As a new technology, virtual reality (VR) can be daunting. There are new terms and tools for creating VR eLearning experiences, but no defined path to nonlinear design. Pioneering VR filmmaker Jessica Brillhart delivered a keynote at SXSW 2019 that inspired much of this article. She reminded us that VR is a challenging creative medium because “immersive cannot be contained.”

In this article we’ll discuss some of the concepts you need to know when designing VR experiences, and hopefully chip away at the intimidation factor. We’ll begin by comparing VR to film.

Visitor vs. viewer

In traditional film we have viewers; in VR we have visitors. This is because the 2-D frames of traditional film become a 360-degree world in VR. In film, the viewer is shown exactly where to look and passively watches the plot unfold. In VR, the visitor and virtual world participate in multi-directional interaction in real-time. The visitor influences and changes the virtual world, and the virtual world influences and changes the visitor. With this shift in perspective, creators must ask how the visitor and VR learning experience will interact and communicate with one another.

Degrees of Freedom, Point-of-View, and Point-of-Interest

Degrees of Freedom (DoF) refers to how a rigid object moves through a three-dimensional space. In VR, a visitor has either 3DoF or 6DoF. With 3DoF, a visitor can change position or location in space: up/down, left/right, and forward/backward. With 6DoF, a visitor can also rotate in space, meaning they can tilt along the x-axis, y-axis, or z-axis. DoF allow the creator to give the visitor interaction capabilities so she can move around in and communicate with the VR environment.

Point-of-View (PoV) refers to how a visitor sees or experiences a particular event. Point-of-Interest (PoI) describes objects, locations, or events that grab the visitor’s attention. In film, PoV and PoI are essentially the same. There can be at most one PoI in film, because that’s where the director is telling the viewer to look within the limited frame of the 2-D screen. However, in VR there can be multiple PoIs and even multiple PoVs at any given moment. VR experiences mirror life in that we aren’t physically capable of seeing it all at once.

PoI is a powerful stylistic element that allows the VR creator to show the visitor where to focus attention but doesn’t necessarily indicate any “correct” path to follow. It’s up to the creator to determine how many PoIs are necessary, as well as how to indicate that any given PoI deserves visitor attention (e.g., sounds, flashing arrows, etc.). Welcome screens, important narration points, puzzles to solve, questions to answer, or educational simulation moments are examples of PoIs in VR eLearning experiences. PoIs can also be used to guide visitors through the experience, focus attention, start a conversation, provide direction, and orient the visitor within the virtual space.


In film, a video plays in front of you linearly until it ends or you stop it. If you watch it again, it’s always the same. However, VR navigation is not binary or linear. Each visitor experiences a different story, with different interactions, timelines, and outcomes. Further, a VR experience requires work from visitors. Visitors might need to interact directly with game elements, non-player characters, or other visitors. Visitors might need to perform certain actions in specific ways in order to proceed, which is common in training simulations and educational games. This active engagement helps visitors retain lessons longer and at a deeper level.

Storytelling vs. stories-tellings

Each PoI in VR creates a separate story. Together, these smaller stories comprise a bigger story. In film you have storytelling, but in VR, you have what Brillhart calls “stories-tellings.” As a result, every visitor experience is a little?or a lot?different.

Because the VR medium is so new, artists, entrepreneurs, and educators have only begun to scratch the surface of how to use DoF and non-binary/nonlinear navigation in a fully-immersive environment. We barely understand the potential of the available tools and their nearly unlimited power to engage, entertain, and educate visitors. As Brillhart said, “We don’t know where we’re going, but the biggest mistake we could make is thinking this will be how it is forever.” We’re all still learning what works for nonlinear design and what doesn’t.

Let us know in the comments below how you have successfully designed with or experienced DoF, PoV, PoI, and non-binary/nonlinear navigation in VR.