Is virtual reality the next big wave in education? In some form, virtual reality has been around for a long time. However, many advocates believe that its time is coming and it has the potential to transform many aspects of how students experience learning.
Virtual reality (VR) is typically defined as a computer-generated experience that immerses participants in what feels like reality. It has the potential to generate the experience of being in any place or circumstance in the world and beyond, without the expense and risk of being there. Students can travel under the ocean, scale the most rugged mountains, or experience the inside of the digestive system. While education-focused content for VR systems has lagged, change may be coming.
Many experts believe this trend may be about to accelerate. Recent research using VR in the development of skills in the business world has shown significant impacts on learning. For example, a recent study by PwC Labs, a developer and provider of integrated technology for business, demonstrated dramatic learning results. Participants in VR simulation-based training learned at a rate four times faster than classroom-based learners. Meanwhile, lessons lasted a mere twenty minutes versus the hour-long lessons common in traditional settings. Additionally, the study showed learning retention rates exceeding traditional training approaches by more than 75%!
Meanwhile, investments in global eLearning are anticipated to grow from $185.26 billion in 2020 to $388.23 billion in 2026. Of course, investments in eLearning, including VR, will lag in the education market since the immediate return on investment is not as great as in the industrial learning world. Nevertheless, the investment opportunity present in the post-COVID-19 education market will likely not be ignored for long, especially if the VR learning impact can be replicated in the K-12 and higher education environment.
The pandemic has increased educator awareness of technology’s potential to support learning. However, to date, technology in education has largely been confined to delivering instruction in much the way it was presented without technology. Consequently, the impact has been uneven at best.
What might we discover if we were to set aside the traditional instruction-driven learning model and ask how best to stimulate and nurture learning in our students? Might we discover new learning paths and strategies to build the knowledge and skills our students need to acquire? What potential might VR offer to assist our efforts?
It seems that at the very least, we need to learn as much as we can about the nature and potential of VR and other forms of eLearning to support our young people. We need to avoid the trap of concluding that the often clumsy and halting efforts at virtual learning from the pandemic are indicative of what is possible.
In his book Disrupting Class more than a decade ago, Clayton Christensen cautioned that almost all transformative innovations begin on the fringes of practice and are usually not very good. However, over time they become more stable, more impactful, and easier to manage. Eventually the innovation proves itself and becomes the dominant approach.
It is worth considering whether virtual reality may have the pervasive impact on our profession and practices that it is beginning to demonstrate in a business environment. Now is a good time to look beyond the challenges of the past two years and learn all we can about the potential of eLearning to transform the experience of our learners. It could be an amazing adventure!
Kern, M. A. (n.d.). How the metaverse can supercharge corporate skills training. Agadir-Group. https://agadir-group.com/how-the-metaverse-can-supercharge-corporate-skills-training/
PwC. (n.d.). How virtual reality is redefining soft skills training. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/tech-effect/emerging-tech/virtual-reality-study.html