Learning in Virtual Reality Part 1: Getting Started with 360-Degree Video

Learning in Virtual Reality Part 1: Getting Started with 360-Degree Video

This is the first part in a series on how to use virtual reality to improve learner outcomes.

Virtual reality has been a hot topic in the last four years as technology advances have reduced hardware costs, both for producing and consuming content. That’s led to an increase in adoption rate among consumers and content creators.

We’ll limit the scope of the beginning of this series to 360-degree video. That means the learner can view 360-degree videos, but not interact with them like they could in a full virtual reality experience.

Advantages of 360-degree Videos

There are a few significant advantages to educating students using 360-degree videos over traditional videos.

First, 360-degree gets attention immediately. It’s an emerging technology and people are attracted to its novelty, especially if they haven’t tried it before.

Experiencing 360-degree video for the first time usually results in giggling or cursing because it’s unlike anything anybody has experienced. Imagine your grandparents seeing color television for the first time, and you’ll have some idea of what experiencing 360-degree video is like for the uninitiated.

360-degree videos are also completely immersive. The student is wearing or holding up a headset that encompasses their entire field of vision. That means they can’t see what is happening in their immediate environment and are less likely to be distracted.

It’s natural to become totally engrossed in what’s happening inside the headset. That gives you an advantage as an educator because the learner wants to focus solely on the experience. As long as you have engaging, relevant content, you have fewer outside competitors to take attention away from you.

Finally, a 360-degree video can be more emotional than traditional videos. Because people are completely engaged and feel like they are somewhere else, they experience deeper emotions more easily.

Immersive Storytelling


Charity Water used a 360-degree video to tell the story of a 13-year old girl in Ethiopia who walks miles every day to get water. Rather than hearing a story about it or seeing video, donors felt what it was actually like to live a day in the life of that girl. At the end of the experience, people took off the headset and were in tears because they we so moved.

Charity Water

Donors in Virtual Reality at a Fundraiser

Charity Water is one example of how emotional 360-degree videos can be, but you don’t have to bring your learners to tears to help them become engaged. They will be totally present to listen to your message, so you can use the same tactics as you normally would to engage them – humor, stories, and simulations. The difference is that because they feel like they’re right there, they’ll become more emotionally engaged. And a student who is more emotionally engaged is more likely to retain what they’re learning.



There are limitations to using 360-degree videos in education. Limited adoption, technology limitations, and production value are all challenges in using VR in education.

Before creating any content, you should be aware that not all of your audience may have the hardware to watch your videos. Although 360-degree viewers like the Google Cardboard are cheap – only about $15 – not everyone will be able or willing to get one.

Students can still watch the videos on a normal device, but they won’t be as immersed in the experience. See the 360-degree video from National Geographic below for an example of what it’s like.


There are also technological limitations to be aware of. The resolution of entry-level 360-degree cameras aren’t as high as normal cameras, so some videos may appear grainy or blurry. And the processing power required to watch the videos is much higher than standard video, so some mobile devices have a risk of overheating with extended use.

Those technical limitations mean you’ll have a harder time making professional-seeming videos, especially if learners are expecting the highest-quality content. The nature of capturing everything around you rather than only what’s in front of the lens raises difficulties, too. You must be aware of everything in the environment when producing videos because any distraction might take away the learner’s attention.

What’s Next

We’ll continue exploring how virtual reality enables learning with a look at true virtual reality experiences – those that the learner has input into what happens in the virtual environment.

We’ll also look at what this means for traditional systems like in-person lectures and classrooms. How will this new tech impact old industries and what will they need to do to keep up? What new industries are certain to emerge?

We’ll tackle these questions and more in the next series on virtual reality in education.

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