11 Innovative Uses of XR in Instructional Design

Written by Madisyn Villamil

In professional development and higher education, learning design professionals have adopted innovative uses of XR in instructional design to improve learning outcomes. These remarkable uses of extended reality (XR) help reduce scrap learning, increase engagement and efficiency, and more. 

From immersive soft skills simulations to VR trips across the globe, XR technology is redefining the boundaries of interactivity, learning metrics, and creativity in learning design. Keep reading as we uncover the benefits of immersive learning and 11 innovative uses of XR in instructional design.

Why Instructional Designers Are Leveraging XR

XR encompasses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), and 360-degree video, each offering unique opportunities to create immersive learning experiences. Instructional designers have discovered innovative ways to use XR to increase learner engagement, knowledge retention, efficiency, and more. 

One of the most significant advantages of using XR is the ability to design life-like, active experiences. Instead of passively receiving information, such as listening to a presentation or reading a manual, learners can actively engage with the material, leading to a more memorable and engaging experience. 

A recent study analyzed the effects of VR training versus e-learning for newborn intensive care unit (NICU) workers. One group of NICU workers underwent emergency evacuation training using a VR simulation, while the other group received web-based training. The VR-trained group performance at 12 months was statistically and clinically better than the e-learning group.

Humans learn best by doing, and XR helps instructional designers create experiential and interactive learning experiences that reinforce understanding of the material. Employees and students desire these hands-on learning opportunities. Mwannesi Wade, Senior Instructional Designer at Intuit, says, “People are very motivated…They want to learn this tool; they want to learn how to leverage this technology. And so I think if you incorporate it effectively, it’s something they’ll be happy to participate in.” 

11 Innovative Uses of XR in Instructional Design

1. Coaching

XR provides an ideal environment for coaching, allowing for open communication and a psychologically safe space to make mistakes. For example, a manager can practice delivering negative feedback to one of his team members via a role play with a coach until they feel comfortable having these emotionally-charged conversations in real life. VR’s record and playback features allows the manager to watch their performance with a coach and receive feedback to improve.

Edstutia’s VR-enhanced learning module, Mindful Leadership, incorporates coach-led role playing in a low-risk environment—allowing learners to safely practice delivering negative feedback and receive real-time guidance.

2. Studying Physical and Emotional Responses

VR metrics allow instructors to analyze their learners’ physical and emotional responses during a simulation. Tone of voice, non-verbal language, and decision-making can all be analyzed with VR technology. These data-driven insights help instructors provide individualized feedback that helps learners pinpoint where to improve. 

Let’s say you put all managers in your company through a building evacuation scenario with a time limit using VR. Managers who use a panicked tone of voice and body language will need extra training on how to remain calm under pressure. Managers who make the wrong choices in the branching scenarios endanger employees’ lives and also need additional training on making sound decisions in high-stress situations. 

Collecting physical and emotional response data with traditional learning is challenging, and instructors often lack the resources and time. VR collects this data for instructors in real-time and helps them determine if learners are falling behind.

3. 3D Modeling and Prototyping

XR enables learners to create and manipulate 3D models in a virtual environment. In situations where spatial relationships and design principles are essential, learners can build 3D structures in VR and analyze and manipulate them up close. Learners can also create prototypes and test them to see where they can make improvements. 

3D modeling and prototyping using XR is especially useful in engineering, architecture, molecular biology, and vector geometry. Architecture Professor Amber Bartosh of Syracuse University uses XR in her courses, allowing students to create and present virtual spaces. She says, “XR allows students to virtually visit global architectural landmarks and remote sites without leaving campus and to virtually user test their building designs at full-scale without the cost of fabrication.”

4. Virtual Field Trips

Instructional designers can use VR or 360-degree videos to take learners on virtual trips that transport them across the world and back in time to experience history, art, language, culture, and more. Rather than studying ancient ruins through a textbook, imagine being transported there in VR. You can then go through an interactive adventure that guides you through the site. 

Virtual field trips are engaging and exciting for learners and make rich learning experiences more accessible. Without VR, it may be impossible for students to take an international trip. This powerful, immersive learning tool brings the words and images on textbooks and computers to life, creating an unforgettable experience.

5. Digital twins

Digital twins are replicas of physical spaces in a virtual environment. Instructional designers can leverage digital twins of buildings or campuses to enhance learning experiences and personalize them to their university or organization. Learners can walk through these spaces and interact with various elements.

For example, let’s say you’re designing an onboarding experience for a new team of remote customer service representatives located around the world. You can create a digital twin of your headquarters in VR, where new employees can walk through the halls, meet their new team members, and start building positive workplace relationships with a sense of presence.

In PwC’s 2022 US Metaverse Survey, the metaverse use case that business leaders said they were most likely to explore was “onboarding and training” at 42%. Accenture has created digital twins of several physical offices, from Bangalore in India to Madrid in Spain. The digital twins provide familiar environments for its people to meet, collaborate, and network. The company claims digital twins enrich the onboarding experience and create positive first impressions with new hires. 

6. Simulations of Experiences Through Others’ Perspectives 

XR allows instructional designers to put learners in others’ shoes as part of the learning experience. Therefore, XR is especially useful in soft skills training and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) training. 

Let’s say you’re training employees to be mindful and inclusive of coworkers with learning disabilities or sensory impairments. Instead of a video or presentation, imagine putting them in someone else’s shoes with VR. You can have them experience a day in the life of someone who experiences learning or sensory challenges in the workplace. 

They can also go through a VR simulation that shows them what it’s like to receive microaggressions at work as part of a stigmatized or culturally marginalized group. This immersive and emotionally moving experience can evoke empathy in learners, leading to better awareness and real behavioral change in the workplace.

7. Simulations of Complex Processes

VR offers a safe yet realistic environment to train employees on complex processes or procedures. The engineering, manufacturing, and medical industries are reaping significant benefits from training employees with VR. In these industries, on-the-job mistakes can be costly and dangerous, while mistakes in VR have no real-world consequences. However, VR allows learners to repeat complex processes, analyze and learn from mistakes, and experiment with different outcomes.

Lincoln Property Company has used VR training for years to teach their employees how to install and repair HVAC systems. Visuals and text guide the workers step-by-step through assembly and maintenance tasks. As a result, the company has found VR training to be more cost-effective and engaging than traditional training. 

8. 360-Degree Video Lessons

Instructional designers can use 360-degree video to turn an unengaging 2D video into a 3D, active learning experience. These videos capture a panoramic view of a real or simulated environment. They can be viewed on a device or using a VR headset. In contrast to traditional video, learners must move their device or their head to explore their surroundings while watching a 360-degree video.

360-degree videos help learners better visualize an environment and become immersed in it. If you’re designing a training experience for manufacturing employees to operate an assembly line, you can use a 360-degree video. The video could capture the entire assembly line, allowing employees to virtually step onto the factory floor. They can look around and observe the machinery and safety protocols from multiple angles. 

9. XR Projects

Employees or students can create projects using XR technology. AR presentations, for example, integrate immersive technology into the learning experience while encouraging learners to become more familiar with the new technology. For instance, engineering students can design and present 3D models in VR, or a sales professional can give an interactive presentation to a group of coworkers in VR, allowing them to demonstrate the skills they’ve learned. 

Edstutia’s Instructor Certification in XR (ICXR) program is a 10-week course that gives teaching and training professionals the skills and knowledge they need to integrate XR into their programs. Participants design a custom VR-enhanced learning module for their final project, leveraging their new skills and demonstrating their understanding. 

10. Group Learning in VR

If your learners would benefit from group learning and collaboration, VR is an excellent option. VR brings remote and geographically dispersed employees together. Higher education and corporate training are becoming increasingly remote, making providing effective group learning experiences difficult. 

In VR, learners can embody avatars and engage in group activities that mimic real-life scenarios, like simulations, role plays, and games. Group learning in VR helps foster collaboration, understanding, and community.

11. VR Assessments

Assessments can be intimidating, and some learners may need help focusing. Designing a final evaluation in VR can create a more relaxed and effective environment to put learners’ knowledge and skills to the test. For example, you can design a simulation where employees go through several interactive elements. Thse elements help employees apply their new skills, such as solving problems, making decisions on branching scenarios, and performing tasks. 

In addition, VR assessments provide instructors with valuable data on learner behavior and performance. VR analytics give insight into learner progress and repetition, eye and body movement, voice analysis, and more.  

11 Innovative Uses of XR in Instructional Design: Wrap-Up

Learning design professionals are redefining the boundaries of traditional learning and skills development by adopting innovative uses of XR in instructional design. Edstutia’s Instructor Certification in XR course helps L&D professionals, instructional designers, and trainers gain the skills and confidence to integrate XR technology into their teaching and training programs.

Learn more about ICXR and sign up for our next cohort to start leveraging the benefits of immersive learning.