Virtual Reality (VR) is not a new technology. In 1957, Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama, the first multimedia device that provided an interactive theater experience that even included smells. By 1968, a head-mounted display was created by Ivan Sutherland. It was so massive that it had to be suspended from a mounting device.

Thankfully, VR technology has evolved over the years providing users with more weight friendly and affordable options. Anyone can experience VR on their phones for less than $15 with Google Cardboard, a fold-together cardboard viewer, and the Google Cardboard app.

As VR technology advances, its use and integration in schools will increase, allowing students to experience firsthand physical context for what they could previously only read about. In addition to education, VR has the potential to expand world perspective for all of us as it quickly moves from being an entertainment technology to having serious capabilities in business as well.

Here are six examples of how virtual reality is radically changing the way we educate and work:

1. Bring the Physical World to Life

Education: Immersing students in an image of a landscape, and then asking them to look for clues about how the landforms have changed over time is a brilliant way to unlock the mysteries of physical geography and is just one of many ways VR can help students learn visually.

Business: This concept can be applied to manufacturing from a design standpoint where products can be tested virtually before physical prototypes are created, which means better ergonomic designs and improved usability. Likewise, seeing a virtual example of a new building in minute detail before construction begins can save companies from costly mistakes.

2. Tap into Emotion and Empathy

Education: You know the saying about walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes? 360⁰ videos offer an incredible opportunity to do exactly that. This can be a powerful way to give insight into situations that can’t be experienced firsthand. Imagine the conversations of students as they are guided virtually through the streets of a war-torn country.

Business: Healthcare is a great example of how businesses are doing this. They are using VR to help people work through addictions, reduce pain during physical rehabilitation, and ease anxiety for patients going into surgery by providing understanding about complex procedures. It’s also being used to tell the personal stories of those who have fought a battle with cancer.

3. Explore Places That Were Unreachable

Education: VR makes it easy to bring anatomy into the classroom safely. Students can get up close and personal with a beating heart or see the organs and systems that make their bodies work and experience what happens when the body is put into certain situations. Here’s a VR tour that takes you inside the human body.

Business: Flight simulation was one of the earliest uses of VR and is still a safe method for training pilots and astronauts. Likewise, VR is being leveraged to train race car drivers on strategic driving maneuvers. Their mechanics can also use VR to view the intricacies of these carefully balanced engines without taking them apart.

4. Experience Other Cultures

Witnessing the everyday aspects of life in other countries can offer both students and professionals traveling internationally a way to experience and understand other cultures. What is it like inside schools around the world? How does shopping work in different places? What is considered appropriate attire? What social etiquette is important to be aware of? VR allows viewers to experience a culture by being immersed directly into it, which helps develop socially appropriate skills before feet hit the ground.

5. A Safer Closer Look

Education: Virtual reality can give students the opportunity to examine things in detail. Everything from the workings of an intricate machine, to details on a historical artifact or an underwater environment swarming with sea life. Students unlock new brain connections by visually experiencing things like the moving parts of a steam engine.

Business: Military personnel and defense contractors are using VR to gain valuable knowledge about dangerous or life-threatening environments from the safety of a training room. Virtual reality holds unlimited opportunities for training in all workplaces, without the risks or costs associated with traveling to a dangerous site or location.

6. Immersion into Unique Situations

Education: VR offers fantastic opportunities for teaching a variety of unique subjects, especially art. VR can allow students to examine fine pieces of artwork without physically touching them – a view not available even during a museum trip. Imagine holding The Thinker by Rodin in your hands and being able to see every angle of the 3D model. VR is the ultimate visual medium and can greatly enhance student art appreciation and understanding.

Business: VR is also being used for behavioral learning with autistic adults in scenarios where they interact with virtual characters. This allows them to study and interpret facial expressions and body language, practice social skills, and learn how to express opinions in acceptable ways. This type of training is showing great promise because it creates a non-threatening environment where participants can be comfortable practicing the interpretation of social cues.

What Does the Future Hold?

Virtual reality is rapidly finding its way into the educational, healthcare, and business markets. The future capabilities are endless and it won’t be long before individuals become active participants in VR worlds through motion-capture devices that transfer movement and gestures in real time to virtual reality. As devices continue to become lighter weight and less costly, VR will quickly become a powerful tool that will radically change the educational and business landscape of tomorrow.

What are your thoughts on virtual reality? Are you using VR in your environment now and if so, how? We love exploring new technologies and would love to hear your feedback.