and NYT VR (http://www.nytimes.com/marketing/nytvr/) . Both apps are free and contain minimal/no advertisements. The content through these providers is also free and can either be downloaded or streamed.


The types of activities that VR can support are broad. While students can engage in the content individually, there is added benefit to having small groups of students engage in an experience together or having an ‘expert’ guide students through an experience. For example, in a course discussing climate change, students could watch a video from the This is Climate Change collection on Within, which includes videos on the melting polar ice caps, the 2017 forest fires in California, and the famine currently impacting Somalia, in order to gain a first-hand perspective on the impact on tangible places and communities.  By watching the videos together in small groups students would benefit from a shared experience ensuring that features of the videos are not missed. Following the videos, students could participate in a guided discussion to reflect on the experience and connect their experience to key course concepts and learning outcomes.


Connections to the literature:

The use of virtual reality (VR) in education has grown in popularity in the last five years as substantial improvements have been made in the availability and quality of VR hardware and free web-based content (Jensen & Konradsen, 2018).  While this technology has obvious connections to skill-based training and acquisition (e.g. health science disciplines, aviation), it is also being used as a form of experiential education across multiple disciplines to support “discovery learning, constructivism, situated cognition, and direct instruction” (Johnston et al., 2018, p. 414).


Ways in which the plan addresses democratization or justice:

VR technology is becoming more accessible which reduced previous barriers to its use in educational settings. VR headsets can be borrowed from the Brock Library and many apps with high-quality VR content are free to users. With a smartphone and a wi-fi connection students can participate in immersive experiences which may otherwise be unrealistic or impossible. Additionally, research is emerging that suggests immersive storytelling through VR platforms is positively associated with learners’ empathy development (Shin, 2018).


Variations of the activity:

VR content available through open access platforms continues to grow. The limits of what students can experience continue to be pushed.

Additionally, rather than directing students to content, this activity could be flipped to allow students to seek out and suggest a VR experience that they found aligned with the learning outcomes of a course or particular activity.

A further variation to deepen the experience could involve having students engage with community members (e.g. elementary school students, senior citizens, populations with mobility issues) to introduce them to an experience through VR or to learn from them as guides (e.g. watching a video about forest fires with a firefighter to guide them through the experience).


Other technology needed for the plan:

  • VR goggles (available through Makerspace)
  • Smartphone
  • Web-based VR content (free apps available through Google Play Store and Apple App Store)




Jensen, L. & Konradsen, F. (2018). A review of the use of virtual reality head-mounted displays in education and training. Education and Information Technologies, 23(4), 1515-1529.


Johnston, E., Olivas, G., Steele, P., Smith, C., & Bailey, L. (2018). Exploring pedagogical foundation of existing virtual reality educational applications: A content analysis study. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 43(4), 414-439.


Shin, D. (2018). Empathy and embodied experience in virtual environment: To what extent can virtual reality stimulate empathy and embodied experience? Computers in Human Behaviour, 78, 67-73.