Immersive Learning Technologies: Changing How We Live and Learn

Logan Kolas Oct 04, 2023

As a recent Buckeye Institute policy brief explains, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies can help workers prepare and train for new jobs in advanced manufacturing—but they are also already changing the way we live, work, and learn. Boeing, Caterpillar, BMW, Ford, and AGL Energy have used AR and VR for years, cutting costs, shortening learning curves, and creating solutions that save time and money. However, the potential benefits extend well beyond manufacturing. Healthcare services, finance, farming, and education are all improved by training programs that adopt and integrate these new technologies.  

Immersive technology has shown great potential to improve and even save lives. Firefighters understandably require live training in dangerous, deadly conditions, but the National Fire Protection Association also recommends immersive learning as “one of the most important parts of a blended learning environment.” Microsoft’s augmented and mixed reality headset, HoloLens, can help health professionals reduce time-to-care, decrease training time by 30 percent, connect health professionals with remote experts, quickly retrieve patient data, and review MRI images in 3-D. Students in Vanderbilt University’s medical residency program already use virtual reality technologies to learn and practice orthopedic surgeries, just like medical residents at Kettering Health Dayton in Ohio. And immersive learning technologies help train midwives to find safe birthing positions and help distract women in labor from the pain of childbirth.

From finance to farming, immersive learning technologies help workers become better and more efficient at their jobs. Banks employ artificial intelligence and virtual reality so that staff can practice calming angry customers, take virtual tours, and learn about company history and employee benefits. Farmers, agronomists, and agriculture students use virtual reality to regulate pesticide usage, limit contamination, and preserve biodiversity. Plumbers use it to learn how to flush water heaters, and Arizona copper miners have been using the technology to understand hydraulic shovels.

Outside the workplace, schools give students early exposure to immersive learning tools. Middle school biology classes use the augmented reality app, Froggipedia, instead of formaldehyde-soaked amphibians to “dissect” frogs in the classroom. Students in Agawam, Massachusetts, use similar technology to explore the human cell. And astronomy students at Manitowoc Lincoln High School in Wisconsin slip on virtual reality headsets to walk among the planets.

The successful adoption of these technologies ultimately depends on employers and educators integrating them into the workplace and classroom. Various obstacles impede broader use for now, but as the technologies improve, prices decline, the benefits become more widely known, and users gain familiarity, immersive learning tools will change the way we live and learn.

Teachers, businesses, and policymakers should take note.

Logan Kolas is an economic policy analyst with Economic Research Center at The Buckeye Institute.