Firsthand experience is one of the most powerful ways to learn. And with VR, you can experience just about anything you can imagine. It opens a completely new chapter in Education.
The current state of education
Education is now a global industry worth $4.4 Trillion annually, but it has yet to be significantly updated in terms of dynamics, be it for children or adults. Standing in front of a board that is now typically white rather than black, a teacher still lectures from their position at the head of the room, preaching to a class of students that (hopefully) try to understand. We’ve learned a few things along the way, this is true. Most of the research shows, for example, that when class size reduction programs are well-designed and implemented in the primary grades, student achievement rises as class size drops. We know that using activities to engage the students makes for more effective learning than reading from a textbook because it allows for the creation of a memory anchor, something to tie the unique experience to the knowledge gained. But never have we had the resources, or the technological capacity, to afford each student these resources. Never, until now.
By superimposing a connected and artificial reality on the student’s senses, VR can address many of the stumbling blocks that are possibly impeding the educational development of today’s students. Virtual Reality through its immersive and interactive aspects has been proved effective in knowledge retention. So while looking at suits of armour in a museum might be a better way of learning history than reading a text-book on the subject, it has no comparison on the experience that VR can deliver, where students could learn by interacting directly with their subject in an immersive environment.
The potential for VR, however, goes further still. By providing a risk free environment in which to train for dangerous activities, VR is already saving countless lives. The military already uses VR to transport trainees into an environment of explosive ordnance disposal in order to familiarise them with the right controls and procedures for that environment. Doctors are also starting to practice surgery in VR environments, allowing them not only to train in realistic (and, critically, risk-free) settings, but also lead a surgery from ‘within’ their patient. Any dangerous profession can be trained for through VR as long as the VR experience is realistic enough to trick the student’s subconscious to believe they are truly experiencing this reality.
What does the future hold?
We are now in a critical time for VR in education. According to Forbes, annual spending on various types of realities (augmented, virtual mixed – the umbrella term is xR) is expected to more than double in value each year over the next five years or so. AR technology is currently the most affordable, and since most students are already familiar with the technology they learn how to use it relatively quickly. It can also replace the need for physical supplies, making lessons cheaper for schools and more environmentally friendly. VR is becoming more affordable as well. Certain educational-specific VR sets aimed at teachers and classes of around 30 students can be purchased for just under $10,000, and while that may seem expensive now, prices are expected to drop as this technology enters the mainstream market.
Should we be careful? Yes. Anything that has such potential can be dangerous when applied incorrectly, and we don’t want to use that immersive environment in any way that might traumatize or scare students away from a particular topic. Yet in much the same way, VR has the potential to teach us to face our fears, and come out of the other side unscathed. The applications in educational VR are immense, and luckily just around the corner. So if you’re in the education industry already, watch this space, and be ready for some serious disruption!