Virtual, or is it now reality?

by Simon Hull, Lecturer in Work Based Learning at The Open University

A.I. In just a year or two, these two letters have found their way into our everyday conversations about just about anything, be it technical, personal or professional. Some people embrace the idea of machines leading on many aspects of our daily lives and others fear that unless it’s harnessed more tightly that we could all rapidly end up in a bit of a technology enhanced global pickle.

With all this recent chat about AI, I find myself asking what happened to all the talk another new technology that was widely discussed just a year or two ago; the metaverse.

A couple of years ago, there was a lot of excited talk around the metaverse being the future of the internet in the post-pandemic world that we were adjusting to. This was a time when we were seriously considering a life where human contact was not a given in day-to-day society. But now we find ourselves moving on. Workplaces, socialising and communities  are gradually returning to pre-2020 norms, and with it a move away from contemplating living our lives entirely through a screen.

But the metaverse hasn’t simply disappeared. It could be considered more likely that we’re becoming accustomed to the presence of augmented and virtual reality in our lives. Perhaps we no longer fear the presence of online worlds and accept they have a place in society alongside our real-world lives, as will likely happen with AI once we understand it more on a cultural level. From my work in higher education and policing, I see a small but significant shift towards the acceptance of VR, that it has a place in educating the police and is not just another shiny new thing to be wowed by.

There are many features found in virtual reality technology that could prove to be useful for educational purposes (Allcoat and von Mühlenen, 2018). This is true of police training and education and there appears to be scope to explore how VR can be used to properly prepare our police officers and staff for the challenges of operational duty. Reducing risk, improving on abstraction demands, immersion, learning by doing, interaction and collaboration can all be addressed by VR. In our recent scholarship study that that explored the application of the VR courtroom to police education, my OU policing colleague Ahmed Kadry and I found that the PC’s who participated in the study discovered that the OU’s VR courtroom provided a valuable learning experience. One mentioned that the immersive experience closely matched that of giving evidence in a real court. Others commented that time in the VR courtroom helped them feel better prepared for the potential rigours of appearing in a criminal court as a witness.

This was precisely what we hoped we would find, but it has also raised questions around the way we utilise VR in police education.

There are of course limitations when using VR to educate, one being that learners should be familiar with a virtual space so as to reduce it to being a mere novelty (Sigurvinsdottir et al, 2023). There is an argument that VR needs to be properly integrated into curriculums (Hurwitz, 2024), so that it is evident throughout a policing learner’s educational journey. If VR is used infrequently there will be not only a danger of it being seen as a novelty, and then played with accordingly, but it will also be harder for the police and HE providers to justify its suitability or value as a learning tool.

By integrating VR and assessing its usefulness, police educators may quickly find that it has a place supporting authentic police learning alongside real world applications, but not replacing them.



Allcoat, D. and von Mühlenen, A. (2018). ‘Learning in virtual reality: Effects on performance, emotion and engagement’, Research in Learning Technology. 26, pp. 1-13. Available at: (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).

Hurwitz, S. (2024) ‘How Virtual Reality Fits Into Blended Learning At Work’, Forbes, 29th April 2024. Available at: How Virtual Reality Fits Into Blended Learning At Work ( (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).

Sigurvinsdottir, R., Skúladóttir, H., Antonsdóttir, H. F., Cardenas, P., Georgsdóttir, M. T., Írisardóttir Þórisdóttir, M., Jónsdóttir, E. K., Konop, M., Valdimarsdóttir, H. B., Vilhjálmsson, H. H., & Ásgeirsdóttir, B. B. (2024) A Virtual Reality Courtroom for Survivors of Sexual Violence: A Mixed-Method Pilot Study on Application Possibilities. Violence Against Women, 30(1), pp. 249-274. Available at: (Accessed: 3rd May 2024).