The promise of Virtual Reality in design environments is to facilitate the interaction with digital models and to enhance the results of design activity. Design education is one of the most recent and interesting applications. Thanks to technological advances in human-computer interfaces, Virtual Reality represents a new way to stimulate design students and to develop innovative teaching methods. The paper explores the impact of Virtual Reality technologies on design learning, with particular attention to mechanical product design. It is focused on the analysis of cognitive and technical aspects of learning processes and the definition of a proper evaluation protocol. The protocol is based on the classification of the most meaningful activities in mechanical engineering teaching and the identification of a set of metrics that enable to objectively evaluate the learning process. Assessing how VR supports design education, an experimental study is proposed. It is based on the comparison of three different approaches performed by two-dimensional drawings, by 3D CAD models and, finally, by virtual reality technologies.

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