In the past ten years the popularity using of E-learning for education and training purposes has grown exponentially, and with the addition of the pandemic and lockdowns this popularity has only pushed up higher (OECD, 2020). Now, there is a new tool being utilised known as virtual reality (or VR for short) which has also made a rise due to the pandemic (Singh et al, 2020) could challenge the overall efficacy of E-Learning.
What is E-Learning and Virtual Reality?
E-Learning put simply is electronic learning and typically means delivering all or part of a course digitally. Whether that is online lectures or resources for schools or universities or completing training courses for businesses. It usually involves distanced learning and using a computer.
VR also teaches digitally however, it allows for a more hands on approach, allowing users to look, speak and move about in a completely customisable environment. Examples of this would be users being able to play through scenarios using real-world tools to see what happens.
E-Learning advantages and disadvantages
E-Learning has become one of the most prominent aspects of the last four years only increasing when lockdowns hit. One of the main advantages to E-Learning is that it is accessible and convenient for anyone using it. All materials can be accessed and downloaded by a learner whenever they are needed. This allows for a higher range of flexibility between students and teachers, allowing students to choose between self-learning and teacher-led which has been shown to be preferable (Kumar & Owston, 2016). It also allows students to skip the parts of the materials they already know and get to the bits they need without having to spend an hour going through known stuff. With the accessibility, freedom, and discreteness there is no question to why this method is so popular.
E-Learning does also have it drawbacks. A study by Srivastava (2019) set out some factors for why E-Learning may not always work. The increased freedom also can lead to a lower motivation and participation in students. Without a learning environment students may become socially isolated and unwilling to participate due to not being around other students and having that push to have deadlines met. Another challenge is that users will become dependent on this technology the issue of poor internet connection and machine malfunction can lead to learning processes becoming tedious. Being reliant on the technology can also lead people to use Google and other programmes instead of their own brain to answer questions resulting in lower memory retention. A final drawback is some users may not have ever been taught in this manner or may not have the means to access this online environment (Seah, 2020). Resulting in potentially being left behind.
VR training advantages and disadvantages
One of the biggest factors of VR is its ability to immerse its users in a completely adaptable environment. Instead of watching a video on safety on for example, a construction site or how to perform an operation, users can actually be there and experiment with equipment and see what plays out through trial and error. The immersion factor increases user’s immersion and interaction which can result in higher participation and memory retention (Lan, 2020) . VR also allows for a realistic yet safe experiences where employers will be able to see if a trainee is ready without and real-world consequences. This, in turn can increase the effectiveness and well-being of staff and employers in places from general procedures in hospitals (Khor et al, 2016) and construction sites (Sacks et al, 2013), to handling emergencies such as fires and earthquakes (Li, et al, 2017 & Çakiroğlu & Gökoğlu, 2019). A final advantage to VR training is that you are able to gamify the learning which will give you the same if not better educational results. It has been shown that by turning the training into a game, the user will not feel as stressed and the added enjoyment will increase how much they remember (Palmas et al 2020).
Although effective VR does also have its limitations. One big limitation is the distribution of equipment. This equipment is usually quite expensive and although growing still not as widely available for a large number of people. This powerful technology also may have concerns when it comes to wearing the headset for a long time in terms of comfort, functionality, and battery life (Davila Delgado et al, 2020). A final limitation is similar to E-Learning users may not have used this technology before and may struggle to grasp it resulting is people giving up.
Both technologies when used effectively can provide an optimal learning and training environment with both having specific differences and similarities. E-Learning strengths come from being effective at reaching a high capacity of people and in most cases being very accessible and easy to use. But begins to falter with increased use and not being able to adapt to people’s individual needs. VR strengths come from being able to provide immersive and memorable training experiences which result in higher enjoyment and efficacy. But is lacking by only being able to reach a handful of people at a time and potentially being quite tricky to operate for first time users.
The original question was “will VR replace E-Learning?” and in some scenarios it has already begun. In terms of training purposes and employment environments VR is being used more and more compared to E-Learning. However, the effectiveness and accessibility in schools and universities shows why it is still being used. In our opinion they are both as effective in their optimal areas and perhaps a blend of both methods would provide the best possible education. With both of the technologies still being developed and worked on, it will be interesting to see what comes next.
Çakiroğlu, Ü., & Gökoğlu, S. (2019). Development of fire safety behavioral skills via virtual reality. Computers & Education, 133, 56-68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2019.01.014
Davila Delgado, J. M., Oyedele, L., Beach, T., & Demian, P. (2020). Augmented and virtual reality in construction: drivers and limitations for industry adoption. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, 146(7), 04020079.
Khor, W. S., Baker, B., Amin, K., Chan, A., Patel, K., & Wong, J. (2016). Augmented and virtual reality in surgery—the digital surgical environment: applications, limitations and legal pitfalls. Annals of translational medicine, 4(23). https://dx.doi.org/10.21037%2Fatm.2016.12.23
Kumar, K. L., & Owston, R. (2016). Evaluating e-learning accessibility by automated and student-centered methods. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(2), 263-283. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-015-9413-6
Lan, Y. J. (2020). Immersion, interaction and experience-oriented learning: Bringing virtual reality into FL learning. Language Learning & Technology, 24(1), 1–15. http://hdl.handle.net/10125/44704
Li, C., Liang, W., Quigley, C., Zhao, Y., & Yu, L. F. (2017). Earthquake safety training through virtual drills. IEEE transactions on visualization and computer graphics, 23(4), 1275-1284. 10.1109/TVCG.2017.2656958
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2020). The potential of online learning for adults: early lessons from the COVID-19 crisis. http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/550164
Palmas, F., Labode, D., Plecher, D. A., & Klinker, G. (2019, September). Comparison of a gamified and non-gamified virtual reality training assembly task. In 2019 11th International Conference on Virtual Worlds and Games for Serious Applications (VS-Games) (pp. 1-8). IEEE. https://doi.org/10.1109/VS-Games.2019.8864583
Sacks, R., Perlman, A., & Barak, R. (2013). Construction safety training using immersive virtual reality. Construction Management and Economics, 31(9), 1005-1017. https://doi.org/10.1080/01446193.2013.828844
Seah, K. M. (2020). COVID-19: Exposing digital poverty in a pandemic. International Journal of Surgery (London, England), 79, 127. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.ijsu.2020.05.057
Singh, R. P., Javaid, M., Kataria, R., Tyagi, M., Haleem, A., & Suman, R. (2020). Significant applications of virtual reality for COVID-19 pandemic. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews, 14(4), 661-664. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsx.2020.05.011
Srivastava, P. (2019). Advantages & disadvantages of e-education & e-learning. Journal of Retail Marketing & Distribution Management, 2(3), 22-27. http://management.nrjp.co.in/index.php/JRMDM/article/view/385