Welcome to the newest monthly column at Learning Solutions Magazine: a column dedicated to virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed/modified/merged reality (MR), games, and gamification as they relate to eLearning, corporate training, education, and instructional design. In this first column, I’ll provide an overview of VR and MR within the eLearning industry. Future articles will address AR, gaming, and other related topics.

The future is now

In the popular sci-fi book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, the year is 2044, and nearly all education, business, and social interaction takes place in a virtual world, accessible anywhere on earth by anyone with a VR headset and a haptic suit. With amazing new VR products and software now hitting the market seemingly every week, we’ll likely see Cline’s envisioned reality much sooner than 2044. (Editor’s note: It’s already arriving. See Pam Hogle’s November 8 article on Cydalion, and any of the many articles on The Void, which makes full-body use of haptic feedback.)

What are VR and MR?

Definitions of virtual and mixed reality vary depending on whom you ask. Most commonly—and how I’ll use the terms in this column—VR denotes a fully immersive world experienced through headsets and earphones that block out the real external environment (The Lawnmower Man, Avatar, The Matrix). MR, experienced through special glasses, overlays holographic images onto the real world around us (Google Glass, Minority Report, Iron Man). To confuse the matter further, some people use the terms VR, AR, MR, and even XR to refer to all of these related technologies together as a group. MR is sometimes referred to as AR, but AR can also refer to an entirely different subset of devices, software, and apps.Regardless of what comes before the R, each technology offers different benefits to instructional designers, trainers, and educators.

Because of the ability to fully immerse viewers into a new perspective, VR has often been described as an empathy machine. I’ll add that MR is a productivity machine, due to how information, communications, graphics, animations, etc., seemingly exist within, interact with, and provide context for the physical world as we go through our day. Due to this heightened empathy and productivity, VR and MR are powerful learning tools, though we’ve only just begun to see how either technology will be used in instruction and education.