What Is Extended Reality?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Understand the different types of extended reality that exist, their various uses, what types of jobs utilize them, their pros and cons, and how you can start working with extended reality today.

[Featured Image] An extended reality professional sits in an office and uses a virtual reality (VR) headset.

Combining the three advanced technologies, virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality, make up the term extended reality. This type of technology provides a way to create experiences that link reality with a digital world, immersing you in a unique environment where you can interact with physical and digital elements at the same time. The concept of extended reality is not new, but developments in key technologies within the past 10 years have brought this concept to life in an accessible way. 

Many individuals and industries have already found practical applications for extended reality, and the potential use cases will only grow. According to research conducted by Imarc, the global market size for extended reality topped $64.5 billion as of 2022 and projects to grow 43.5 percent per year from 2023 to 2028 [1].

Types of extended reality 

Extended reality (XR) includes three technologies utilized for interactive experiences: virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. These technologies aim to blend reality with a digitally created world and allow you to interact in these spaces. Utilized for many purposes, such as pleasure and entertainment, education, learning, and interfacing with other individuals, extended reality has the ability to alter and enhance your daily life. 

Virtual reality (VR)

As one type of technology included under the extended reality umbrella, VR enables you to experience a 3D virtual world visually. The everyday interactions you experience with computers or technology are 2D, but VR takes the next step to recreate a digital world that looks like real life. You typically use a specific headset designed to achieve this experience, such as the Meta Quest 2 or PlayStation VR2. The environment you transport into through VR is interactive, allowing you to move around and simulate various interactions in this digital space. VR creates a digital world that you fully immerse in, replacing reality. Video game creators were among the first to utilize VR to enhance their offerings, but other industries, such as health care and engineering, have adopted the technology as well. 

Augmented reality (AR)

Augmented reality allows you to place and view virtual objects on top of reality. It bridges the gap between the real world you experience and a digital one, meaning you remain attached to the reality you see but enhance it by incorporating virtual, digital elements. You use a mobile device or headset to experience augmented reality. For example, utilizing a smartphone, specific applications allow you to place pieces of digital furniture in the real room you are currently standing in. You can do this to see if the furniture will fit your space correctly or if the colors will match what is already in your room. 

Mixed reality (MR)

As the latest development in the extended reality space, mixed reality blends the concepts of VR and AR to create a truly immersive experience, allowing you to visualize and interact with elements of your physical and virtual worlds simultaneously. Mixed reality comes in two different forms: adding digital objects or elements on top of your reality and interacting with them or combining objects from reality with a virtual world you are experiencing.  Using the example from AR, mixed reality will allow you to not only place a piece of digital furniture in your room but also have the ability to move it around or interact with it. An example of adding real objects to a virtual world is layering a real-time feed of the faces of each participant in a virtual video game on top of the gameplay.  Like augmented reality, you can experience mixed reality with a mobile device, headset, or tablet. 

What is extended reality used for?

Extended reality began when the government first used virtual reality to train potential pilots through flight simulations. Since then, technological advancements and increasing accessibility have broadened the use cases for extended reality in many industries and topics. Extended reality and advanced technologies enable you to optimize how you collaborate with other individuals, create and refine new products or services in your business, and interact with your customers to fit their needs better. A few examples of the uses of extended reality are:

  • Gaming and entertainment

  • Retail and shopping

  • Remote collaboration 

  • Project planning

  • Creating prototypes

  • Jobsite coordination

  • Training employees

  • Workplace education

  • Training surgeons 

  • Examinations in health care

  • Finding buyers for real estate

  • Inspections

  • Sales and marketing

An emerging trend in the extended reality space involves leveraging 5G, available from the cloud, to create and experience extended reality. This enables you to immerse yourself in extended reality environments from any location. The potential applications of extended reality projects will increase and expand further as enabling technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to develop and become more accessible in the future.

Who uses extended reality?

Professionals and experts in many industries and jobs leverage the characteristics of extended reality for various applications, as described above. The potential uses for extended reality continue to grow and impact how you socialize, work, and learn. Types of professions or industries currently using some component of extended reality include:

  • Gamers: VR gaming has seen massive development and is currently the number one market for extended reality purposes. Gamers use virtual reality headsets to experience the digital world of their game. 

  • Healthcare workers and surgeons: Extended reality presents a multitude of opportunities for the medical industry, including educating workers or patients, providing therapy or treatment options, imaging, training surgeons, and assisting in various types of surgeries.

  • Construction workers: Extended reality enables professionals in construction to create 3D models, improve their project planning, collaborate during the design process with multiple teams, train employees about safety procedures, and inspect job sites with augmented reality. 

  • Manufacturers: Companies in the manufacturing industry have adopted extended reality technology to design and test the layouts of their facilities and the configuration of their assembly lines. Manufacturing professionals also use extended reality for training and education on the job. 

  • Retail companies: Online and brick-and-mortar stores leverage extended reality to improve their customers' shopping experiences. In a store, consumers can scan a product and learn key information about it through augmented reality, while individuals shopping remotely can test a product in their home before they purchase it. 

Pros and cons of extended reality

Extended reality can alter and improve the way people interact with one another and work. As extended reality becomes more prominent in the world, various pros and cons related to its opportunities and challenges appear evident. 


The pros associated with extended reality include:

  • Increases collaboration between individuals

  • Provides a training platform for costly or dangerous topics

  • Enables effective decision-making through data analysis features

  • Reduces waste by allowing you to review prototypes in a virtual space

  • Hosts therapy or other treatment sessions effectively

  • Provides access to more job opportunities

  • Improves efficiency while designing products and planning projects


The cons associated with extended reality include the following:

  • Increases data vulnerability

  • Creates privacy concerns for users

  • Presents an opportunity for cyber attacks

  • Creates an online environment susceptible to harassment or bullying

  • Not accessible for all users due to the high cost 

  • Relies upon the development of enabling technologies, such as 5G

  • Causes potential motion sickness

How to get started in extended reality

You can begin experimenting with extended reality in your daily life through a few different means. Accessing extended reality usually occurs through a piece of hardware, such as a headset. You wear these devices to experience and interact with the virtual environments created by extended reality.  The HTC VIVE Pro 2, Varjo XR-4, Rokid Air, Microsoft HoloLens2, Meta Quest 2, and Apple Vision Pro are popular headset options. It is important to note that extended reality headsets come in different forms for virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. Each of these types has different features and applications.

While wearing an extended reality headset, you are capable of playing video games, participating in an event virtually, or shopping for new products. In certain cases, you may also be able to use your smartphone or tablet to experience augmented or mixed reality. 

Getting started with Coursera

If you strive to learn more about extended reality and other topics related to technology in general, completing a course or receiving a relevant certificate is a great place to start. On Coursera, you can enroll in some of the top courses in the world. 

Check out the Extended Reality for Everybody Specialization by the University of Michigan. This three-course series allows you to understand the key concepts behind extended reality, its various applications and uses, and best practices for designing and developing XR applications. You even have the chance to start designing and developing your own XR application in the course.

Another relevant course worth checking out is What Is the Metaverse? by Meta. In this course, you can gain practical experience engaging with the metaverse. You become exposed to topics related to the impact of the metaverse, the ethics behind it, its safety and inclusivity, and the accessibility of the metaverse. This course contains six different modules and takes approximately nine hours to finish. 

Article sources

  1. Imarc Group. “Extended Reality (XR) Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2023-2028, https://www.imarcgroup.com/extended-reality-market.” Accessed March 19, 2024.

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