More people than ever before are looking for ways to learn from the comfort and safety of their own home – and the Oculus Rift S VR headset is a great tool to help with that. From exploring the world with Google Earth VR to getting up close and personal with distant planets in Titans of Space: these are the best educational apps and games available for VR via the Oculus store.
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At a time when the demand for home schooling and distance learning resources is soaring, we’re fortunate enough to live in an era when consumer virtual reality headsets are more powerful and affordable than ever before.
In this video, we’re going to take a look at some of the best and most popular educational apps and games available through the Oculus store.
We tested these with the Oculus Rift S, a PC-powered headset that requires a wired connection to a VR-capable computer, but that doesn’t require the external sensors that were needed for first-generation home VR. With the Rift S, all the sensors you need are built into the headset itself, with the Oculus Insight Tracking system.
To run the Rift S you’ll need a graphics card like the NVIDIA GTX 1060 or better and at least 8 gigs of RAM, so if you’re in the market for an Oculus VR headset or the PC hardware you need to run one, check out the link in the description below this video to head over to Newegg’s VR homepage.
A quick note before we get started: we’re going to be talking about educational apps and games here, but most VR headset manufacturers, including Oculus, don’t recommend allowing young children to use VR. The Oculus health and safety guidelines advise that the Rift S should only be used by people 13 or older, and that parental supervision and frequent breaks are recommended. Children are still developing their vision and balance, after all. With all that in mind, we’re going to focus on educational VR experiences that would be appropriate for teens and college students – or even adults who want a new way to learn.
#1 Google Earth VR
First up: Google Earth VR. The VR version of the Google Earth experience has been available for a few years now, and it’s free to use. It gives you an incredible degree of freedom to explore the planet – or at least the areas of it where Google has been able to drive their cars.
Using simple controls, you can zoom all the way in to cities around the world, famous landmarks, or even visit your own home or workplace. The quality of the views can be surprisingly good, and once you get down low enough to notice any rought edges, you can often dive right into Street View to explore from a different perspective. And because the Oculus Rift S has a lightweight and ergonomic design that makes it more comfortable to wear than many other VR headsets, it’s easy to lose yourself in the thrill of exploration.
Google Earth VR is a great form of virtual tourism, but it also provides a fantastic way to learn about geography and the layout of famous cities. One thing we especially liked was combining Google Earth, which is a mostly silent experience, with informational podcasts or lectures on YouTube or Spotify that discuss the history of cities. Hearing someone describe how New York came to be what it is today can feel a lot more impactful when you’re actually zooming around the city, and can look at the landmarks being described. The built-in audio in the headset works great for this, since the lecture will stay the perfect volume no matter where you move or which way you’re facing – no need to worry about your actual PC speakers.
Like many educational apps, Google Earth VR adds a visual and interactive element that can help make information more memorable for certain types of learners.
#2: Titans of Space PLUS
Now let’s leave Earth behind, and head over to Titans of Space PLUS, an improved and expanded version of the original Titans of Space. This experience takes you on a tour of the solar system, complete with a friendly robot tour guide, who tells you all about each planet and moon that you visit.
Titans of Space PLUS feels a lot like a great planetarium experience, made even better because you can look in any direction, and control the pace at which things move. The full experience offers two hours of educational content, and also offers layers of education in a way that VR does especially well. Not only are you getting facts presented to you in a straightforward fashion, like you would from a professor, but you’re also right there with the planets, and they have a sense of presence and reality – it’s something that pictures in a book just can’t match.
Unlike Google Earth VR, Titans of Space really takes advantage of the improved lenses and the high resolution display in the Oculus Rift S, and you get a great look at the celestial bodies you encounter, often with details modeled from real-life scans and imagery.
Titans of Space PLUS also gives you several different ways to experience what it has to offer, with long and short guided tours and free-roaming capabilities. It’s great whether you’re sitting or standing, and it can make a strong introduction to VR for anyone skeptical that a quote unquote “video game” could make learning fun.
#3: Hold the World
One of the best features of the Oculus Rift S is its intuitive easy-to-use Touch controllers. If you want someone to actually learn in virtual reality, you want the experience to be as seamless and intuitive as possible, so people aren’t thinking about the tech in their hands or on their heads – they’re focusing on the actual experience.
One example of the power of something presented in a natural and intutive way is “Sky VR: Hold the World,” an educational VR experience from Sky TV. In Hold the World you sit down across the desk from Sir David Attenborough in a virtual version of London’s Natural History Museum. The virtual recording of Attenborough teaches you about different items in the museum’s collection, and you’re able to go hands-on with those samples in a way that would never be allowed in real life.
Although we’re not quite to the point where you can actually feel the weight and texture of objects in home VR yet, it’s still fantastic to be able to pick up a trilobite fossil, enlarge it to see the details up close, and rotate it around to examine it from every angle. You can do the same with a dragonfly, a fossilized skull, and other interesting objects, all while enjoying Attenborough’s informative, well-practiced narration.
If you’ve ever pressed your nose up against the glass in a museum, wanting a better look at the fascinating objects in front of you, Hold the World is a great app for you. Just be careful – there are some well-done animations of creatures like the trilobite and dragonfly that might make you a little uncomfortable if you’re not a fan of bugs. Everything is more powerful in VR, after all – including the creep-out factor!
#4: Anatomy Explorer 2020
We’ve covered geography, astronomy, and natural history – now let’s take a look at an app that’s great for those with an interest in biology or medicine. With Anatomy Explorer 2020, you can look inside the human skeleton or muscular system from every conceivable angle, and strip away and reassemble bones and organs in ways that, in real life, would probably get you thrown in prison.
There are several anatomy applications available in the Oculus Store, but Anatomy Explorer 2020 is by far the best one. It allows you to view all of the different systems of the body, from bones and muscles to veins and sensory organs. For every single part you can highlight it to see its name and get some important information about it, or you can hide it to see the parts underneath. And for complicated structures like the skull or heart, you can unfold them so that you can see all the small parts and fine details. You can even go into “ant mode” and fly around and inside the anatomy model, getting up-close looks at normally hidden structures like the inner ear.
Anatomy Explorer is a great educational tool for students studying anatomy, because it has built-in puzzle and quiz features. Once you’ve studied up on a particular system, you can run through tests in Anatomy Explorer to see if you can successfully identify highlighted bones, muscles, or organs. There’s a lot of text in Anatomy Explorer, so it’s great that the improved clarity of the Oculus Rift S display makes text more readable in VR than it used to be.
With modern headsets like the Oculus Rift S, home virtual reality is easier for consumers to achieve than ever before – and it’s not just gamers who can take advantage of this new technology. If you’re finding that Zoom college classes just aren’t grabbing your attention like you would hope, or if you’re a parent homeschooling a teenager and you’re looking for a way to actually make learning fun, consider picking up a VR headset. Like we said earlier, it’s pretty easy to imagine combining Google Earth VR with a series of podcasts to create a really engaging curriculum at home, and there are more educational apps being added to the Oculus Store all the time.
Let us know in the comments below if you have a favorite educational VR app or game that we didn’t mention in this video, and check out the links in the description to head over to Newegg to shop for VR headsets and the hardware you need to run them.