An interesting article we recently discovered discusses Virtual Reality (VR) and how the experiences it provides aren’t as immersive as they should be. (Edwards, 2021) Within this blog post, we are discussing the differences between traditional VR, which uses headsets, and immersive spaces, which are shared virtual environments.
An introduction to VR
Virtual Reality is the use of technology to create virtual, simulated environments that people can immersive themselves in. VR tends to be primarily experienced through the use of headsets, which are very immersive, but can be isolating for some users.
VR gives users the chance to travel around the world, ride rollercoasters, bungee jump, fly with birds, and even visit outer space, all without having to leave the comfort of their homes.
Everything that we know about our reality comes from our senses – in other words, our entire experience of reality is simply a combination of sensory information, and our brains use mechanisms to make sense of that information.
If you can present your senses with made-up information, then it stands to reason that your perception of reality would also change in response to it. “You would be presented with a version of reality that isn’t really there, but from your perspective it would be perceived as real.” It is this perception that we refer to as ‘virtual reality’. (VRS, 2017)
Advantages of VR headsets
A VR headset is a head-mounted device, such as goggles, which include a visual screen or display. Headsets also often include state-of-the-art sound, eye and head motion-tracking sensors or cameras. (Bardi, 2022)
The fact that VR headsets completely surround the user’s eyes, means that unlike traditional media such as video games and television, the users are more immersed, as they are completely surrounded by virtual worlds.
There are many benefits to VR headsets, which include:
- Creating an immersive experience – users feel as though they are actually within the environment they are seeing
- Allowing users to explore almost anywhere in the world, without actually being there, which is especially beneficial for people with disabilities
- Improving education by enabling students to learn about specific topics, such as history, where they can be immersed in the subject or area that they are learning about
- Training – users can train for situations, such as emergencies, in a safe, controlled and low-risk environment
- Low-risk environment – VR has the ability to gain rewards without any risk – users can ride roller coasters, bungee jump, or even go skydiving without the risk associated with these activities in real life
- Increases interest and engagement – bringing subjects to life that would otherwise only be available in a textbook
- It is a new form of entertainment which is different to traditional media, such as television
- Mental health benefits – virtual reality can be used to improve mental wellbeing by providing opportunities for relaxation and stress relief
- Their portability means that they can be used almost anywhere, without needing lots of complex equipment – you can even purchase special headsets which turn your smartphone into a VR device.
Disadvantages of VR headsets
Despite having many positives, there are of course some disadvantages of VR headsets, which means they may not always be as immersive as you may expect them to be. These include:
- Implementation is expensive – the technology and equipment can be costly and may not be affordable to everyone, especially if this was to be used in a school, where a large amount of headsets would be required
- There is no interaction involved – the experiences gained through VR headsets are very individual, and can’t be shared with other people
- The technology is complex and this can be difficult for some people to learn, so a lot of training is required to teach people how to use headsets, especially for those who aren’t used to technology
- Negative impact on the body – users of VR headsets have reported many physical problems such as eye strain, dizziness, nausea issues and motion sickness. (Prasanna, 2022) Extended use of headsets can also result in headaches and neck pain (Optimum, 2021)
- Headsets aren’t practical for everyone – users with disabilities may struggle to get a headset on without help, and those with anxiety may find the experience isolating and unnerving
- It prevents people from engaging with the real world, as they can become used to experiencing virtual reality. Because of this, regular users could lose important social skills
An introduction to immersive spaces
Immersive spaces are a unique combination of classroom, sensory room and therapy room. Combining high-definition (HD) projection on multiple walls and floors, they create shared experiences which are inclusive for all. Put simply, it is virtual reality, but without the headset.
Frequently used in schools, our Immersive Reality spaces are perfect for teaching children – particularly those with special educational needs and disabilities. They are also beneficial for a whole host of other applications, such as storytelling in libraries, preparing for emergency situations, and providing a relaxing tool for use in care homes.
The difference between VR headsets and immersive spaces
For specific situations, such as learning, immersive spaces have several advantages over headsets. They use projected scenes which are at a distance from the viewer, allowing several people to share the virtual experiences together. This removes the discomfort and disorientation that can come with wearing a headset.
The benefits of immersive spaces aren’t simply limited to being a multi-person space, but also how immersive they are without isolating users from their real-world surroundings.
The application of immersive spaces extends to vocations such as engineers, scientists, those in the medical field, designers, teachers, and more – all being able to collaborate in the rooms for long periods of time.
Not only does the absence of headsets allow for shared experiences, but it also opens up new opportunities for individuals who can’t wear a headset. Of course, VR headsets are amazing technology, but for certain users they’re simply not feasible.
People with limited mobility can’t experience VR headsets without assistance, and even with a headset on, many would be unable to make the head or body movements necessary to get the full VR experience.
The problem isn’t limited to those with physical impairments; people on the autistic spectrum and those with anxiety, for example, may also struggle to use headsets, as they can cause feelings of isolation. (Phillips, 2020)
Many pupils with autism wouldn’t tolerate having a headset on their face (Gera, 2018) and children with other learning difficulties may not understand their surroundings when wearing a headset, and are likely to become disoriented or anxious. (Bailey and Bailenson, 2017)
If the only way of experiencing VR was through a headset, this would mean that so many people could miss out on a huge array of experiences and enhanced learning. But with immersive spaces, they have the chance to experience VR in a unique and inclusive way.
The benefits of shared immersive spaces
Immersive spaces offer incredible opportunities when it comes to making learning and experiences more inclusive.
At Immersive Reality, we have based our philosophy on assisting the improvement of educational and key life skills through our spaces. Because our system is highly customisable to individual users and for specific situations, it minimises physical barriers. This allows people of all abilities to get involved with the experiences on offer.
The bespoke content available in our spaces enhances all topics, to promote an engaging and inclusive experience. A particularly unique aspect of our system is our simulations, which prepare people to take on real life scenarios and challenges.
Simulations have been found to be especially helpful for students with special education needs, such as autism. Studies show that children with autism can apply skills they have learnt in a virtual environment to the real world. (Strickland et al, 2007)
Immersive spaces give users the chance to virtually experience events, situations and places, to provide them with a sense of familiarity before undertaking new challenges in real life. We have a range of simulations that allow pupils to gain confidence with many everyday activities. These include navigating the London underground, going shopping, getting a bus and boarding an aircraft.
Our simulations can also be used for preparing for emergency situations, such as earthquakes, building evacuations and fires. So not only can they educate, but can also be used for enhancing training.
In regards to education, students learn better through experience (Educating Adventures, 2021), however, some experiences aren’t possible or practical for all students, due to reasons such as lack of funds, disabilities or transport issues. Pupils can grasp information much more easily when they are able to visualise concepts that were previously only available through a textbook.
Immersive spaces are also a perfect safe space for children to retreat to when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Imagine being in a flowery meadow surrounded by butterflies, where placing your hand on the wall will cause the butterflies to land and settle on your hand! Or zooming through the solar system and touching the planets to learn more about them.
Our system is accessible through a range of wireless controllers, which allow users to discover huge explorable environments. These include the Xbox Wireless Controller and the Xbox Adaptive Controller – which was specially designed for people with disabilities. A static room can be transformed into a space that is truly immersive through the use of these controllers.
To conclude, the examples discussed in this blog demonstrate the amazing possibilities of immersive spaces, both as an educational tool, as well as for strengthening an array of valuable life skills.
In this case, we can see that traditional VR headsets aren’t as immersive as they could be, because there are so many applications that they simply wouldn’t be suitable for.
Immersive spaces provide a collaborative environment, whereas headsets isolate the user from their immediate surroundings (including from other people). Of course, for certain applications, headsets are perfect.
But for collaborative purposes, immersive spaces are a more appropriate tool – they provide a fun, unique and engaging alternative to traditional learning, because they ensure that all users have the opportunity to get involved.
If you’d like to find out more about Immersive Reality, contact us on +001 (866) 782 6063 or email us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!
You can also fill out our contact form here.
Bardi, J. (2022) What Is Virtual Reality: Definitions, Devices, and Examples. Marxent. Accessed from https://www.marxentlabs.com/what-is-virtual-reality/
Bailey, J.O. and Bailenson, J.N. (2017) Immersive Virtual Reality and the Developing Child. Stanford University, Stanford, CA, United States.
Edwards, E. (2021) Why VR still isn’t as immersive as it should be. Accessed from https://venturebeat.com/2021/12/05/why-vr-still-isnt-as-immersive-as-it-should-be/
Educating Adventures. (2021) Why is experiential learning important? Accessed from https://www.easchooltours.com/blog/experiential-learning-learn-through-experience
Gera, E. (2018) How VR Is Being Used to Help Children With Learning Disabilities, Autism. Accessed from https://variety.com/2018/digital/features/voiss-interview-vr-hmd-1203086576/
National Autistic Society. (2022) Dealing with change – a guide for all audiences. Accessed from https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/behaviour/dealing-with-change/all-audiences
Optimum. (2021) The Realities of Virtual Reality. Accessed from https://www.optimum.com/articles/internet/the-realities-of-virtual-reality
Prasanna. (2022) Virtual Reality Advantages And Disadvantages | What is Virtual Reality (VR)?, Benefits, Drawbacks, Pros and Cons. Accessed from https://www.aplustopper.com/virtual-reality-advantages-and-disadvantages/
Phillips, K. U. (2020) Virtual Reality Has an Accessibility Problem. Scientific American. Accessed from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/voices/virtual-reality-has-an-accessibility-problem/
Strickland, D, PhD, McAllister, D, PhD, Coles, C, PhD, & Osborne, S, PhD. (2007) An Evolution of Virtual Reality Training Designs for Children With Autism and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. Accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804985/
VRS. (2017) What is Virtual Reality? Accessed from https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html