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Extended Realities Explored

Extended realities, like virtual reality and mixed reality, are no longer fringe or nice to have. They are becoming a part of how training is conducted, and learning is experienced. Extended reality technologies break the barriers of screen-based and classroom training and enhance existing methods like never before. And the tremendous applications within healthcare institutions, nursing, and medical schools are evolving at an exciting rate.

This paper will delve into extended reality's current aptitudes, what is being developed, and how learning and teaching can improve by adopting these new resources and merging them with existing ones.


Extended Reality Defined


Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term that encompasses several immersive affordances. Virtual reality (VR), which is more commonly known due to its popularity in the gaming community, is a full immersion experience. Augmented reality (AR) brings virtual elements into a user's real-world view, but users often cannot interact with the visuals. Google Glass or Pokémon GO are examples of AR. And mixed reality (MR) allows a user to interact with virtual elements that are brought into the user's real world view.




AR is a 2D experience. In VR and MR you can have both 2D and 3D objects, and your experience of them is 3D. 

The uses of these extended realities reach far beyond simple visual stimulation and entertainment. By blending virtual and real environments together, XR can create 3D worlds that once existed only within science fiction fantasy.  

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Educational institutions continue to embrace and redefine approaches to conventional learning. The medical community is no exception as leaders maintain a steadfast focus on new and innovative methods.

The need for curriculums that go beyond the classroom has never been more profound. From COVID-19 to extreme weather, universities across the world have had to implement alternative learning methods that meet the needs of students and educators alike. Extended reality technology can bring users together in a collaborative setting that replicates real-world environments.


Extended Reality Applications

Interest in XR has surged as new and affordable technologies have emerged, helping to create impactful and immersive learning experiences. To gauge the efficacy of XR learning experiences, many institutions have launched pilot programs and studies. For example, in September of 2019, the University of Michigan created an extended reality initiative aimed at exploring how XR technologies can improve education and “shape the future of learning.” In coming years, the university hopes to create new projects that integrate XR into both residential and online curricula.

Mixed reality applications have the capability of transforming the way medical students learn. Simulation-based exercises allow students a realistic yet safe-to-fail approach to medical training. Students are able to use XR to imitate lifelike medical situations ranging from highly complex surgeries to routine checkups, that can be applied to real-world clinical scenarios.




Computer-generated environments have the capability of superimposing the virtual world within the real one. Augmented realities provide the ability to project virtual information and structures over physical objects, thus enhancing or altering real environments. Advanced computer graphics are used to create immersive digital experiences resulting in mixed reality. Medical professionals require the highest degree of precision and accuracy. Extended reality provides an outlet in which they can practice and perfect their craft in realistic, safe, and safe-to-fail environments.


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Benefits of Extended Reality in Medical Education


The field of medicine is constantly evolving, ripe with advancements and scientific discoveries. The progressive nature of educational institutions means that schools are continually searching for new and innovative methods of teaching. This applies to medical schools, nursing schools, and all healthcare training programs as well. The robust nature of medicine requires students to be well-versed in numerous anatomical and physiological subject areas. To effectively treat and diagnose patients, medical professionals must have prior experience in many health-related issues.

In addition to time spent on classroom study, medical training involves a tremendous amount of hands-on learning. Traditionally, students have garnered the majority of their knowledge from practicing on human patients and cadavers. While actual humans provide the most accurate representations of real-life, digital simulations can provide hands-on training that goes beyond standard theoretical based approaches. 

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As new technologies have emerged, digital environments have become a supplemental visualization resource for future doctors and surgeons. Just like prospective pilots utilize flight simulators to mimic real-world experiences safely and effectively, healthcare educators are using immersive technologies as legitimate learning resources.


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Classroom Benefits

Traditional classrooms offer a theory based approach to learning which is difficult to encapsulate into real-world scenarios. Extended reality offers advantages for medical training by way of using realistic visualization techniques. Although human subjects offer the most adept learning aids available, the margin for error is astronomically miniscule. Medical professionals must develop proper hand eye coordination while simultaneously analyzing spatial information and using precise medical instrumentation. Utilizing the visualization aspects of extended reality can bridge the gap between classroom learning and real-life simulations.


Medical Training Benefits

Nearly every type of surgery requires a high level of experience and sensitivity. Performing open-heart surgery, organ transplants, or surgeries requiring bone-cutting are all examples of extremely delicate procedures. One study reviewed the efficacy of surgical training simulators using virtual and haptic feedback functions. The results found that simulations were a viable alternative to real-world surgical training. 


medical training for surgery benefits from XR


Mixed reality applications offer a plethora of realistic real-world simulations ranging from surgeries to emergencies. Immersive digital experiences allow medical professionals to master their craft using highly refined, precise accuracy. Simulation-based education enables medical residents to obtain knowledge beyond the classroom. A 2012 study looked at 60 first-year residents that were trained using simulators. Results showed that simulation-based training significantly improved resident knowledge and skill in medical intensive care units.

Extended reality is well-positioned to be the next high-tech training solution in healthcare, providing a hands-on based approach to training that reduces errors and mishaps. XR may never fully replicate actual medical environments, but as a supplemental training aid, it can expedite and improve current learning processes. 

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Broader Benefits

Medical professionals are viewed under a microscope of rigidity and stoicism. Empathy is a subject matter not commonly taught in mainstream medical education. One alternative project used immersive VR technology as a tool to help medical students develop empathy for their patients. Although often overlooked as a necessary attribute to medical success, having some basic level of empathy can help when dealing with patients in precarious or life-threatening situations.


See patients in mixed reality


Enhancing available resources is always at the forefront of leading medical institutions. While artificial digital environments may never replace real-world patients and human cadavers, extended reality tools provide learning simulations that require little to no prep time or prior preparation. 

Immersive technology learning doesn't have to be strictly limited to current medical students. Experienced surgeons can utilize the technology-based approaches to obtain new skills for innovative procedures or operations they may be unfamiliar with. The frameworks of medicine require an ongoing commitment to learning as new advances are constantly being brought to the forefront of the medical world. XR training can serve the purpose of bridging the gap between textbook theory and real-world practice.

Educational institutions have a range of customization options available so that students are challenged in varying real-time situations. As the ultimate visual learning tool, educators can input variables about digital subjects and allow students to process and diagnose digital patients within a collaborative learning environment. The wide array of options available at the disposal of educators ensures that students may be well-equipped to handle future medical situations.


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Special Considerations


Extended reality is a technology designed to simulate, enhance, and extend existing pedagogical approaches to traditional medical training. The tools should support and supplement existing learning curriculums using active and collaborative simulation techniques. XR technologies should work to enhance existing educational frameworks. 

Within the medical community, XR opens up new layers of the visual learning experience. For example, human cadavers have been a foundational aspect of medical training for centuries. As an essential aspect of learning for prospective physicians, cadavers have played an integral role in uncovering aspects of human anatomy and physiology. Interacting with immersive virtual environments serve only to improve and augment these existing foundational education practices.




Educational XR aims to improve existing frameworks while utilizing current advancements in technology. A recent 2018 study cited immersive technologies as a useful tool that affords spatial awareness while appealing to more senses than traditional classroom or computer display learnings. Findings revealed that immersive technologies lead to superior memory recall when compared to standard desktop computer learning.


What To Watch For

While VR may offer alternative virtual environments, the idea of a fully immersive technology may cause individuals to lose sensory perceptions within the physical world. As a result, virtual reality technologies can pose liability issues as people may trip or stumble over real-world objects. Augmented and mixed realities offer an alternative that overlays digital technology within actual environments. 

Many people have difficulties using traditional VR as they find fully immersive environments to be disorienting or nauseating at times. In fact, a large portion of the general population suffers from these types of issues when using VR technologies. A 2018 study closely equates simulator sickness to motion sickness. Not only may subjects become ill while using traditional VR, symptoms may persist for up to 4 hours afterward. Since AR and XR overlay digital elements within the real-world, the possibility of simulation sickness becomes drastically minimized.

Another downfall of traditional VR is the immense digital infrastructures needed to optimize the technology. AR and XR require a relatively insignificant amount of space and necessitates only WiFi technology and simple visualization tools such as headsets and virtual eyewear. XR smart glasses using technologies such as Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 have the unique ability to superimpose digital visualizations in real-world environments. 


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Glimpse at Future Advancements


New technologies often undergo a transitory period of price fluctuation before widespread implementation. As many educational institutions begin embracing XR technology, industry experts are forecasting that costs associated with extended reality will inevitably decrease. 

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Tech leaders such as Apple have already begun implementing forms of augmented reality as a new technology that transforms how people work, learn, and connect with the world. The global AR and VR industry is projected to grow into a $674M industry by the year 2025. These multi-sensory computer-generated experiences will allow students to train and learn within the confines of a safe and realistic visualized environment. 


See patient clinical symptoms in mixed reality


Although the visual aspects of XR have already reached tremendous heights, haptic feedback technology will continue to grow and expand XR sensory capabilities. Haptics are tools used to interact with the virtual space while providing realistic feedback sensations. Haptics use pressure and resistance techniques to create sensations of touch and feel using specialized bodysuits and/or gloves. In the world of medical training, improved haptics will allow students to expand their current capabilities. The ability to feel and touch a beating heart in the XR realm will create a much more realistic medical learning experience. 

As more XR technology is released, 3D content continues to expand at a rapid pace. Spending on immersive technology content is expected to surpass $1.84 billion dollars this year, and consumers have only just begun grasping the social and educational possibilities of XR technologies. Furthermore, Forbes cites that falling costs and increased content and applications may result in an explosion of advancements in consumer and commercial applications.

Medical training institutions and educators will be able to benefit from XR as a useful and easy-to-use tool that engages students and encourages collaborative action. XR will continue to broaden and expand educational infrastructures that currently exist within higher learning institutes. The future capabilities of extended reality technology will continue to push beyond the walls of conventional learning.


Human anatomy through the Microsoft HoloLens


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GIGXR utilizes mixed reality applications that break through the limitations of screen-based technologies. We use digitally enhanced real-world spaces that breach the norms of classroom-type settings. At GIGXR, we provide extended reality resources that expand upon traditional educational approaches while simultaneously deepening the impact of learning. Utilizing holographic standardized patients displayed with Microsoft’sHoloLens technology, we create realistic life-based scenarios. With dynamic vitals and variable inputs, we strive to create realistic learning tools in healthcare education for students and professionals alike.