Virtual and augmented reality (AR and VR), which are collectively extended reality (XR) technologies, are becoming vital tools for industry and academic institutions to train employees and students. In medical training, edtech XR technologies are being used to deliver immersive learning experiences, with clear benefits such as greatly improved immersion of the content and knowledge retention.

Whilst this may have been considered science fiction only a few decades ago, these technologies are completely transforming in our ability to teach medical material. From initial diagnosis to medical test visualizations, medical treatments to new therapies, XR experiences are dramatically transforming medical learning and, in particular, surgical training.

XR: A Perfect Fit for Medical Training

A key benefit of using AR/VR in surgical training is the ease of recording specialized content for sharing with a large audience, that was previously not possible.

Using XR, there is a decreased reliance on using patients as surgical subjects to create truly engaging learning experiences. Training learners in invasive surgery using traditional techniques can require significant precious resources, time and care to ensure that trainees are comfortable with the practice, given the nature of their work. XR transforms this, as surgeons can record content on executing medical procedures from a camera on their headset for viewing at a later time, and in one take. It’s critical for employees to learn this material in the operating room itself, or, as the next best thing, in an environment that emulates the operating room, which XR delivers.

Using XR in Overlaying Imagery for Surgical Training

Its benefits of XR really come to the fore when we consider that live 3D content, consistent with minimally invasive surgery, can be made available on VR platforms, effectively offering users 3D vision. This type of learning directly complements simulation training, which is also becoming more realistic. This quality of immersion is game changing as it reinforces quality decision-making and decreases the cognitive burden, meaning that that users can have the same stereoscopic view as the operating surgeon on a robotic console.

Recognition and Current Use

XR is starting to be recognized by leading academic institutions, such as the University of College London (UCL), which has integrated VR into a mixed-mode master’s program in advanced minimally-invasive surgery. Here, cutting-edge VR is combined with advanced practical training from some of the world’s most renowned surgeons, and high-definition modalities such as CT and MRI are used in building surgical applicable VR models. These models can be overlayed onto patients in the operating room to help them understand a patient’s anatomy, such as tissue and bones, before incision.

This integration of VR and AR enables students to be immersed in visual material in a way that has previously not been possible. The adoption of XR technology by academic institutions such as UCL is a fantastic endorsement from the medical training community, and demonstrates just how far this technology has progressed.

Content Delivered Using XR Is Interactive and Convenient

Another key benefit of VR and AR in medical training is its ease of use and convenience, which, although not exclusive to medical training, is an additional reason for adoption. Using XR, medical students can watch recorded, bespoke content on the platform to access at their convenience. Likewise, content or lectures can be streamed live to viewers, with the ability to contact the teacher in real-time remotely, enabling immersive, interactive learning sessions. This is truly transformational, and opens up a world of possibilities, when we consider how formulaic and structured that medical lectures have been previously.

Future of EdTech in XR

Into the future, edtech has exciting potential to grow in a so-called Metaverse environment. The concepts of a Metaverse are nothing new, however, we may see greater use in virtual clinics, classrooms and even operating rooms in the coming decade, with students based in a variety of geographical locations interacting in real time, leading to an iteration of how students and teachers can interact in a virtual world. The future is bright for XR use in medical training.