What is VR?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Virtual reality (VR) has many uses, from gaming and education to training and simulations. Learn more about this technology, types of VR, and details you need to know if you want to pursue a career in virtual reality.

[Featured Image] A smiling woman uses a VR headset in a brightly colored room.

Virtual reality, or VR, is a computer-generated environment that gives people the illusion of existing and interacting in a synthetic world. Using high-resolution graphics, 3D models, and wearable tech, such as headsets, VR users receive an immersive, multi-sensory experience with various applications like gaming, education, and training. 

The demand for specific VR applications in different verticals continues to grow, resulting in various career options for those interested in this evolving technology. To pursue a career in VR, you can earn a degree in a tech-related field like computer science or information technology or hone your skills through industry-leading boot camps and online courses.

Types of VR

Before pursuing a career in virtual reality, it's important to understand the three basic types of VR. The type of VR varies based on an immersive scale, from non-immersive to fully immersive.


The best way to explain non-immersive VR is to think of a video game or a simulation. You experience a computer-generated world. However, you remain fully aware of your physical surroundings as a player. In other words, you interact with VR displayed on a TV screen or smartphone rather than becoming part of it.

Since many assume that VR must be immersive, this type of VR is often overlooked. 


Semi-immersive VR uses high-resolution 3D graphics to create an environment that allows you to fully experience the game or VR world while remaining aware of your physical surroundings. Uses of this type of VR include training. For example, companies can use it to train mechanics about the parts of a car needed to work in a garage and ways to repair and maintain vehicles. 

Fully immersive

With fully immersive VR, the virtual world will feel real—you'll feel part of it. You see, hear, and can even interact with the simulation. Designers create the artificial environment through graphics, sights, and sounds loaded on various wearable tech, like headsets, gloves, and body sensors. 

What is VR used for?

While many consumers associate virtual reality with gaming, it has other industrial and commercial applications. It can train doctors and nurses in the health care field, provide immersive education, and generate gamified exercise to improve fitness levels.

Additional applications include: 

  • Virtual home tours

  • Virtual fashion shows

  • Demonstrate products at conferences and events

  • Provide training in specific industries

  • Cybersecurity audits

  • Facilitate remote repairs

  • Athlete training

Pros of using VR

The benefits of virtual reality range from educating and entertaining the masses to providing visualization of items otherwise challenging to describe. Let’s explore some advantages of using VR to understand its scope and potential. 

Improved educational opportunities

People in many industries can learn new skills or complete training with VR. It allows people to practice skills and helps companies increase engagement and morale.

New entertainment

VR has found a home in the world of online gaming. It also is emerging as a player in alternative ways to enjoy live music, experience new destinations without ever leaving home, and experience movies and shows in a new way.

Simultaneously, the availability of affordable VR components, such as headsets, has entered the market, contributing to the industry's growth.

Visualization of buildings and products

By using virtual reality, you can illustrate ideas, concepts, and products that would otherwise be challenging to explain. With VR, you can provide architectural drawings, offer virtual tours of office space or a home, or create prototypes for a new product before building a physical one. 

Cons of using VR

As with any technology, VR has potential drawbacks. The disadvantages of virtual reality center on tech issues, health challenges, and privacy concerns. 

Tech problems

Tech issues exist for both users and creators. VR users may experience latency issues, which are delays between the VR hardware and its complementary software. The result is a jittery experience, which can diminish its entertainment or educational value. 

You need a computer with advanced graphics to create a sci-fi world for a VR game or simulate an open heart surgery for medical training. These types of computers can be hard to find and often come with a high price. 

Health challenges

VR users have noticed several side effects like nausea, headaches, or disorientation dubbed "cybersickness," akin to motion sickness caused by the immersive environment. Since many VR applications use a head-mounted display, users can bump into things in their real-world environment or trip and fall.  

Privacy concerns

As with any application, VR requires security measures to keep data safe and prevent hackers from entering. However, research from Rutgers University examined how voice command features on the headsets can give hackers an open door to "eavesdrop" and capture spoken data, like a person's credit card number [1]. While measures to tighten security are happening, it's a continued source of trouble for many VR brands.

How to pursue a VR career

The market for VR is growing. According to data from Fortune Business Insights, the global virtual reality market will grow to $165 billion by 2030, a significant increase from $19 billion in 2022 [2]. The demand for VR is already impacting the workplace, with many companies enhancing current jobs with VR components or adding new positions specifically for VR implementations and oversight.

If you're interested in a VR career, you must have a passion for the technology and seek education about it. You could pursue a degree,  explore boot camps or online courses, or consider certification to learn the necessary skills. 

Consider attending college.

While you might be able to find a few degrees specializing in virtual reality development, they're rare. People in this niche usually focus on a more general degree like computer science, information technology, or a related field.

Consider bootcamps and online courses.

A computer science degree will offer the background you need, but you may also need specific courses to help you tailor your skills for a particular job. For example, if you're interested in pursuing a career as a VR software developer, you may need additional education in 3D modeling, design software, or game development. If you prefer to work on VR hardware, classes focusing on modern electronics or computer hardware engineering could be helpful.

Develop human and technical skills.

As you might suspect, working in VR does require technical skills, including:

  • Proficiency in coding languages like C++, C#, or JavaScript

  • Experience with 3D modeling and rendering

  • Awareness of VR hardware and software

While the VR industry does put a strong emphasis on tech skills, human skills are also necessary. To work in this industry, you'll need:

  • Communication skills

  • Collaboration skills

  • Problem-solving skills

Understand your career options.

When you're ready to pursue a job in the field, knowing what kind of jobs and job titles to look for is helpful. Jobs could include:

  • VR content producer: Create digital content that includes the use of VR.

  • 3D artist: Use software to create 3D worlds and special effects.

  • Programmer: Write and test code to create or improve operating systems or software.

  • UI designer: Create visual elements that contribute to a site or video game.

  • UX researcher: Analyze data to improve a customer's experience with a product.

Get started with Coursera

As you consider a career path in virtual reality, you can find online courses on Coursera to supplement your education. VR courses like Introduction to Virtual Reality, where you'll review the history of VR, explore its applications, and consider its challenges, or Intro to AR/VR/MR/XR: Technologies, Applications & Issues, which reviews terminology, applications, and trends, can offer a foundation in the evolving field of virtual reality.

Article sources

1. Rutgers. "Rutgers Researchers Discover Security Vulnerabilities in Virtual Reality Headsets, https://www.rutgers.edu/news/rutgers-researchers-discover-security-vulnerabilities-virtual-reality-headsets." Accessed March 6, 2024.

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