Current Virtual Reality Best Practices for the Classroom

Virtual Reality (VR) allows students to experience a world that does not have a physical form (Sapp, 2015b). This technology provides numerous learning benefits, including increased focus and engagement (Parsons & Rizzo, 2008; Fowler, 2014), increased learner involvement and motivation (Freina & Ott, 2015), a wider range of supported learning styles (Freina & Ott, 2015), greater retention (Farra, Miller, Timm, & Schafer, 2012), improved process and product skills (Cook, 2014), a sense of already being in one’s desired occupation (Leck, 2013), more collaboration (Fowler, 2014), and spatial knowledge representation (Fowler, 2014). VR is being used increasingly in both face-to-face and online learning environments around the world. The best practices below can help you better understand this burgeoning technology.

How to Get Started

Step 1: Experiment with VR to get familiar with the environment

  • Consider how this could fit into your content area. Would any of the concepts you teach benefit from games or simulation (e.g., students flying through the bloodstream to learn about cells)? Consider “who you want your students to be and where you want to take them” (Sapp, 2015a). Perhaps you show great videos in your class, and want to take it a step further by having students immerse themselves in another world and interact with others in a particular environment. 

Step 2: Analyze your students

  • What learning outcomes will they achieve by completing tasks in the VR environment? Where does your course fall in their program? How could VR help them in their future careers?

Step 3: Think through the technology you will need based on your learning outcomes

  • Will you purchase a set of VR devices, such as headsets, borrow them (see the NCSU Libraries VR selection), or use another type of equipment altogether? Do you need to record any video using a special VR camera, or will you use pre-recorded experiences/apps, such as those at Unimersiv, Oculus, or Wearvr?

Step 4: Work with an instructional designer to develop your plan for VR.

  • Strong instructional design leads to higher learning outcomes (Cook et al., 2012).

Best Practices

  • Ensure that the learner is part of the scene in an immersive virtual environment rather than viewing the scene from “outside” (Kozhevnikov, Gurlett, & Kozhevnikov, 2013).
  • If you are using a VR game, have students work individually rather than collaboratively (Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennicutt, & Davis, 2014).
  • Focus on the skill that VR will help you implement; do you seek to build empathy, develop immersive storytelling, increase life skills, or have students engage in a more personalized, self-driven task? The learning objectives for your course will drive VR development.
  • If you are interested in creating a VR game, keep in mind that it is not a fast and simple process (Sapp, 2015a).


There are numerous examples of VR being used in various educational contexts, from surgical training ((Freina & Ott, 2015; Cook, 2014),and cultural heritage (Novotny, Lacko, & Samuelcik, 2013), to language learning (Chen, Hwang, & Chen, 2013) and abstract scientific phenomena (Kozhevnikov, Gurlett, & Kozhevnikov, 2013). The examples below illustrate the power of this technology for teaching and learning:


  • Chen, N., Hwang, W., & Chen, G. (2013). The disruptive power of virtual reality (VR) and serious games for education. Interactive Learning Environments, 21(2), 101-103.
  • Cook, D., Brydges, R., Hamstra, S., Zandejas, B., Szostek, J., Wang, A.,…Hatala, R. (2012). Comparative effectiveness of technology-enhanced simulation versus other instructional methods: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Simulation in healthcare : Journal of the Society for Medical Simulation, 7(5), 308-320.
  • Cook, D. (2014). How much evidence does it take? A cumulative meta-analysis of outcomes of simulation-based education. Medical Education in Review, 48(8).
  • Farra, S., Miller, E.,  Timm, N., & Schafer, J. (2012). Improved training for disasters using 3-D virtual reality simulation. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 35(5).
  • Freina, L. & Ott, M. (2015). A literature review on immersive virtual reality in education: State of the art and perspectives. Paper presented at the Institute for Educational Technology, Genova, Italy.
  • Fowler, F. (2014). Virtual reality and learning: Where is the pedagogy? British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(2).
  • Kozhevnikov, M., Gurlett, J., & Kozhevnikov, M. (2013). Learning relative motion concepts in immersive and non-immersive virtual environments. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 22(6). 
  • Leck, K. (2013). Giving students real-world experience via virtual-reality learning. eLearn Magazine. Retrieved from 
  • Merchant, Z., Goetz, B., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. (2014). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students’ learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers and Education, 70, 29-40.
  • Novotny, M., Lacko, J., & Samuelcik, M. (2013), Applications of multi-touch augmented reality system in education and presentation of virtual heritage. Procedia Computer Science, 25, 231-235.
  • Parsons, T. & Rizzo, A. (2008). Neuropsychological assessment of attentional processing using virtual reality. Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine, 6(1). 
  • Sapp, C. (2015a). Five easy steps to teach with virtual reality now. EdSurge. Retrieved from 
  • Sapp, C. (2015b). How virtual reality can close learning gaps in your classroom. EdSurge. Retrieved from