The Emerging Realities of Digital Education – Exploring new dimensions

By Stephen Fisher (Learning Adviser – Digital Media & Design) – Staff Profile

With the popularisation of mobile phones and on the go media, why is it that classroom-based education is somewhat reluctant to change? We can access help, support and tutorials at any time of the day and night yet education, as with many jobs, is rigid in its reliance on timetabling. The purpose of this blog is to explore if using emerging technologies, such as Augmented and Virtual reality tools, COULD offer new opportunities for education with the goals to strengthen engagement and hopefully open doors for more educators.

We are living in a society of prosumers where entertainment and information is available on demand and the need to physically be in a location, to explore and interact with others, has vastly shifted. Of what importance is the use of space and can reality based technologies offer new opportunities for engagement and education in the future? These were the questions I sort to explore.

Our recent VR (virtual reality) workshops highlight that engagement and immersion are critical to understanding. We tackled questions such as the importance of learning spaces and the benefits and drawbacks to the various routes on the reality scale. A common point amongst all our student’s VR working pieces was the importance of environment, the space in which we learn and how it is vastly different for each person. The stereotypical classroom of white walls and straight-backed seats for many is not the optimal learning or inspirational environment. So what could we do to ensure education is bespoke for the learner whilst practical for the educator? This is where emerging technologies such as Augmented, Virtual and Extended/Mixed reality offers a unique opportunity whilst being cost efficient and placing control of learning in the student’s hands. Imagine a virtual classroom where each student can sit/learn in an environment they feel comfortable in i.e. immersed in virtual reality whilst still being able to talk and interact with others at a time and location suitable to them, this is possible however the questions are what are the benefits and drawbacks to online digital education using tools such as VR and AR over the classroom style of teaching. Here is what we found from our VR workshop.

 Advantages of traditional education:

  • Structured, control is in teacher/lecturers’ hands and time set
  • Physical interaction and personal skills, human contact
  • Physical presence – heightened sensory engagement
  • Not distracted by the ‘tool’ and can focus on the teaching


  •  Location and time reliant
  • Varying levels of teaching – teacher dependent / environmentally aware
  • Can evoke negative perceptions and feelings from some
  • Must abide by laws of reality and confines of budgets and access


 Advantages of Virtual Reality teaching:

  • Not location dependent i.e. students from anywhere in the world COULD meet in a virtual classroom and interact via avatars
  • Can be good for those with low confidence / personal skills as not threatened by one to one real interaction
  • CAN offer unique and controllable experiences i.e. hazard training, travelling to other places via 360 photography, can be tailored
  • Currently seen as immersive and novel – higher levels of immersion can be created via add-ons
  • Teaching does not have to be live
  • Feeling of space – i.e. depth is possible in confines of setup


  • CAN be costly
  • Reliant on access/availability
  • Can for some create negative feelings and reluctance – nausea
  • Setup time and development time (if applicable)
  • Prone to breaking as with any piece of technology
  • Relies on visual interaction as such those who are blind or have visual difficulties would not be able to use a VR headset
  • Comfort can be a problem
  • Interpersonal
  • A ‘personal’ experience i.e. one person per headset

Advantages of Augmented Reality:

  • Can use existing materials/environment to add/overlay additional information and interactions
  • Uses more readily available technology (smartphones)
  • Lower costs / mass deployable
  • Proven record
  • Can be a group experience / shared
  • Less intrusive to traditional teaching methodologies


  • Environmentally sensitive i.e. works poorly in low light
  • Users should have a camera enabled device meeting system requirement
  • Reliability can be a factor
  • Potential for distraction in class i.e. encouraging use of phones and tablets

There are a lot more advantages and disadvantages to each of these tools however what stood out during our five-week VR workshop course was the desire to blend physical location and teaching styles with digital overlays, be they augmented or virtual, with a tangible awareness of the surroundings (if user is in a VR space and touch a table in real world they want its location mapped in the virtual space). The importance of presence collates with importance engagement and maybe it is worth as educators taking a lesson out of the video game sector for engagement and make learning more fun and bespoke to the learner.

As a little addition to this post, I have written an online blog which explores this topic further.