Virtual Reality (VR) Redefines Concussion Training 

December 11, 2023


By Tina Chen

The Concussion Center, supported by an award from the University of Michigan’s Center for Academic Innovation (CAI), is collaborating with the XR Initiative to pioneer training modules utilizing virtual reality (VR) headsets for comprehensive concussion education. Established in 2019, the XR Initiative strives to enrich the U-M community’s learning experiences through immersive technology. 

Unlike many injuries, concussions are often not immediately visible to medical providers unless self-reported by patients. On the other hand, patients may not be able to correctly recognize symptoms or are motivated to not disclose their injury. In any of these scenarios, the injured athlete receives delay or no medical treatment resulting in suboptimal outcomes. In response, the XR-supported concussion modules developed by the team could empower future healthcare providers to understand the impact of concussions across diverse scenarios, facilitating low-stake evaluation and learning. 

“Our mission is to enhance education through Extended Reality technologies”, stated Jeremy Nelson, Senior Director for XR, Media Design and Production at the Center for Academic Innovation.

Concussion, as an educational subject, poses a distinctive challenge and opportunity. While we can’t replicate the experience of a concussion, leveraging VR technology allows us to create scalable training modules, offering a pathway to improved comprehension and addressing this critical health concern both in the classroom and beyond.

Jeremy Nelson, Senior Director for XR, Media Design and Production

While ongoing module development continues, six students from the School of Kinesiology’s AT613 Special Topics in Sports Medicine course experienced an in-classroom prototype demonstration in CAI’s newly renovated event space, providing a glimpse into the innovative future of concussion education. All participants reported a sense of complete immersion in the VR experience, and a majority confirmed that this innovative educational tool has enhanced the enjoyment of their learning. Most notably, they reported a significant boost in their confidence levels when applying the acquired knowledge and skills in concussion diagnosis. 

“My overall perception of the VR experience was very positive. To have the ability to practice something in a simulation allows the student to learn in a new space. I think that VR will soon become an everyday tool to learn”, said Cameron Wilde, an undergraduate student at U-M.

Melissa McCurry, a Learning Experience Designer at the Center for Academic Innovation, shared her enthusiasm for this innovative project. “This is an exciting project and a great use of the technology, showcasing the vast potential of virtual reality (VR) in educational contexts. Through this VR experience, learners can practice in a safe, low-stakes virtual environment. Some of the students who have tested the prototype shared that the experience has the potential to boost both motivation to practice and confidence, leading them to feel more prepared for real-world application.”

The classroom was joined by Dr. David Millward, U-M Athletics Medical Director/ Head Team Physician, and Dr. JT Eckner, Associate Director of Research for the Concussion Center. Both clinicians provided invaluable feedback for the team as they continued to refine the prototype with a broader vision to enhance pre-season injury education throughout the U-M community. “When I gave instructions, it wasn’t clear the patient heard me correctly”, said Millward. “I look forward to the patient’s understanding being clearer as the XR environment improves”.

The collaboration between the Concussion Center and CAI’s XR Initiative is paving the way for a transformative era in education, where virtual reality becomes a powerful tool for comprehensively addressing and understanding concussions. Beyond enriching classroom experiences, this innovative approach carries the potential to revolutionize the Concussion Center’s outreach and community engagement strategies, offering a forward-thinking alternative for tomorrow’s learners.