AVAILABLE NOW — The Strivr app for Apple Vision Pro

What is virtual reality? VR usage examples at work

Deep dive
min read
Two co-workers seated in swivel chairs in a modern office environment wearing VR headsets and poiting hand-held VR controllers in opposite directions

What is VR?

The technology behind virtual reality has been in progress for many decades. In fact, the Sensorama machine, originally conceived in the mid-19550s, is widely considered to be one of the earliest VR devices. The idea of creating immersive, computer-generated environments has been a subject of fascination and experimentation for a long time. The technology has continued to advance and evolve over the years into the sophisticated VR systems on the market today.

VR experiences are now in the mainstream of entertainment, healthcare, military, business, and more, and are emerging as a positive force in the world in various ways. To understand why it’s important to understand why VR is such a powerful tool in the first place.

Virtual reality vs. augmented reality

While they both take advantage of the same technology capability, there’s a distinct difference between virtual and augmented reality (AR). The best way to understand the difference between AR and VR is to consider use cases.

Virtual reality

VR immerses the participant into a 100% simulated environment. Inside the headset, they see only a virtual scene.

VR might be used to:

  • Create an entirely virtual environment for gamers
  • Immerse a new employee into a virtual workplace to train them on hard and soft skills they’ll need on the job
  • Help a healthcare patient relax within a virtual landscape that calms the nervous system

Augmented reality

AR literally augments reality. It overlays what the participant sees in the real world with computer-generated content that’s interactive and engaging.

AR might be used to:

  • Create an overlay for a museum exhibit that further explains what the visitor is already seeing
  • Embellish an interior to help homeowners understand what design modifications could look like in their existing home
  • Create an immersive gaming experience within a real-life environment (i.e., Pokémon Go)

While AR has a lot of fantastic applications, for the sake of this article, we’ll stick with exploring VR.

How does VR work?

VR devices — most often in the form of headsets — contain embedded stereoscopic lenses that render an LED screen in 3D. The environment portrayed on the screen is thus experienced by the user’s eyes as hyper-real. As they look around and even engage and interact within this fully virtual 3D environment, they feel as though they are really there — wherever “there” is in the headset.

Similar to AR, in some VR applications, the experience of being “in headset” is engineered so that the user also sees text, illustration, or animation overlaying the virtual environment. Within an Immersive Learning experience, for example, this makes it possible for a VR learner to make choices and receive instructions while looking directly at a realistic professional setting.

What happens in the VR headset?

Magic happens inside the headset. VR takes your brain to another place through complete immersion. When you put on the VR headset, you can look all around you and see and hear a virtual world nearly identical to real life. Mentally and emotionally, you feel like you are in that situation.

There are several scientific principles that VR can take advantage of, unlike other forms of immersion like roleplay and 2D simulations.

  • Embodiment: VR creates a full-body experience that increases user engagement and encourages a higher rate of knowledge retention
  • Perceptual fidelity: Interactions in the virtual environment mimic the physical world to activate the same neural pathways in the brain
  • On-demand repetition: VR sessions can be repeated over and over to increase learning retention, efficacy, and entertainment value
  • Real-time feedback: In VR, users make decisions in the virtual environment just like they would in the real world, and those decisions have a direct impact on the experience, rendering instant feedback
  • Emotional fidelity: The VR experience invokes a sense of presence that creates realistic emotional responses, ideal for specific types of training, such as leadership skills for professional development, inclusive workplace behaviors, and other valuable soft skills.

Let’s look at some areas where VR is already making a difference based upon all of these principles.

Spatial design creates the magic in the VR headset

VR content built using spatial design principles are the most effective when it comes to Immersive Learning. When properly designed, VR creates and enhances a feeling of complete immersion for the user so that they are able to cognitively suspend their disbelief, engage with the virtual environments as if they were real, and feel a sense of presence.

There are three types of presence that matter in Immersive Learning:

  • Spatial presence occurs when a user loses the sense that they are in a VR experience so that it becomes real
  • Self-presence leads users to believe they have agency within the virtual world — in other words, they look around and interact because their actions impact the experience
  • Social presence invites users to interact with avatars within the experience, so they have the opportunity to practice speaking and acting

The scientific principles that compose effective VR experiences are married to the need to design realistic experiences. Enter spatial design.

VR usage examples: How virtual reality is used today

Video game companies have been using VR and AR technologies to cater to gamers since the 1980s. The immersive virtual experience allows the gamer to be the “hero” in the game while interacting within a stimulating virtual environment.

VR gaming used to be for an elite audience of highly tech-minded gamers, but advances in VR and the appearance of gaming startups has changed this paradigm. With its mild learning curve and its addition of musical and social elements, games like Beat Saber have now brought a new audience of gamers to the market because they capitalize on VR with addictive, fun, easy-to-learn games.

Once relegated to the domain of gaming, VR technology has progressed for use in a wide range of fields including education, healthcare, and corporate training. Global events, like the pandemic, have accelerated the use of VR in remote work, social interaction, and virtual travel as well.

Here are just a handful of examples of how VR is being applied in industries beyond gaming..

01. VR is used in patient care

VR has applications in a lot of healthcare settings, including nursing homes. Nursing home patients often experience loneliness, isolation, and boredom. Sometimes patients with dementia or other issues related to aging can have difficulty remembering things, especially short and near-term experiences. VR makes a difference in the lives of these patients.

A VR experience can allow a nursing-home-bound patient to virtually attend a wedding or visit their childhood home. They might be transported on a nature walk — or even into outer space — stimulating their minds and bodies in service of their overall health and well-being.

02. VR enhances clinical therapy for mental health

Researchers are discovering that leveraging VR to provide a patient exposure therapy is a powerful and effective method of helping them engage, confront, and process phobias, disorders, and trauma. VR enables the patient to safely re-experience a certain type of event within the context of a therapy session.

This technology is a powerful tool for helping patients confront trauma and phobias, and simultaneously gives therapists better insights into how to help their clients and engage in richer discussions.

03. VR trains the armed forces

The Pentagon has leveraged VR and AR to train service members in all branches of the armed forces. Virtual immersion trains service members on aerial combat in a simulator before they ever enter a cockpit and gives infantry and special operations team members practice clearing a room quickly in an emergency. These are only two examples of why, according to Wareable, “VR is training the perfect soldier.”

In addition, armed forces agencies can use VR to collect analytics for performance insights on where to improve training after an operation is concluded. Immersive experiences are so valuable to the military that in 2021, the US Army invested in billions of dollars into AR headsets to last a decade.

VR is essential in the enterprise

According to the Harvard Business Review's 2018 report on the use of mixed reality at work, 87% of enterprise organizations had already tried VR and AR as a training tool to immerse their workers in a unique form of on-the-job training.

At Strivr, we call this immersive learning: an experiential training methodology that uses VR to simulate real-world scenarios and train learners in a safe and engaging immersive training environment. It combines the sense of presence of VR with learning theory, data science, and spatial design to improve effectiveness and user engagement.

Learn more about the Strivr platform.

More examples of how businesses use virtual reality

VR is now a mainstream technology used across all kinds of industries to train and upskill workforces.

Financial services

In financial services, institutions use VR to standardize and scale effective learning techniques across teams of associates, managers, and even executives. Bank of America has used VR in the form of Immersive Learning to reskill its workforce in a changing corporate landscape.

Logistics & manufacturing

In the world of logistics, companies use Immersive Learning to improve supply chain efficiency, train workers on loading techniques, and ingrain safe behaviors across the workforce. Likewise, in manufacturing, VR training is excellent for skilling workers at scale and significantly reduces training times and safety incidents.


And on the retail front, Immersive Learning has made an enormous impact on companies like Walmart, Sprouts, and Verizon, which need to get large numbers of people trained in areas like customer service, company culture, and what to do in the event of a store robbery.

Immersive Learning and VR, in general, have enormous applications across all kinds of industries, offering a range of benefits.

Discover more industry-specific VR use cases and training topics:

VR training benefits

VR is an excellent tool for many industries, from practical training to convenient conferencing and entertaining experiences. It’s particularly useful in engaging learners while they’re being trained to increase learning and retention.

Some benefits of VR specific to enterprises include:

  • Practical training: Safe simulation of dangerous situations, with immersive experience reducing training time
  • Engagement and connection: An engaging experience for users makes more of an impact
  • Convenient conferences: Virtual meetings save time and money while maintaining a sense of collegiality
  • Demo experiences: Customers can “sample” products and experiences without leaving home

The challenges of virtual reality

While VR is an engaging and exciting technology, it has its challenges.

  • Addiction: Particularly within gaming and social media applications of VR, there’s a potential for addiction
  • Health problems: When designed poorly, VR can result in spatial awareness loss, nausea, dizziness, disorientation, and simulator sickness
  • Screen-door effect: Bad design or overuse can also result in the effect of visible pixels aggravating the eye in the headset
  • Loss of human connections: Over-reliance on VR as a replacement for authentic human connection can lead to dissociation or depression
  • Expense: VR systems are not yet affordable for everyone, although the expense can often be justified, particularly for larger organizations, whose ROI transcends the initial expense to set up a VR system

The future of VR: A game-changer for business & consumers

While the average technology enthusiast enjoys the playful aspects of virtual and immersive environments, VR has broader applications than mere entertainment. As a training tool for both frontline and executive employees, a therapy device for improving mental health and quality of life, and a tool to equip service members of the armed forces with the skills they need in combat, VR is quickly becoming an indispensable technology.

That’s why Fortune 500 companies have already used Strivr’s enterprise software platform to conduct more than 1 million training sessions in VR. Enterprises are seeing a measurable impact in reduced training time, increased customer satisfaction, and greater overall confidence of employees.

Download our free ebook to learn more: The ultimate guide to immersive learning

Apple Vision Pro demo request form

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Key takeaways

About the author

Subscribe to our mailing list

Stay up-to-date on everything Strivr, XR, and immersive learning.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy policy

Schedule your free 30-day demo today

Receive a free demo headset to see the Strivr platform in action and experience the Strivr difference for yourself.