Believe it or not, virtual reality has been around for more than a century. The term and the form of VR that most people think of today (with goggles and other gear), however, emerged in the 1980s.1 As 2021 begins, virtual reality continues its move out of the world of science fiction into the mainstream. 

In fact, someday soon your CPR course may incorporate virtual reality—and with good reason. Virtual reality offers unique and measurable advantages when it comes to learning. From mastery to retention of information and more, VR and education make a perfect pair.

Research shows VR aids retention

A CPR certification lasts two years yet, without proper refresher training throughout that time span, most people fail to retain the information they learned. A study published in ScienceDirect showed a direct correlation between retention rates and CPR refresher training frequency. Basically, retention declined as the gap between refresher information increased.2

The multisensory nature of virtual reality helps the brain develop stronger neural connections vital to etching information into the long-term memory bank versus the short-term memory bank. In doing this, VR positions people to more effectively learn information to start with, aiding in their ability to retain it as time progresses.

In one study, the recall ability of participants increased by 10% when a VR application was incorporated into training compared to training that utilized only traditional education methods.3

Real-world applications prove benefits

According to AHA data, bystander intervention rates for out-of-hospital cardiac events remain low across the United States.4 CPR education needs to focus not only on skills but on overall readiness, truly preparing a person to act when needed. Virtual reality may well prove useful in this effort as it has for other organization facing the need to prepare staff for difficult situations.

In an effort to improve safety at its retail store locations, Verizon launched a VR-based training series for employees. The result? A whopping 97% of employees indicated they felt truly prepared to act in a dangerous situation.5 

At Stanford Children’s Hospital, doctors reported greater empathy for patients and families, leading to improved communication skills—something essential when faced with the daunting task of delivering difficult news to parents about their children.

Why it works

The connection between fun and learning has been proven for both kids and adults alike. It’s no surprise, then, that the American Heart Association’s 2020 CPR education guideline updates indicate the benefits of gamification and VR as a means of improving knowledge acquisition and retention.7 

Virtual reality embodies immersiveness like nothing else. Its ability to simulate real-world scenarios makes it uniquely positioned to improve engagement and retention regardless of the topic being taught or learned. VR delivers unmatched flexibility, allowing live or pre-recorded courses to be experienced anytime, anywhere. 

The logical gamification that can occur within a VR experience not only reinforces concepts but creates fun. And, when you’re having fun, you’re more likely to learn and retain material. Interacting with others, following rules of play and even a little bit of stress encourage you to engage more completely in the learning experience. Imagine practicing chest compressions in a setting that truly feels real versus on a lifeless manikin. There’s a reason it’s called “virtual reality” because “true reality” can be so closely replicated. 

It’s only a matter of time before VR-based CPR education comes your way. Imagine a room-scale environment in which you can walk around and interact with life-size objects. Imagine being transported to a scene in which someone needs CPR, giving you the opportunity to take a skill evaluation on a manikin that truly resembles a real person. How much more memorable would that be compared to listening to an instructor and practicing breaths on a dummy?

1 History of Virtual Reality, The Franklin Institute, Accessed December 22, 2020,

2 Optimal Training Frequency for Acquisition and Retention of High-Quality CPR Skills: A Randomized Trial, Science Direct, Resuscitation, Volume 135, February 2019, Accessed December 23, 2020,

3 The Science of Virtual Reality: How VR Helps With Memory Retention, VR Focus, Published October 12, 2020, Accessed December 22, 2020,

4 Latest AHA Statistics on Cardiac Arrest Survival Reveal Little Progress, Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, Published February 7, 2019, Accessed December 23, 2020,,provider%20in%2012%25%20of%20cases

5 Train for the Unexpected, Strivr, Accessed December 22, 2020,

6 Conversations That Count: Teaching Empathy the Immersive Way at Stanford Children’s Hospital, Strivr, Accessed December 22, 2020,

7 Highlights of the 2020 American Heart Association Guidelines for CPR and ECC, American Heart Association, Published October 2020, Accessed December 22, 2020,

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