History Inspectors VR

A virtual reality learning experience (VRLE) design project for my masters degree. History Inspectors is a primary education focused concept for teaching history through an immersive environment and was designed with careful consideration of instructional and UX design principles.

Type: MSc Individual final project |  Oct 22 - Feb 23
Input: User Research | Ideas | UX Design | Interface Design | Analysis | Insights

This project examined the application of Virtual Reality (VR) in primary-level education and how VR can create comparable learning experiences to conventional teaching methods. With the increasing adoption of technology in schools and students being motivated by experiential learning, opportunities are growing for utilising VR’s immersive and interactive capability for educational purposes. As VR becomes more widely available and the technology continues to advance these opportunities will only further increase.

Interviews with a head teacher and a survey of local primary level educators established opportunities for an immersive VR experience and identified history as the subject with greatest potential benefit of the technology.


After establishing the need research was undertaken into education and VR. Several educational approaches were reviewed, including behavourism and constructivism and theory such as the Multiple Intelligence Theory (Gardner, 1983) in order to understanding more about effecting learning. 

The benefits of learning history include creating new thought processes, embedding constructivism principles including exploration and creating connections (Cooper, 2017), and the most effective methods are storytelling, visual media and simulation (Knight et al, 1991). 

Opportunities and strategies for employing VR in education were also reviewed, with several studies already based on constructivism. Checo & Bustillo (2020) identified for education and VR there is high growth potential in explorative experiences, primary education and evaluation through multiple sources.

Model of background research & reviewed literature


Comparative designs and prototypes were then created for a paper-based lessons (SL) and a VR learning experience (VRLE).

A constructivist approach was chosen for the research design. EEL DR C (DePorter et al, 1999) provided a structure to the lesson, enabled exploration and advocated stimulation of multiple intelligences. The topic for the lessons was the Battle of Hastings (a minor topic on KS2 in the UK) which is not well understood in terms of general providing opportunity learning even in adults. The lessons focused on establishing knowledge about this specific topic.

EEL DR C lesson steps for History Inspectors 

(SL = self-learning, VRLE = Virtual Reality Learning Experience)

The design of the VR application addressed key questions regarding VR use for educational purposes by aiming to i) advance explanation, ii) deepen understanding, and iii) take wider social context into account (Liu et al, 2017). Firstly, the VRLE offers opportunities for an immersive exploration of the Bayeux tapestry not feasible in traditional worksheets. Secondly, interacting with life-size historical objects can improve understanding of physical features, scale, and use. Thirdly, the environment provides opportunities to highlight specific cultural and social issues that occurred during the period. Users can experience “direct embodiment” (Ioannou & Ioannou, 2020) through the VRLE, being placed into the immersive museum and interacting with the exhibit. The 3D objects and environment provide a level of authenticity which is hard to replicate in a classroom (Hu-Au & Lee, 2017).


As VR can be an isolating experience (Papagiannis, 2017), effective sound design enables feelings of presence and realism (Rudi, 2021). Audio provides a sensory input to support visual communication by enhancing narrative and storytelling, orienting the user, highlighting hotspots/activities and guiding interactions whilst being relatively easy to implement (Hillmann, 2021). Narration was added to the Bayeux Tapestry overview and the weapon display task initiation. Audio descriptions for held objects could also be called by users via a convenient button press on the Quest 2 motion controller.

Weapon display with floating text plus held item UI shown on virtual hands

Several user-centred design considerations underpinned the VR application with heuristic elements such as a clean aesthetic, familiar control methods and confirmation of actions (Nielsen, 1994). Audible and visual descriptions were integrated including a non-intrusive user interface (UI) on the back of the hand (see image) to provide recognition and reduce recall (Nielsen, 1994). Following the Law of Proximity (Yablonski, 2020), the Anglo-Saxon weapons to be used during the task and their respective parts’ labels were grouped near signposted plinths to reduce physical movement and cognitive load.

VR tutorial to facilitate basic movement and interacion

Can virtual reality experience design enable learning and knowledge retention comparable to conventional methods for teaching primary education history?


(…but multiple factors require consideration)

Results & Analysis

A between-subject approach for the user research experiment was undertaken to compare the performance of the paper-based lesson against the VRLE (via an Meta Quest 2 VR headset) to understand learning effects through both quantitative and qualitative methods. 16 participants including 6 active teachers were split into two groups - Self-Learning (SL) & VRLE. The participants were given the respective prototype lessons then complete subject knowledge tests and semi-structured interviews.


Independent T-Test showed the SL participants’ Test 1 performance (6.50 ± 1.414 out of 10) was not significantly different from VRLE participants’ performance (4.63 ± 2.387 out of 10), t = 1.912, p = 0.077.


The non-parametric supported Mann-Whitney U-test determined that performance in Test 2 for SL participants (M = 5.88 out of 10) was not significantly different than the VRLE participants (M = 4.13 out of 10), (U= 17.5, p = 0.108).

Using a parametric approach, an independent T-Test was then undertaken to compare test variance data. The T-Test results indicated there was no significant difference in knowledge retained between SL (-0.62 ± 2.200) and VRLE (-0.50 ± 1.414), t(14)= -0.135, p = 0.894.


The Mann-Whitney U test determined that the SL was significantly better than the VRLE at correctly slotting during the weapon display task (U = 4.00, p = 0.02).


Independent T-Test found in terms of the weapon display task completion time there was no significant difference between conditions, t(13)= -0.712, p=0.489.


Independent T-Test suggested there was no significant difference between participant’s NASA TLX weighted scores for the SL (46.64 ± 13.595) and VRLE (37.08 ± 10.109), t(14) = 1.593, p = 0.133. 

Minimal differences were also seen in the NASA TLX subscales (see chart).



Preference to the VRLE correlated with the UEQ results, as scales relating to hedonic quality performed extremely well (top 10%). Gratification built into the VRLE through SFX and interaction was observed by the moderator and the effects of novelty were commented upon during interviews.


Quantitative measures suggested comparable performance in all but one variable with qualitative feedback revealing affecting factors. 

Unanimous preference was shown toward the History Inspectors VRLE due in part to the immersive environment providing high levels of stimulation, novelty, and gratification. Distraction, symptoms associated with VRISE, and design limitations were identified as factors restricting learning in VR however knowledge retention and workload remained comparable to the self-learning lesson.

The impact of this research reiterates prior studies’ assertions that VR can enable effective learning but incorporates additional immersive and interactive elements not previously employed for primary education. Having established that user-centred VRLEs are as effective for learning as conventional methods this study provides a base for further research to investigate collaborative and transformational VR experiences for educational purposes.

History Inspectors VR was submitted for the UK Immersive Awards in 2023


Checa, D. and Bustillo, A. (2020). A review of immersive virtual reality serious games to enhance learning and training. Multimedia Tools and Applications, 79(9), pp.5501-5527. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11042-019-08348-9

Cooper, H (2017). History 5-11 : A Guide for Teachers. Taylor & Francis Group, Milton.

DePorter, B., Reardon, M. and Singer-Nourie, S., (1999). Quantum teaching: Orchestrating student success. Prentice Hall.

Gardner, H.E. (1983). Multiple intelligences. New York.

Gardner, H.E. (1999). Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. Basic Books.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. London: Routledge.

Hoodless, P. (2008). Teaching history in primary schools. Learning Matters Ltd.

Knight, P.T., Farmer, A. and Hewitt, J. (1991). Implementation and change in the National Curriculum: History in the 1990s. Education 3-13, 19(2), pp.17-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004279185200161

Schrepp, M., (2022). User Experience Questionnaire Handbook. 8th ed. [ebook] Germany: User Experience Questionnaire. Available at: https://www.ueq-online.org/ [Accessed 12 December 2022].

Project completed as part of MSc User Experience Design @ Birmingham City University in January 2023.