We live in a world where technology is constantly evolving and changing so many aspects of our day-to-day. It was only ten years ago that iPhones were first introduced, and only a few years before that Facebook become one of our main tools for communication. It’s difficult now to imagine a world without all of these technological advancements, but with the speed in which new gadgets and programmes are constantly being introduced, it’s easy to predict how much more change is coming.
Education is one sector where technological advancements have, and will continue to, drastically change the way we learn. I recall a memory of primary school where the classroom got its first ever computer, and how those who didn’t have one at home got to have the first turn. Fast forward a few years, and my secondary school had computers in almost every room. Learning became centred around these machines which made our words look smarter than our handwriting, and could give us an answer to any question immediately.
We’ve come this far in an incredibly small amount of time, and with virtual reality being developed for and introduced into education, chances are we’ll see a revamp of the classroom again in our lifetime.
Augment defines the difference between VR and AR perfectly. It states that VR “is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life environment or situation” which is “achieved through wearing a headset”, and that AR “is a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements atop an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it”.
Virtual reality is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real life environment or situation. Augmented reality is a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements atop an existing reality in order to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.
To put it another way, AR is what most of us experienced when we became hooked on Pokemon Go last summer, whereas VR would have entailed putting on a headset and virtually transporting into the Pokemon hunting world entirely.
How are companies developing VR for education right now?
There are several companies creating impressive VR programmes geared specifically for education, and if the learning pyramid theory is correct then we can expect the next generation of students to be much more efficient learners. According to this theory, after two weeks we remember 90% of what we see and do, compared to 10% of what we read. Put simply, interactive learning helps us to remember information better than the traditional classroom methods we’re used to.
Immersive VR Education are one company developing ways to change education. Their Engage platform allows teachers to stream in virtual assets during lessons, and to take pupils on virtual field trips without even leaving school grounds.
Putting students in the centre of a completely different world is what Alchemy VR offers, and their production value has earned the company a BAFTA. Their transportations in to a virtual world follow a narrative. They allow participants to become completely immersed in otherwise unlikely situations including space with Tim Peake, and the Great Barrier Reef with David Attenborough.
When you look across the market, the company which is really charging full steam ahead in developing VR for education, however, is the Facebook-funded Oculus. With plans to invest more than $3 billion into the technology over the next decade, Mark Zuckerberg has big dreams for changing the face of education forever. In a recent partnership with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, they built a VR system which places medical students in rare yet high-risk pediatric trauma situations where one move can mean life or death for the patient. All scenarios are based on real-life case studies, and aim to prepare students with the ability to make snap decisions - as cases such as these are difficult to train for in the real world without putting the patient at risk.
No new technology would be complete without involvement from Google, and VR for education is something they are taking their own, arguably more accessible, spin on. Google Cardboard doesn’t require a chunk of investment for schools or consumers to be able to implement VR into education like other products. Instead, it’s a simple cardboard headset for students to place their smartphone in with the VR apps already loaded up. One of the apps they’ve created is Google Expeditions, solely dedicated to taking students on virtual field trips to some of the world’s most monumental locations including Mars and Machu Picchu.
What does this mean for the future of education?
Much like every other aspect of our lives now, education is set to be taken over with the introduction of new technology if the VR trend and investment continues to grow. Interactive learning in this way is much different to the traditional classroom setting previous generations were used to, however it opens up a whole world of exploration in which students may not have otherwise been able to witness.
With so many VR companies making their own interpretations on the technology for education, it will be interesting to see which avenue learning goes down. Will educational VR be a tool which adds extra texture to traditional lessons, become a replacement for field trips as the cost of travelling to Antarctica will only be the price of a classroom’s worth of headsets, or will it be used as a training method for certain professions in higher education?
One thing is for sure - with the amount of development and funding going into VR at the moment, it’s almost certain to become a staple in educational settings in years to come.