Virtual Reality and Education have a long and checkered history.
On-line worlds give students opportunities to experience things that would be too expensive, too dangerous, or too time consuming in the “real” world. It allows us to distill an experience into it’s essence while allowing learners to be active agents rather than passive recipients.
That said I would argue that the word “virtual” has little or no meaning for today’s students. It is an artifact from a time when the internet was not a pervasive presence. In todays on-line social spaces teens are making friends, sharing experiences, flirting, competing, earning status, and defining their identities. There is very little that is “virtual” about any of this for them – it is just one more aspect of reality.
As anyone who has spent more than an hour or two developing an on-line avatar can attest you begin to invest your identity in that character – it starts to have a “real” world impact on your self-perception. As a testament to this one on-line world for teens knows that if they can get students to visit at least 10 times they will be on the site for 2-3 hours a week for at least 18 months. Once the on-line identity has progressed past a certain point it begins to address real needs for recognition, status, play, and identity.
For publishers this means thinking of ways to tap these virtual worlds to support the core goal of teaching in the classroom. How much could you improve outcomes if you could find a way to have students voluntarily engaging for an additional 2-3 hours a week for a year and a half? Those improved outcomes are very real, not virtual.
Seeing virtual and real world experiences as separate is an outdated paradigm that may be limiting what you can do with your products to improve learning.