Immersive Technology: Past, Present, and Future in Education

Immersive Technology: Past, Present, and Future in Education

Robert Z. Zheng (The University of Utah, USA) and Kevin Greenberg (The University of Utah, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3250-8.ch006


This chapter presents a conceptual discussion on the roles of immersive technology relating to its past, present, and future. The underlying theories and assumptions pertinent to each stage of immersive technology are discussed by emphasizing the influences on pedagogical practices and assessment. An important focus of the chapter is to look at the function of present immersive technology in learning from the perspective of a technology taxonomy. Discussions on future immersive technologies are made by making a connection between immersive technology and other new technologies like artificial intelligence. The chapter concludes with suggestions for future research in immersive technology.
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In 1968 Ivan Sutherland, a computer scientist at the University of Utah, studied the effect of changing perspective image on the user as he/she moved (Pennington, 2019). The project called Sword of Damocles was a significant breakthrough in the research of immersive technology. This effort continued with an innovative project in 1985 by Michael McGreevy, a NASA scientist, who mounted a portable LCD-based TV on astronauts’ helmets with which the astronauts were able to engage in virtual reality training programs. From the mid-80s to the early 90s, virtual reality hit a stride with Nintendo games and Autodesk’s Cyberspace which provided users with an immersive experience in artificial, fantasy worlds with the same themes that captivate us today in the realm of virtual reality world (Barlow, 2015). Immersive technology, incentivized by its huge commercial profits, has been used to develop entertaining products that engage a wide range of people, especially the younger populations.

Recently immersive technologies are starting to find ways into schools and classrooms. Teachers, students, administrators and policy makers have begun to examine the benefits and values of these technologies in education (Billingsley, Smith, Smith, & Meritt, 2019; Schrum & Levin, 2016). Since immersive technology is relatively a new technology and is about to create a shift in momentum in education, researchers and practitioners are interested in understanding its functional role in education. Unfortunately, questions regarding the functionality, use and adoption of immersive technology remain largely unanswered. For example, it is unclear what specific cognitive functions the immersive technology has for learning; what the relationships are between immersive technology and learning, how immersive technology can be evaluated to provide guidance for adoption and integration. This chapter will examine the roles of immersive technology by systematically looking at its past, present and future from a learning perspective, focusing on its cognitive and affective functions, along with the impact on pedagogical practice and assessment. By reading this chapter, the readers will be able to understand:

  • the evolution of immersive technology from the past to the present

  • different types of immersive technology and their influence on cognition and affect in learning

  • the pedagogical practice and implications associated with immersive technology in each era

  • the trend of immersive technology in future education

Key Terms in this Chapter

Computerized Simulation: It refers to the use of a computer to represent the dynamic actions and behaviors of a real world. A computerized simulation is built on mathematical algorithms or models to present complex situations that emulate the real world. A simulation can take the form of a computer-graphics image that represents dynamic processes in an animated sequence.

Deep Learning: Deep learning is associated with learning activities such as interacting with content, understanding and reasoning with materials, along with applying and transferring knowledge to new learning situations.

3D Games: 3D gaming refers to interactive computer entertainment games with characteristics of three-dimensional graphics: height, width, and depth. 3D gaming is believed to create immersive experience in a virtual worlds with realistic representations.

Augmented Reality: AR represents the effort to augment the existing content with computer-generated interactive experiences through sensory inputs like audio, visuals, and haptic manipulations. It provides learning support to existing content by integrating various digital technologies to enhance the educational and learning benefits of the materials.

Behaviorism: Behaviorism was formally established with the 1913 publication of John B. Watson's classic paper. The tenet of behaviorism is built on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Environment is considered an important factor in conditioning. Behaviorists believe that our responses to environmental stimuli shape our actions.

Immersive Technology: Immersive technology is a term describing technology that tries to emulate a physical world through the means of a digital or simulated world. It includes immersive technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D games, simulation, etc. Within an immersive environment, the learner is immersed in the stimulated world, thereby creating a sense of immersion.

Virtual Reality: VR is generally associated with devices that provides immersive, virtual experience of corresponding real-world environments. There are considerable benefits for VR application in educational settings. The early aviation pilot training simulator is an example of a VR technology application in education. Recent applications of VR in education have aimed to develop learners’ critical thinking in science learning, teach complex learning content, and provide motivational support for engaged learning.

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