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Investing in VR, A Cost Analysis

Updated: 6 days ago

Transport your students back in time, where they'll tread the polished floors of Versailles alongside figures of history witnessing the signing of the treaty that led to the next world war. Walk alongside one of history’s architectural marvels, the ancient Roman Coliseum, listening to the rumble of thousands of people coming to watch the gladiators.  

These captivating worlds are within reach thanks to Immersive Virtual Reality (VR) technology. But hold on, before we strap on our headsets, let's address the elephant in the room: the initial cost. VR might be the educational Holy Grail, but is it too expensive for K-12 schools? 

Buckle up, because we're embarking on a cost analysis adventure, untangling short-term expenses and long-term investments of Virtual Reality. This article delves into the financial side of VR training, comparing it to the familiar territory of traditional teaching methods.  

We'll leave learning retention stats and student engagement stories for another quest – for now, let's focus on the bottom line. 

The Research:  

A recent study published in the National Library of Medicine compares the cost of VR training to live exercises for NICU emergency evacuations. The live exercise was implemented using Department of Homeland Security guidelines for operations-based exercises. This includes hands-on drills and exercises in which participants react in real-time to a scenario. These tests are intended to validate a facility’s disaster procedures, identify any shortcomings in procedures or missing equipment and train necessary staff members. Live training was provided for 57 employees, roughly 17% of the total NICU staff.

The VR training involved purchasing hardware, developing a series of four evacuation exercises and training necessary staff. The virtual drills included a wider variety of emergency scenarios, and they were completed using Oculus Rift. Virtual drills could also be completed via a desktop. VR training was provided for 34 employees. 

The authors of the study noted there were two main costs associated with conducting this analysis. The development of the VR training and the staff and space costs associated with the live study. The live exercise required three NICU beds for two full days. If those beds had been utilized for patient care, the revenue on average would have been $8,901 a day. These costs are not included in the overall analysis.  

At its completion, the study found that Virtual Reality was initially more expensive due to the costs of software development (VR training costs per person were around $328.59 versus live training cost of $229.79 per person.) However, the cost of VR training becomes less expensive over time if repeated training was needed or desired. Costs of the live exercise remain stable over three years while the VR training costs decrease to $115.70 per person in the third year (see annual costs here in Table 3.) 

Authors note that the training need or desire does not need be as expensive as the one outlined in the above analysis to make VR a cost saving tool, especially when training is repeated over time. While live training costs remain fixed, or even increase over time, the VR costs drop significantly after purchasing hardware and software. Researchers encourage future VR-adopters to consider the 3-, 5- and even 10-year costs associated with purchasing VR versus creating a live experience such as a field trip or science experiment. 


What This Means for Educators: 

The key to maximizing VR's value is brainstorming with your teachers. This powerful technology can transport students through time and space, allowing them to learn from mistakes in a safe environment. By identifying a wide range of use cases, you can unlock the full potential of VR and justify the initial investment.  


Beyond Cost: The Benefits of VR in Education 

In addition to cost savings, VR offers several other benefits that teachers should take into consideration when justifying the adoption of this technology. 

  • Increased Student Engagement: VR can create immersive and interactive learning experiences that can help students stay engaged and motivated. A study by PwC shows that VR learners were 150% less distracted and 40% more confident in applying what they were taught when compared to their counterparts in traditional classrooms.  

  • Increased Long-Term Retention: A study published by the Miami Children’s Health System shows students who learned using Virtual Realty were able to retain nearly 80% of what they learned when tested after one year, whereas students who trained using traditional methods retained only 20% a week after being tested. 

  • Safe Learning Environment: The National Library of Medicine states that the greatest strength of Virtual Reality is that it opens opportunities for people to practice tasks that are hard to practice due to limited resources or inherent risks and dangers while also being realistic enough for the knowledge to be transferable to the real world. VR can be used to simulate dangerous or complex situations in a safe and controlled environment. Students can also experience the effects adverse actions can have safely without causing unethical destruction. 

  • Improved Academic Outcome: Virtual Reality primes student interest, encourages collaboration, and boosts student engagement leading to improved academic outcomes. A case study considering a university level Astrophysics course shows VR-learners had an average of 27.4% increase in test scores and 32.4% increase in retention when compared to their counterparts taught using traditional methods.  

Making VR a Reality 

If you're interested in adopting Virtual Reality at your school, there are a few things to consider: 

1. Device Type:  


There are two main VR device types to consider: tethered or standalone VR headsets. Tethered devices offer higher processing power for more complex and detailed VR experiences. They require a connection to a high-powered computer, adding to the initial cost. Standalone VR headsets are more portable and often less expensive than tethered options. They may have lower processing power but are often suitable for K-12 users.  


When searching for standalone devices, you will also want to consider Degrees of Freedom (DOF). 3DOF devices track head rotation only and do not include hand-held devices, limiting movement within the VR space. This may be sufficient for some VR applications, but it creates a less immersive experience and does not allow students to manipulate objects within their virtual environment. 6DOF devices track head rotation and positional movement (up/down, forward/back, left/right), allowing for a more natural and immersive experience. They come with two hand-held controllers allowing users to move around, hold and manipulate objects within their virtual environment. 6DOF headsets are generally recommended for educational applications. 


2. Your Needs:  


What are the specific learning objectives that you hope to achieve with VR? 


When it comes to VR applications, they are a lot on the market. Some things to consider before purchasing are whether you want single- or multi-user experiences, pre-made VR experiences, and software configurability. 


While single-user VR experiences are powerful, we encourage educators to foster collaboration as we believe learning is a social process. Pre-made VR experiences can span subject matter and grade levels and can be single- or multi-user. These experiences are great for beginners who are learning how to manage a class in the virtual world, large class sizes that often utilize rotational groups, and days with substitute teachers.   


Software configurability refers to the software’s flexibility. For example, the ENGAGE spatial computing platform provides educators with locations and manipulatives and allows them to use these resources to create their own interactive lessons in VR. This allows teachers to have full control over curriculum while still utilizing a cutting-edge immersive learning tool.  


In Summary 

VR is a powerful tool that can transform education. While the initial cost of VR technology may be a barrier for some schools, the research suggests that VR can be a cost-effective solution for repeated experiences.  

In addition to cost savings, VR offers several other benefits for education, such as increased engagement, improved learning outcomes, and a safe learning environment. By carefully considering your needs and researching VR technologies, you can make VR a reality in your classroom. 

Virtual Reality has the potential to be a game-changer for education, and with careful planning, it can be a cost-effective investment for your school or district. 


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