Game designers have long understood the impact that deeply immersive environments can have on people. Just ask anyone who has been stalked by vengeful aliens for hours on end, from the safety and comfort of their sofas.

The same technology that has captured the attention of video game enthusiasts and the general public may be making its way into the classroom in the relatively near future — presumably minus zombies.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tech were once only thought to be things of science fiction. The recent refinement and commercialization of immersive and interactive technologies like Oculus and Microsoft HoloLens have made them a reality. But could this technology possibly be useful to students? And, more importantly, how could it possibly be useful to teachers and institutions?

While the computer power necessary for these products is not yet universally available — or economically viable, for educational purposes — it cannot hurt to imagine the remarkable ways the evolution of this technology could provide an incredibly immersive, interactive and collaborative classroom experience.

Virtual Reality

Imagine for a minute that you are taking a class online, but instead of seeing a live stream of the classroom on your screen, you are instead fully immersed in the classroom environment with the use of virtual reality goggles and headphones.

If older technology was used to simply project a lesson at the student — essentially making both student and teacher alike passive participants in the process — VR technology could allow students and teachers thousands of miles away from each other to feel more incorporated and engaged in a learning environment. The educational process becomes experiential again, increasing both engagement and comprehension.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality technology differs slightly from virtual reality. Instead of immersion into a specific environment, AR tech allows an individual to interact with computer-generated holograms within their own environment. Where VR would transport you to a computer-generated classroom, AR turns the table, and brings the classroom into your living room.

In theory, this technology can enhance learning by simulating images, videos, three-dimensional charts, graphs, etc., that otherwise would have simply been drawn on a whiteboard or shown on a computer screen. The interactive aspect of this technology is key — like VR, it could increase engagement, material retention, and collaboration in the classroom. Plus, the idea of having Stephen Hawking lecturing you on physics in your own home is just plain cool.

With technology like this becoming more advanced, and more available to the general public, it’s only a matter of time before it is used universally in and out of the classroom to enhance our learning experiences.