Virtual reality in education is the new hype and it’s changing the meaning of a sentence I love since I was a kid: “We love books because they are the greatest escape. That is because our own minds eye is the purest form of virtual reality.” Virtual reality will provide immersive experience for learning, but I see some signals it will come at a slower pace than you expect. This is what I’m going to explore in this post.
Virtual reality ramifications in the educational sector are a reason for all the attention it’s receiving. Virtual reality, similarly to distance learning technologies, will enable learning from remote, when travelling, when a teacher is not available, at any time in the day (or night) and at your own pace. In addition to online learning, students will be transported to another programmed world through the use of feedback headsets, tactile gloves and motion sensors. It will become a supplement to traditional methods. Virtual reality in education promises to deliver the best aspects of both real classrooms and online platforms: avatars, educator’s assistance, voice and video, PowerPoint, collaborative technologies, chat and messaging, ability to record and replay lectures etc.…
It sounds all correct, but we have evidences that past innovations, although really amazing, failed to substantially change education: cinema, computers, tablets and apps, online and distance learning. A movie is able to immerse the audience in another world, but our schools mainly use movies when it comes to teach a foreign language. Ironically a language is mainly about “listening”, a movie is about “watching”. Yes, but computers, labs and interactive whiteboards changed dramatically the scenario. And now that tablets and apps kicked in, the revolution is completed. Unfortunately, this is false. In 2015, OECD examined the impact of school technology on international test results, in 70 countries, and made two “incredible” discoveries:
- The world is still unplugged
- Students who use computers very frequently at school get worse results
This is frustrating. Our kids and teens spend less than half an hour per day at school on a computer, the diffusion of technology helping education is extremely dis-homogenous and it does not even work. The diffusion can be about the cost of the equipment, but there must be something in the approach, in the way we use technology. According to Saomya Saxena, an educational blog author at Ed Tech Review, the effect of technology on education depends on the design of instruction: the design of the instruction accounts for more variance in how and why people learn than the technology used to deliver the instruction. In other words, technology is just one ingredient in the recipe of education; so if learning is not effective, it’s not easy to separate the role of technology from the other elements; sometimes technology is fine, the rest is poor.
So I decided to search for some definitions of “learning” and they are mainly around the concepts of permanently changing the behavior through experience, instruction, or study. I feel comfortable in adding that learning to me “is about gaining the ability to use your head to face any situation”. Merely studying the concepts is a mean to an end. Today technology is able to provide all the information you need in just a picosecond and in engaging ways, but I guess this is not sufficient to learn how to apply proper reasoning. Static technology is making lifelong learning a practicality, but the results are not as good as expected. According to constructivism theories, learning is an active process of constructing rather than acquiring knowledge; and instruction is a process of supporting that construction rather than communicating knowledge. In the next paragraph, you will see that virtual reality fits well with it.
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Is virtual reality in education any better?
So, virtual reality is enough to learn better? What does learn better mean? Understand better? Remember longer?
The first comment is really about learning through experience. The pedagogies of constructivism and game-based learning show that children learn best by doing or by being. They should not just read about history, they should be historians. They should not just study archaeology, they should be archaeologists. Using state of the art graphics, which are comparable to video games, virtual reality can educate as well as entertain students through uniquely realistic recreation of a time period that no longer exists or locations that are difficult to reach. I write about Google Expeditions in the next section, and that’s a clear example.
Game based education is another relevant topic. It’s more fun and engaging. Bringing a video game-like experience to students and presenting material in a more engaging way, will help get a new generation of students get excited about topics they think are boring. Somebody thinks that virtual reality in education is better suited for matters related to visual skills, for ex. it would be better for arts than for math. I’m not sure about this point, there are ways to visualize also a math or chemical formula and make it alive. Virtual reality headsets already allow students to move planets, see around stars and track the progress of a comet. This also enables them to see how abstract concepts work in a three dimensional environment which makes them easier to understand and retain. 3D interaction with objects can help students to understand difficult theoretical concepts through applications that would visually represent those topics. Since VR is a computer simulation of a natural environment, interaction with a 3D model is more natural than browsing through 2D webpages looking for information. The zSpace platform described ahead is a good example of these concepts.
The fact virtual reality in education is interactive brings with it collaboration. The collaborative aspect of learning is crucial. In fact, immersion, imagination and interaction, are the three fundamental features of virtual reality. The advantage is that it enables large groups of students to interact with each other as well as within a three dimensional environment. Much of collaborative learning strategy is built on VR technologies and allows learners to discuss and solve visualization problems in a group. In other words, students can help each other, investigate a problem, propose and debate solutions, learn from experienced peers etc.… But the interesting point is that virtual reality can maximize also the opposite of collaboration, individualism. Virtual reality allows student to progress at their own pace without being held back at a class schedule while also motivating them to learn. The motivation comes from being the protagonists of their learning session. It would be like a movie in which the student is playing the protagonist. Compared to the classic situation where students sit at the back of classroom and passively assist to a lesson, virtual reality can improve both participation and retention.
The last benefit, is often undervalued, virtual reality changes the methods of rewarding students. Virtual reality is going to transform the traditional concept of incentives in the learning process. Students engage step by step to achieve intermediate results and complete their understanding; there’s gaming component in this approach. This kind of rewards engages the brain and keep learners questing for more. Emotional rewards cannot be ignored either. They make a huge impact on students’ desire to study. There are rewards for achievements. Failures are generally ignored. This is the opposite of standard education where success is neutral and failure is punished.
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5 remarkable examples of virtual reality in education
zSpace for Education is a streamlined hardware and software solution that allows students to manipulate virtual, 3D objects ranging from human hearts to helicopters to learn concepts such as math, physics, engineering and biology. In this video, real use into classrooms.
Imagine visiting the bottom of the sea or the surface of Mars in an afternoon. With Expeditions, teachers can take their classes on immersive virtual journeys to bring their lessons to life. In this video, if you focus on the faces of the students, you can have a feeling of the concept of “engagement”.
EON is a platform that empowers the creation of virtual reality environments that can be navigated from the inside with headsets. The video is intriguing and shows the infinite possibilities.
“Tell Me and I Will Forget; Show Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Will Understand.” Confucius. According to them, Unimersiv has the largest library of immersive virtual reality educational experiences. The quality is impressive in YouTube; I can bet with a headset it’s even better.
The combination of virtual reality and Oculus make the experience similar to watching a movie, but interactive. If I had the opportunity to study like this… A great example of virtual reality in education.
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