In the past few years, spatial computing and immersive technology have caught the attention of learning specialists because of the way they engage viewers, tell compelling stories, and educate audiences in completely new ways. XR technology is already in use everywhere from massive enterprise training programs to classrooms throughout South Africa, all to increase learning outcomes in students of all kinds.

In the US, higher education institutions are primed to take advantage of this explosive technology. In fact, schools like New York University, Drexel University, and the University of Arizona have already begun to integrate custom XR technology into their classrooms, and they are not alone. XR can be a relevant teaching tool in every subject, from filmmaking to cellular biology, because of its unique and versatile superpowers for learning.

Student with Oculus Go

Before we dive into why XR makes so much sense in higher education, let’s start with the basics.

What is XR?

Extended Reality (XR) is an umbrella term for a spectrum of immersive media and spatial computing. XR encompasses:

  • 180° and 360° video places viewers at the point of the camera and allows them to swivel their head freely in a hemisphere or sphere and often engage with other interactive elements
  • Virtual reality (VR) refers to completely computer-generated immersive environments, designed to transport the viewer into an entirely new, virtual reality
  • Augmented reality (AR) enhances the physical world with superimposed computer-generated images, video, sound, graphics, and/or text
  • Mixed reality (MR) is a hybrid CGI/physical reality wherein digital and physical elements coexist and interact in real-time

Still curious? Read our detailed breakdown of the XR spectrum for more information.

XR components

Why XR for the classroom?

XR is an emerging technology and its benefits continue to be uncovered with every passing day. So far, here are some of the leading reasons educators are turning to XR:

Immersive learning

  • Immersive environments, especially in headsets, eliminate distractions: students can’t check their phones, scroll through Instagram, or zone out
  • XR is a multi-sensory experience: it engages sight, hearing, motor functions, and spatial awareness to engage viewers beyond other traditional learning methods
  • In a National Training Laboratory report, XR learning registered a 75% retention rate, compared to the same lesson delivered in a lecture (5% retention) or through written materials (10% retention)


  • XR is active and visual, making it more effective and approachable for a wider variety of learning types
  • Students with disabilities will have access to more learning opportunities than before thanks to VR; a movement-impaired student, for example, can swim with sharks or traverse rocky ancient ruins
  • Cloud-powered XR sharing platforms like Pixvana’s SPIN Studio allow distance learners to access immersive lessons anywhere, anytime from their own headset, tablet, cell phone, or computer

Learn by doing

  • “We remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, and 90% of what we do” – Edgar Dale, learning expert
  • Practicing skills and gaining exposure through VR increases confidence, builds muscle memory, and solidifies episodic memories through genuine experiences
  • Check out our recent webinar with brain science expert Britt Andreatta to learn more about how the brain encodes experiences in VR as real-life memories

Sense of place

  • Classroom walls shouldn’t define the limits of learning: through immersive visualizations and virtual field trips, you’re able to take your students to the edges of the universe and beyond
  • One of XR’s unique superpowers is presence: users are placed in the center of immersive environments, have genuine experiences, and form lasting memories

Emotional connection

  • XR has been dubbed “The Empathy Machine” because of its revolutionary ability to share perspectives and tap into the viewer’s emotional processes
  • Research suggests that students try harder and retain more when they have an emotional connection or a personal interest in the material they’re learning

Students are the prime audience for XR

  • One of the few concerns we regularly hear is that people, specifically older populations, are wary of XR; young students, on the other hand, are tech-savvy and eager to get their hands on this exciting, emerging technology
  • XR will only continue to grow, and young students (AKA future artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs) will benefit from early access and exposure to the tech of the future

Which subjects can use (and are currently using) XR?

The short answer is all of them! Like other learning tools, XR media can be used in near-infinite ways, depending on your lesson, goals, student population, etc. For inspiration, here are some ways XR is already being used in classrooms around the world:

  • New York University’s Langone School of Medicine are using VR to train the next generation of physicians and perform clinical trials for a new treatment.
  • Professors and students at Chapman University’s graduate film school are making immersive films with 360° cameras and using SPIN Play to share their projects in the classroom
  • Finally, the University of Arizona’s digital humanities department is using SPIN Studio to bring XR to the classroom as the object of study itself: they’re giving their students early access to the future of immersive technology and storytelling

Around the world, disciplines of all kinds are finding uses for XR. Medical students are learning how to perform risky surgeries and handle difficult patient interactions, architecture students are bringing their imaginative designs to life, and students at technical colleges are gaining valuable exposure and practice to their future careers from their very first day in the classroom. 

How can I use XR in the classroom?

Collective experiences
Using SPIN Guide, you can take control and guide a classroom full of students on a guided, simultaneous field trip or let them roam independently through engaging interactive videos.

Check out this short video to learn more about SPIN Guide:

Collaborative learning
Headsets take individual viewers to another reality, but we’ve found that XR is a great gathering point to start discussions and, and with SPIN Guide, create shared experiences. By giving students an engaging and immersive experience in XR, they jump at opportunities to discuss and compare what they saw and how they felt. Also, there are already a number of collaborative learning activities in XR: for example, a student in a VR headset could describe a complex object to a student who must draw or construct the object out of LEGOs to develop communication and spatial skills.

Student playing in VR

Build skills and gain exposure
Regardless of discipline, opportunities to build skills and gain exposure are extremely valuable (and often hard to come by). Recently, a technical college used VR to let prospective students spend a few minutes in the middle of a construction site to get a taste of the atmosphere and see whether it appealed to them. Around the world, medical schools are turning to XR for immersive simulations, and aviation schools are putting pilots-in-training through VR flight simulation programs. Not only do these simulations give students an affordable, risk-free opportunity to practice, but they are also encoded as lasting, legitimate memories thanks to XR’s sense of presence.

Create XR content in the classroom
For art and film students, XR represents a huge creative opportunity. Students can create their own engaging VR films or use apps like Tilt Brush to explore the potential of immersive digital art. If you’re interested in having your students produce their own XR content (or want to create your own experiences!) check out SPIN Studio, our platform to create, edit, and share immersive content. 

Teacher tools
SPIN Studio also includes a number of creator tools, like the ability to add hyperports, text, quizzes, and more. Teachers also have access to different sharing options, such as Guide, Kiosk, and Offline modes, and extensive engagement analytics to measure where your students are looking, how long their taking in each section of an experience, their quiz results, and more.

Spin Play Creator Tools

Is it expensive?

The falling cost of hardware has swung the door open for XR: currently, the Oculus Go is available for $199. Additionally, thanks to cross-device support from platforms like SPIN Studio, you can extend your investment in XR experiences beyond headsets by accessing your XR content on cell phones, tablets, and web browsers on your classroom computer(s).

Pixvana also offers an education discount: educators and educational institutions can 60% off our Pro plan, only $1,200/year!

How else can my school use XR?

Beyond learning, XR is a game-changing tool for college orientation and recruitment. Many universities have started giving 360° tours to new students and using XR content to give prospective students an immersive look at campus and academic life before they choose where they want to go.

Also, immersive learning technology opens the door to more possibilities for distance learning. Between immersive recorded lectures and engaging XR content, remote students have a better chance than ever to feel connected to their education and benefit from their distance learning hours.

Never used XR before? No worries! Get started with SPIN Studio Lite (for free!) to see how XR can level up your students’ learning.


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