Virtual and augmented reality improves learning

  • AR improves learning experiences in various classes
  • Helping midwifery students practice clinical skills
  • VR makes education more interesting and engaging
  • Fostering social and emotional learning through VR experiences
  • Immersive tech is a valuable addition to the learning process

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are some of the fastest-growing technologies today. They’ve induced many changes across industries, pushing traditional practices aside. What’s more, the research firm Fortune Business Insights predicts that the global VR market alone will reach $120.5 billion by 2026, compared to $7.3 billion in 2018. Many sectors are taking advantage of immersive tech, and education is no exception. Using VR- and AR-enabled solutions, educators can increase student engagement and make the learning process more enjoyable.

 A horizontal bar chart detailing the value of the global virtual reality market in 2018 and in 2026.

As the tech continues to advance, VR and AR tools in education will become more affordable and schools will be eager to adopt them. What makes immersive products so appealing is that these innovations can help students of all ages to learn a new concept by experiencing it in a virtual environment. This approach prepares young people for the challenges of the job market and improves their digital literacy.

AR improves learning experiences in various classes

AR tech overlays digital elements like images, videos, or 3D models onto real-world environments, creating a visual experience visible through devices like smartphones or special glasses. Within, a company specialising in immersive technology, released a new feature for its AR app Wonderscope that aims to help children learn. The new AR experience is called Clio’s Cosmic Quest and it’s designed to encourage children aged six to eight to read by having a digital character, a stardust named Clio, talk to them and ask them various questions. The text appears on the screen and as children read it, it turns green and fades away. Clio will often respond to their reading and even make eye contact. As they go through the story, they will learn about galaxies and the solar system. They’ll be able to see the planets and learn interesting facts about them. To create a fully engaging experience, Clio’s Cosmic Quest will transform the entire room into an immersive environment.

With Wonderscope, parents won’t have to worry about their children having too much screen time. According to the company’s director of development, Jonny Ahdout, Wonderscope will encourage children to move around and play, instead of just sitting in a room and tapping on a screen. The experience will be particularly helpful for children who are struggling to read. Besides building their reading confidence, Clio’s Cosmic Quest will also teach them about science and space.

Students who are more interested in paleontology and dinosaurs will love the new addition to Magic Leap World. The app store, which features a wide selection of AR experiences, now offers a free app called Dinosaur Kit. Within the app, students can assemble skeletal models of velociraptors and protoceratops. If they get tired and want to continue with the project later, the app allows them to simply save their progress, so they don’t need to start all over again when they come back. After the user has completed building the skeletal model, the skeleton will become “a fully fleshed” dinosaur. The creature will move around and react to the user’s presence, while the app’s narrator will offer more information about the dinosaur.

Some AR apps like Star Walk even allow children to explore the night sky. By pointing their phone to the sky, students can discover more than 200,000 constellations, stars, and various celestial objects and learn about the mysteries of the universe in an engaging way. Also, the app tells users where to look for a specific object and even enables rewinding or fast-forwarding time to track the movement of celestial bodies. And as children move their device, the star map updates in real time. The app is used by ten million people, and its sequel Star Walk 2 offers even more astronomical data.

Helping midwifery students practice clinical skills

AR certainly makes learning enjoyable for younger students and children, but this technology plays an even bigger role in higher education. Some institutions are relying on AR to enhance educational experiences and better prepare students for their future professions. At London’s Middlesex University, for instance, midwifery students are using AR headsets in birth simulations. By adding digital elements to the real world, AR technology allows students to better understand the childbirth process. Equipped with AR headsets, midwifery students can practice their clinical skills in simulated births conducted on “lifelike models of full-term mothers”. Middlesex University is the first higher education institution in the UK that decided to invest in AR equipment. And the investment will benefit the entire society, because with the help of AR, the university can ensure better maternity services across the country.

VR makes education more interesting and engaging

Modern education could also benefit tremendously from VR’s advanced solutions. Take, for example, chemistry studies, which are interesting, especially to those who like to explore when and why some reactions occur. In addition, studying pharmaceutical sciences entails learning how the world functions on a molecular level. But having a lab that’s equipped with the latest technologies is expensive, and many schools can’t afford having one of those cutting-edge facilities. Consequently, students are deprived of the practical knowledge they need. However, a virtual lab could ensure high-quality practical education, saving a significant amount of money that setting up a ‘real’ lab requires.

But virtual labs don’t just cut costs – working in virtual environments is safer, too. “The real lab is actually very limiting. A lot of it is toxic. We can’t let them blow up things. We have limited time, and there are safety issues all over the place,” explains Brian Woodfield, a physical chemist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who has been developing virtual labs for decades. And Arizona State University (ASU) launched its “first fully online biology degree course that uses simulations instead of actual lab work”, which were provided by the Danish company Labster in collaboration with Google Daydream.

Simulation-based learning is gaining traction, and given all the perks of VR-based teaching tools, its potential can’t be overlooked. This is especially the case in online learning, in which students can feel isolated from their peers. That’s why Full Sail University implemented a VR classroom that uses avatars. This Florida-based school is using an app called Rumii, designed by the Seattle-based Doghead Simulations. The app allows students and teachers to “share documents, give presentations (with a laser pointer even) and browse the web on a giant screen at the front of a virtual conference room”. As the CIO of Full Sail University, Isis Jones, says, “In today’s world where technology and screen time can be distracting, VR allows you to be in the moment and engaged with the subject at hand.”

And this tool was also used by anthropology students from Harvard University and Zhejiang University in a joint VR classroom, with the aim of studying ancient Egyptian characters. “The Chinese and American students just immediately engaged and started talking to each other. They naturally broke off into groups and started using our drawing widget to circle the hieroglyphs that they would study while they’re in Egypt,” says Doghead Simulations’ co-founder, Mat Chacon.

VR can also make biology lessons more interactive and fun, and one of the solutions for that comes from VictoryXR, a leading provider of VR and AR educational tools. In partnership with Carolina Biological, a company specialising in science teaching materials, VictoryXR developed “the world’s first virtual reality specimen dissection library”. This user-friendly technology is compatible with HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. VictoryXR’s Dissection Library is designed to supplement today’s education and its developers believe this tech will become an integral part of education in the near future.

Within the program, a VR teacher provides students with instructions. All specimens for VR dissection are recreated as lifelike virtual models. To make them look more realistic, the designers paid attention to the finest details. Using hand controls, students can make an incision and inspect the anatomy of the specimen. VR dissection is a better alternative to the traditional method, because some students might not be comfortable with dissecting a real specimen. In some US states, students can opt-out of traditional dissection lessons due to their religious, health, or other personal beliefs. But since they don’t participate in hands-on lab dissection procedures, they miss out on many learning opportunities.

Fostering social and emotional learning through VR experiences

In traditional education, students often don’t get the skills they need to grow emotionally. What they need to learn is how to build and maintain positive relationships with their friends, family, and co-workers in the future. And some institutions have taken an innovative approach to tackle this challenge. For instance, schools in Texas and Hawaii are relying on VR to improve students’ emotional intelligence and empathy. In 2018, students who took part in a VR experience delivered through Google Expeditions learned about different topics, such as homelessness and the Holocaust. As EdSurge reports, students who learned about homelessness through VR come from middle- or upper-class families, which means they don’t have a proper understanding of homelessness. But becoming a homeless person in a VR simulation helped them develop a completely new perspective on this issue.

Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, says, “No medium, of course can fully capture the subjective experience of another person, but by richly evoking a real-seeming, first-person experience, virtual reality does seem to promise to offer new, empathy-enhancing qualities.”

Another educational use of VR comes from the New York Police Department (NYPD), which launched a VR experience called Options. Options is a result of a partnership between NYPD, the NYC Police Foundation, and Street Smarts VR. The program focuses on emotional intelligence and experiences that teenagers usually face on the street. “We’re trying to get the youth to understand things we do in our agencies and officers need to understand struggles youth go through on a daily basis,” says Rodney Harrison, NYPD’s chief of patrol. In the VR simulations, teens face several real-world scenarios, such as being stopped by police, as well as pressured to commit a crime or join a gang. And in one of the scenarios, they experience the ‘other side’ by seeing what it’s like from the officer’s perspective during a police stop. “You get to see the police side and the street side,” says D’Angelo Isaac, one of the teens who worked on the VR scenarios. The goal is to help youth develop a better understanding of policing, as well as to learn how to handle a potentially dangerous situation.

Immersive tech is a valuable addition to the learning process

Unlike learning from a textbook, learning in an immersive environment allows students to better understand complex concepts. Since students are able to visualise those ideas, the process of acquiring new knowledge is faster. Through audio, video, text, and graphics all embedded into AR and VR solutions, educators can engage their students in learning and help them stay motivated for much longer than with a traditional teaching setup. Clearly, immersive products bring massive benefits to education. Though this tech is still a relatively new tool in schools, it’s already proving to be a valuable investment for many educators.

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