Classrooms today look a lot different than just a decade or two ago, as pencils, notebooks, and textbooks are replaced with laptops and iPads. But what once seemed like the realm of science fiction is likely coming to a classroom near you soon, as augmented and virtual reality (AVR) becomes more prevalent in the education space.

Already, AVR is regularly used in industries as diverse as gaming and healthcare. And soon, virtual spaces will be an everyday part of the higher education environment, bringing along benefits and opportunities for students.

As universities look for ways to attract new students are taking an interest in the technology, these institutions are looking at AVR both as a tool for marketing and engagement, and also a way to enrich learning and enhance the classroom experience altogether.

Study and research synergies

Currently, universities across the globe are benefiting from programs that allow people to explore careers via 3D design, visualisation, IT, game, and software development.

It’s also a field that offers rich research and development possibilities. Stanford University, for example, set up its Virtual Human Interaction Lab to explore the implications of interactions in virtual spaces, and how it affects and changes people’s behavior.

The lab produced a free science education VR tool that allows people to immerse themselves in a future world impacted by carbon-dioxide emissions, including a trip below the waves to see damage to a replica coral reef first-hand.

The University of Wisconsin’s Living Environments Lab features a fully immersive CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment). Within this landscape, all walls are installed as projection screens, which support cutting-edge AVR research projects, especially in health.

VR to recruit and engage new students

It’s easy to see how high-tech facilities like the virtual CAVE at the University of Wisconsin help attract new graduate and postdoctoral students. UW also uses its lab (including a virtual ski hill game) as an outreach tool for high school students.

Smaller liberal arts colleges are also harnessing the power of AVR technology to make an impact. Colorado’s Regis University created an interactive, virtual tour of the school’s scenic campus that students explore by wearing an Occulus Rift headset.

Regis used it to promote the school at college fairs throughout the country, enabling prospective students to “…get a full, 360-degree tour as if they were on site—including viewing daybreak runs at Red Rocks, being immersed in Regis’ experiential nursing skills lab, and visiting the campus pub to watch a live Jenga game.”

Northern Arizona University’s virtual tour also proved highly successful. It was viewed thousands of times, and more than 4,000 students who accessed the tour eventually submitted contact details, booked a visit, or applied to the school.

Opportunities for high-impact learning

AVR also gives students an out-of-classroom experience that can positively impact their learning and retention, and also drastically reduce the traditional barriers to programs like field trips or study abroad.

For example, while not every student can afford a semester abroad, AVR will allow them to browse Florence’s museums or visit the pyramids in Egypt just by donning a headset. As AVR becomes more mainstream and affordable, high-impact learning will become more accessible to students, similar to the way to internet access is at every university today.

Marketing AVR effectively

Of course, virtual tours take time and money to create. Schools need to make the most of these assets by ensuring the student experience is seamless across all other aspects of digital marketing campaigns.

Adopting a distinctive top-level domain (TLD) like .courses or .study that can be used for the landing page of an AVR tour can be highly effective. That way, prospective students are left with a memorable and easy way to learn more, and the webpage they visit can be customised to continue their digital journey.

Universities may be able to utilise content marketing focused on the advantages of AVR, to help point newly engaged audiences to the right page or nurture them through carefully. For instance, a university might also build online communities of interest around AVR, or create customised digital marketing content, videos or games that expand on specific AVR experiences.

By leveraging virtual reality in integrated ways, universities are able to effectively enhance overall student experience. The way education providers embrace AVR should dovetail with a broader approach to digital tools for communication, engagement, and knowledge transfer.

Through effective digital marketing and strategic thinking, it’s likely the education industry will see a rapid change into an augmented reality where learning is a first-hand experience that students can embrace on a whole other level.