Towards a theoretical framework for Virtual Reality in Education

For my current research I broadly explore the potential of Virtual Reality for education. As a part of this I try to form some sort of theoretical framework to describe the unique characteristics of VR as a medium and how it can be used to explain complex concepts and teach different skills.

With some googling you can find quite a few articles (both academic, popular and in-between) that describe the various ways VR could be used in education. There are even a few listicles out there, to use the parlance of our times. Now, who can resist the simplicity of a 5 point overview of this new medium and its role in learning?

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The dangers of techno-pessimism in education

I do research on the potential of Virtual Reality for education. Now, people generally find VR very exciting and because of this I get a lot of enthusiastic reactions. People can imagine all sorts of useful applications for education. Students could learn about our solar system while experiencing a space flight, or walk through ancient Rome and learn about its history.

Of course, I also receive a lot of reactions that are more critical of VR as a learning tool. We are at a point in time where there’s hardly any decisive research about learning performances in Virtual Reality. We don’t even know yet whether people will buy VR headsets. Shouldn’t we wait for these kinds of things before we invest in hardware and educational VR content? VR has been a hype before, can the technology deliver the promises that are being made?

Generally I can understand and appreciate these critical viewpoints. I often even agree with them. However, I also think that there’s danger in this cautious, sceptical stance that is often seen in education. The danger is that it’s quite different from the agressive venture capitalist approach often seen in the internet & entertainment industries. Virtual Reality has the potential to be huge, which creates the possibility to invest in a company that will be leading in this new market. This promise has been the reason for VC’s to invest billions and billions of dollars in companies that create VR hardware and software.

So, when VR would actually become a mainstream technology, the entertainment industry will have a multi billion dollar head start. This head start will have had serious influence on the way we view and use Virtual Reality. There will be solid software distribution platforms created by the VR hardware companies. VR will be primarily perceived as a medium for gaming and other entertainment purposes, and only very slightly as a tool for learning. Matthew McCoy points out how the choices we make today, will strongly affect our future use of the medium in this interesting article.

In a way then, techno-pessimism in education is self-fulfilling. We can follow a cautious, sceptical approach and wait for strong research results that conclude that certain Virtual Reality applications lead to better learning results. But by doing so, we give the entertainment industry a head start, making it very hard for education to catch up. I guess something similar happened with our smartphones. We don’t primarily use these devices for their powerful learning capabilities, but instead for posting selfies on Instagram.

I want to stress that a critical stance about the use of VR in education is very valuable. Virtual Reality is not a tool that will solve all the ‘problems’ in education. I do not think VR will transform or disrupt education, despite what the headlines of tech blogs state. VR is not the best medium for all learning material. Some is better explained through text, video, by doing an assignment, or by explanation by the teacher. I do think however, that we should experiment with VR in the classroom much more!

What do you think? Is this danger real? What should we do about it?

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Hack de Pont – VR Hackathon

On the 30th of April 2016 I gave a Unity3D Virtual Reality workshop for the VR Hackathon ‘Hack de Pont‘, organised by Creative Coding Amsterdam, Lava Lab and Submarine Channel. Among the participants were Syrian refugees from the very noble Hack your Future program. Although a large part of the group had never worked with Unity3D before, quite a few interesting projects were created that day!

After the workshop I joined artist Sander Veenhof to create a project of our own. We mixed Ricoh Theta 360 photos Sander took on the ferry ride with a 3D modeled world in Unity3D to create an experience where you travel from the analog to the digital world. In the future it might be available in the Play Store, this tweets shows a preview:


Virtual Reality for Science & Education 2016 – a Review

On the 10th of March 2016 we organized the Virtual Reality for Science & Education symposium at the Scheltema Complex in Leiden. I think we can safely state the event was a great success!

Over 125 people attended the event, causing a small shortage of chairs at the busiest time of the symposium. I have seen many familiar faces, but also met a lot of interesting new people. The list of attendees included researchers, professors, high school teachers, entrepreneurs, Virtual Reality developers, policy makers and artists. I think this mix of people led to very interesting discussions, thank you all very much for your input!

The speakers of the symposium showed us inspiring examples of successful application of Virtual Reality in science and education. I think these examples illustrate the countless opportunities that are in need of experimentation. Below you can find the list of speakers, the full program can be found here.

During the break and the drinks at the end of the day people could experience different VR experiences themselves. There were demonstrations by:


The video of the symposium was made by Floran Swanborn and is embedded at the top of this post. Below you can view the photos made by Roland Clarke.

Virtual Reality for Science & Education symposium - 10 March 2016

These are the slides for my presentation at the symposium.

Are you interested in the slides of the other speakers? Or do you have an idea for a new project? Please feel free to contact me. You can also subscribe to the Virtual Reality & Education newsletter if you want to be informed about future events!

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This symposium was made possible by the LUF, the Gratama stichting and the Media Technology program.

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Oculus Rift huren

Wilt u de gasten van uw evenement een leuke ervaring bieden? Ik verzorg Virtual Reality demonstraties met de Oculus Rift, Gear VR en andere VR headsets. Een interessante toevoeging voor de bezoekers van uw congres, beurs, bedrijfsuitje of symposium. U kunt ook los een Gear VR of Oculus Rift huren.

In overleg met de klant zoek ik leuke en relevante applicaties uit voor de demonstraties. Ga in een achtbaan, duik tussen de dolfijnen of vlieg door de ruimte!


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Virtual Reality spreker

Ik treed regelmatig op als Virtual Reality spreker. Hoe kan VR worden gebruikt in het onderwijs? Waar liggen de uitdagingen en mogelijkheden? Tijdens lezingen voor bedrijven geef ik een inzicht in de state-of-the-art van Virtual Reality en verkennen we waar de mogelijkheden liggen voor uw organisatie.

Robin de Lange lezing

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Leren programmeren bij Lyceo CodeLab

Vanaf januari 2016 gaan de Lyceo CodeWeken verder onder de naam Lyceo CodeLab. Onder deze naam organiseren we verschillende cursussen coderen verspreid over het land. Je leert bijvoorbeeld een game maken, een robot programmeren, of zelf een website maken.

In deze video kun je zien wat zo’n programmeercursus inhoudt!