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What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual & Augmented Reality has been around in one form or another for many years. The term virtual reality is used to describe an immersive experience through a computer in an environment which doesn’t actually exist. Virtual means near while reality is what we experience, so the term virtual reality roughly translates to near reality.

virtual & augmented reality

The world as we know it is experienced through various senses with almost everything we know about reality originating from our senses. Often virtual reality is used to describe a three dimensional, computer generated environment.

The difference exists however when, in the case of training, the student can interact with the environment, manipulating objects or carrying out a series of actions. In summary, virtual reality is the development of a virtual environment which is presented to our senses in such a way that we experience it as if we were really there.

Virtual reality uses a combination of technologies to achieve immersive experience and simulated environments can be used to great effect in learning and development, particularly in healthcare and other front line services.

Historically, virtual reality can be traced as far back as the mid 1800s when Charles Wheatstone conducted research that concluded the brain can process different two dimensional images from each eye and translate these into a three dimensional, single object. Viewing images through a stereoscope provided the user with a sense of immersion and depth. The View Master Stereoscope was patented in 1939 and introduced the concept of virtual tourism.

In 1929 Edward Link developed the first flight simulator which was controlled by motors and replicated typical problems in an aircraft such as turbulence and other routine disturbances which are often experienced in flight. As the years progressed, virtual reality continued to advance to the 1960s which brought about the very first virtual reality head mounted display. In 1965, Ivan Sutherland introduced the Ultimate Display which could simulate reality to the point where it would be difficult to distinguish the situation from reality. The first fifteen years of the 21st Century witnessed a significant development in virtual reality, primarily due to the advances in computer technology and today it is used in many different industries.

What is Augmented Reality

Augmented reality occurs when digital information is combined with the user’s environment. Unlike virtual reality which creates a ‘virtual’ world, augmented reality uses the existing environment. The concept was introduced in 1990 by Thomas Caudell who used the term to describe how electricians used head mounted displays while undertaking complex assembly work. The very first instance of augmented reality in commercial terms was in the ‘first down’ line which was used to televise football matches in 1998. There are multiple augmented reality applications which are developed in 3D programs enabling developers to combine digital information or animations in computer programs with real life environments. Typical augmented reality applications include GPS systems on Smartphone’s and gesture recognition technologies.

Industries currently using Virtual & Augmented Reality

As technology continues to advance at an extraordinary rate, virtual & augmented reality are being used in many different industries for a variety of reasons. Today the technologies are used in healthcare, entertainment, the automotive sector and in education to varying degrees.


The healthcare sector is perhaps one of the main users of Virtual & Augmented Reality. The technologies are used in a number of different areas including the treatment of phobias, simulation of surgery and in training situations. Perhaps one of the main features of virtual reality is that it can be used by healthcare professionals to acquire new skills or refresh their existing skills within the confines of a safe environment and without causing any danger to patients.

healthcare virtual reality

Human simulation software will allow healthcare professionals to interact with others but within a virtual environment. Often this is used in training scenarios which allows them to interact with a patient but within a virtual world. Another use of virtual reality in healthcare is in diagnostic tools which enable doctors to reach a diagnosis while using scans and other medical tools often removing the requirement for invasive surgery or other procedures. Perhaps one of the main uses of virtual reality in healthcare is during robotic surgery. The surgery will be carried out using a robotic device which is controlled by a human surgeon. This significantly reduces complications and the time of the operation. Virtual reality has also been used in training situations particularly in relation to surgery. In terms of augmented reality, this is also used within the healthcare sector and it is predominantly used for staff training. It is particularly useful when students have to learn about the anatomy. The augmented reality applications allow student healthcare professionals to match words with visuals on an actual skeleton. Another use of augmented reality is during the collection of blood samples. A solution known as AccuVein works by projecting over the skin where the valves and veins are situated in the patient’s body so the accuracy of taking blood is significantly improved.


The entertainment industry is certainly an advocate of virtual reality because of its use in virtual worlds and games. It is also used in a number of other areas such as galleries, interactive performances at the theatre, virtual theme parks and virtual museums and discovery centres. This type of environment will allow members of the public to actively engage with the exhibits in ways which were previously unknown.


Virtual reality glasses allow visitors to see scenes, animals and ancient artefacts in 3D and in some instances, they can actually interact with the exhibits. There are several virtual reality systems including augmented reality, simulators and 3D display platforms. Within the gaming sector, virtual reality is huge.


Although it will be many years before virtual & augmented reality will be adopted entirely within the automotive sector, they do have a promising future. Many companies have questioned the technical and practical applications of these technologies and they questioned its ability to withstand the rigours of a fast paced manufacturing environment.

automotive augmented reality

The automotive industry is perhaps one of the main industries that have adapted disruptive technologies through robotics, virtual reality and automation. The manufacturer Ford in particular have constructed their own lab where employees, engineers and designers can wear a specially designed headset and immerse themselves within a virtual environment to explore the Ford vehicles in detail both inside and out. Ford uses virtual reality in the design process to determine how individual aspects of the vehicle appear without having to actually construct the vehicle to find out. The virtual reality is directly connected to the company’s computer aided design software so the engineers can make the necessary adaptations and visualise the results both quickly and cost effectively.


Education is perhaps one of the main areas where virtual & Augmented reality can make the most difference. Although it is primarily assigned to games, virtual reality can have a significant impact in learning and development.

education virtual reality

It enables the student to enter a 360 degree video shot or immerse themselves in a 3D environment. Marine biologists for example can enter into the natural environment of the ocean all without stepping foot near a boat or the coast. The lecturer will activate a series of scenarios and wearing virtual reality glasses, the students can experience the actual environment. Virtual learning environments are also created in online education where students can send, create and manage coursework and study digital material.

The Pros and Cons of using VR&AR in eLearning

In recent years, virtual reality has been slowly entering the world of training and elearning. The use of virtual learning in the delivery of training would require businesses to purchase virtual reality headsets and Smartphone’s. Responsive content is created so that students can use specially designed technologies to create unique 3D learning experiences.

Benefits of Virtual Reality

Realistic Scenarios – In an industry which is constantly striving to achieve the best learning experiences, the nature of virtual reality enables trainers to enhance the experience and create a truly interactive learning experience.

Mistakes – With virtual reality technology making mistakes doesn’t matter, it’s all part of the learning process. In certain training situations such as nursing for example, it would be impractical not to mention dangerous for a student nurse or doctor to train on a real patient. With virtual reality trainers can replicate a real life scenario but the trainee is safe in the knowledge that they are working on a ‘virtual’ patient.

Suitable for different learning styles – This type of learning can really help people who are more ‘practical’ and who struggle with the theory side of learning.

Resource Saving – Setting up training environments can be incredibly costly. With virtual reality trainees can learn safely and within a mocked up environment which significantly reduces costs and increases levels of safety.

Innovative and Enjoyable – Elearning professionals are always looking for new and innovative ways to deliver their training and using virtual & augmented reality is making the whole learning experience more enjoyable and immersive. It can be used in many different scenarios, from customer service through to teaching, healthcare and even engineering.

virtual & augmented reality

Drawbacks of Virtual Reality

Integration – At the present time, it is very difficult to transfer all types of learning to virtual & augmented reality due to the resources required to make this happen. As a result, careful consideration needs to be taken to choose the courses where this technology would be most beneficial.

Costly – Although there are a range of headsets and devices to meet all budgets, investing in virtual reality for large scale training is a costly activity, particularly when the training needs to be delivered to many students or employees.

Training Locations – With traditional elearning, a student can learn quite effectively and quietly sitting at a desk. With virtual reality you will need sufficient room to function without falling over desks or bumping into office chairs. As a result an employer or training provider will need to find suitable training venues to provide the virtual or augmented reality based training to their students.

The Cost of using AR & VR

There are many reasons to think that virtual reality is the ultimate solution for elearning environments, but there is still one major hurdle to overcome and that relates to the cost. One of the high end virtual reality computers can be around £800 and the majority of computers aren’t compatible with virtual reality technology. This £800 is not the only cost that you have to consider. There’s also the cost of the headset which is around £400 each. With the current prices of virtual reality equipment, for a virtual reality experience you would have to invest around £1300 and that’s just for one student. Once the initial costs of the virtual reality software and associated equipment have been spent, you also need to think about the dedicated spaces that you will need to use the technology effectively. This of course brings with it additional cost implications. A dedicated training room will be required so the students can really gain the benefits of the technology. There is always the issue of integration too. It may be impractical or simply too costly to integrate virtual reality technologies with existing methods of learning or combining the two may be just too time consuming and expensive.

What the Future holds for VR&AR

virtual & augmented reality future

The future of elearning is certainly set to advance further and virtual reality and augmented reality are just two of the technologies that will enable this to happen. The future looks promising with the integration of these technologies and it could be used in the following scenarios:

Fire Safety – Virtual reality can simulate real life situations and anyone can be immersed in a given scenario which allows a person to live an experience without putting themselves in danger. Scenarios such as a burning building could be created where smoke impairs the vision. By presenting a person who refuses to leave or someone with mobility problems who cannot leave, fire-fighters can prepare themselves for the situation.

Food Safety – Factories, restaurants and food service businesses can all use virtual reality to bring the food service business into the classroom. Using virtual reality headsets the student will be immersed in a busy environment where they can handle certain types of foods and actively identify issues such as contaminants, allergens and other hazards within this type of environment.

Health and Safety/Construction – Virtual reality could simulate construction sites where engineers and construction specialists could work in real life scenarios, identifying health and safety issues without causing problems on real sites where there are countless dangers.

First Aid – First aid training can simulate situations such as CPR, excessive bleeding or certain health conditions where the first aider can practice their skills.

Virtual & Augmented reality can facilitate the learning process in a number of ways, particularly in industries which involve complex practical work such as engineering, medical care and the emergency services. However, the technology can also assist with other areas of elearning which can teach students through real life scenarios but in a virtual world. As for the future of virtual and augmented reality in elearning, only time will tell. Here at Spearhead we are passionate about increasing the learning experience for our customers

What does the Future look like for Spearhead and VR

As a leading training provider in compliance training, Spearhead eLearning deliver a range of practical and online courses in subjects such as food hygiene and health and safety. Spearhead hope to continue advancing their courses further to offer students a truly immersive experience. In the future they hope to implement augmented reality and virtual reality into some of their online training to enhance the learning experience for students.

Keep an eye on our news section for more VR & AR developments, or alternatively if you have a specific training requirement please call us on 0121 368 0792 to discuss this further.

Further Reading

Huffington Posts | Can Businesses Benefit From Virtual Reality?

The Guardian | The Complete Guide to Virtual Reality

ITV News | Fire Service Release Virtual Reality video to each people about Road Safety

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