Virtual Reality Simulators: Developing Technical Skills


Developing Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programs that can adapt promptly to the changes of demand by industrial sectors has proven to be a challenging task. Indeed, rapid technological progress requires TVET institutions to make constant investments to adapt curricula, teaching materials, and equipment in response to technological changes and the needs of the productive sector. Using Virtual Reality (VR) technology can make this adaptation process faster and less expensive. VR technology allows the provision of quasi-dual programs (e.g., combining theory and practice) more accessible and cost-effective, without having to make expensive capital investments on equipment and laboratories. Moreover, recent studies have shown that VR simulators can satisfactorily support students to develop their technical skills (Faizal et al., 2011; Mellet, 2013).   

Virtual Reality (VR), sometimes called immersive multimedia, virtual environment (VE) or computer-simulated life has become known as a tool that can potentially change the world. The use of particular software and hardware, Virtual Reality (VT), can help replicate, create an environment, or a sensory experience for the users sometimes including sight, touch, hearing, smell, or even taste. As of 2016, the global virtual reality market size was valued at USD 960.9 million ("Virtual Reality Market Size Growth & Analysis | VR Industry Report 2025", 2017). In 2016, the VR market alone in the United States generated some 220 million U.S. dollars with revenues projected to increase to more than 40 billion U.S. dollars by 2020 (Statista, 2017). According to Statista (2018), the mobile-based virtual reality head-mounted displays are forecast to account for about 75 percent of global VR display sales by 2020, as the number of mobile virtual reality users worldwide is forecast to grow to more than 130 million.

VR is a recent innovation being introduced as a TVET teaching methodology, which can provide similar to the real-life environment and access to top-of-the art technology and equipment, without the need of making large capital investments. VR technology is essentially a simulation which uses computer graphics to build or form actual situations. The first success of VR for training occurred in the context of the NASA's Hubble space telescope mission (Loftin and Kenney, 1995). Effective training was required for a 100-person team without the possibility of using the real telescope, which was an area of the full-scale mock-up reserved for the core-team of astronauts. Moreover, VR technology showed its potential as a training tool when the U.S. Military attempted to develop simulators to teach students how to drive unconventional vehicles; such as planes, tanks, helicopters. According to Kappler (2008), such virtual simulators helped reduce carbon emissions, decreased the number of vehicle accidents, and helped the U.S. military to produce more than 90 percent, skilled pilots, faster, safer, and cheaper compared to real-life practical training. Because of these success stories, many VR applications for training have been subsequently developed in several industries.

But, can VR technology be used by traditional training institutions to build their student’s technical skills? While VR simulators have been used by several industries to provide practical training, few programs have been carefully evaluated. Some studies (Thurman and Mattoon, 1994) indicate that VR simulators can effectively build skills for surgeons and welders. For instance, computer-based welding simulators have proven to be useful to build motor skills of new students before committing real welding process, such as detecting the movement of head and hand during welding and helping students to identify the optimum point of view during welding process (Choquet, 2008). However, an experiment conducted by an advanced skills training institute in Malaysia (Faizal et al., 2011) found that welding simulators cannot provide some accuracy training in term of molding’s width and height aspect compared to traditional life-training. This limitation would make it hard for trainees to identify the thickness and width of molding. The results of the experiment concluded that while simulators can develop some basic welding skills, the welding simulator developed for this course could not fully replace traditional life-training.

Although more experimental research is needed, the consensus in the literature is that VR simulators, if well designed, can positively support learning, but cannot fully substitute life-practical training and on-the-job learning. Nonetheless, VR simulators have shown to be a flexible, scalable, and cost-effective technology to support learning in the context of TVET training programs. As it is the case with any technological inputs used for educational purposes, the training imparted through VR simulators needs to assure the pertinence of the curriculum developed and to be accompanied by adequate teacher training. For developing countries aiming to expand access to technical training, well designed VR simulators could constitute a mechanism to provide students with practical experience and to develop some basic technical skills without the need of making large investments in equipment and laboratories. Finally, TVET systems aiming to test VR technology should first consider rolling out a pilot accompanied by a scientific evaluation of the intervention (through randomized experiments if possible) on skills development and  learning [1].

[1] This article was extracted from: Can Virtual Reality Simulators Help Develop Student’s Technical Skills?  Written by: Dr. Diego F. Angel-Urdinola; Senior Economist - Education Global Practice, The World Bank Group




Choquet, C. (2008). ARC+R: Today’s Virtual Reality Solution for Welders. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: 123Certification. Retrieved from


Faizal, A.; J. Abd-Baser; S. Hadi; N. Razali, and B. Rahim. 2011. Virtual Reality Simulator Developed Welding Technology Skills. Journal of Modern Education Review. Vol. 1(1): 57-62.


Mellet, D. 2013. Virtual Reality for Training and Lifelong. Learning. Themes in Science and Technology Education. Special Issue, P:185-224. European Center for Virtual Reality, France. 


Kappler W. D. 2008. Smart Driver Training Simulation: Save Money, Prevent. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.


Thurman R. A. and Mattoon J. S. 1994.  Virtual reality: Toward fundamental improvements in simulation-based training. Educational Technology, Vol. 34(5): 56-64.


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