Generation Z (people born from mid-1990s to 2010s) and Generation Alpha (those born between 2010s and mid-2020s) grew up surrounded by technology. For these young people, devices like smartphones and tablets are like an additional exoskeletal attachment. These young generations are not afraid of new technologies. School districts and universities should not be either.
The 2020s will be the decade of immersive technologies, and this is the year for schools to start exploring how to bring virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into the classroom. I use VR in my classroom because I see its success, but it’s not just me–multiple studies point to the academic advantages of immersive tech.
VR and AR will change how we live, work, learn, and interact with each other. This belief caused me to start The Glimpse Group, a diversified VR and AR platform company made up of 9 unique software and services subsidiaries.
In addition to my work with The Glimpse Group, I am also an adjunct lecturer at Fordham University. At Fordham I teach Exploring Entrepreneurship, a class where students learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur, along with the critical elements of starting a company. My colleague, Professor Christine Janssen, and I modernized the course by adding VR exercises to teach our students soft skills and business collaboration.
Technology brought the world into the classroom–immersive technologies will take the classroom into the world.
AR learning 101
Very few of today’s classrooms consist of some desks, a chalkboard, and a few squeaky pieces of chalk. Now we have projectors, interactive whiteboards, one-to-one laptop policies, and more. We moved away from just a chalkboard because we realized that most students prefer learning in multimodal methods.
AR works by overlaying digital elements into a physical world. AR turns the screen of a smartphone or a tablet into magical windows that transform books, posters, and classroom objects into dynamic learning tools. Not only are students engaged in new ways, but this digital augmentation can help direct students’ attention to relevant information.
AR also provides strong analytics that allow teachers to measure what a student is looking at and for how long their engagement lasts. Imagine assigning homework and the following day being able to measure what content students interacted with. AR is an accessible and powerful tool that can motivate students to learn and allow teachers to better understand what works for their students.
VR learning 101
Humans are spatial learners who learn best by doing. While it’s not always feasible to take students to a physical location, a VR headset can transport students to any time period and any location. The best part? Students feel focused while immersed in these environments.
Immersion is one of the most powerful things about VR. Computer scientist Jonathan Steuer brought attention to the effects of immersion in his well-known 1993 paper titled “Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions Determining Telepresence.” In the paper Steuer defines telepresence as, “the extent to which one feels present in the mediated environment, rather than in the immediate physical environment.” With immersion, interactivity, and a distraction-free environment, VR optimizes how we understand and cognitively process new information.
Another major benefit of VR includes gamification and the ability to scaffold learning. When it comes to completing a science experiment, a student’s first-run of the experience could be fully guided and even feature a virtual instructor. They could receive real-time feedback on their performance. In order to reach the “next level,” or a version of the experience with less guidance, students need to successfully complete the first level. With gamification, experiences can be uniquely modified for the student.
At Fordham, I have my students practice networking, negotiating, and business pitching all while embodying virtual avatars. These virtual simulations allow students to practice situations that they cannot practice within the confines of their university. I can talk about networking to my students and give them tips, but they’ll only retain these skills by practicing its application. VR provides the best medium for execution.
In VR, my students can role play as virtual avatars. While embodying another person, they enter a virtual room and feel like they’re surrounded by other business people. In reality, these other avatars could be their peers. When embodying another avatar and when immersed in these virtual rooms, my students take their exercises more seriously.
Does VR and AR learning work?
This upcoming generation of students grew up with internet-connected smart devices. For them, information comes instantaneously. Unfortunately, a barrage of apps are constantly combating their attention economy and impacting their focus and retention in class. AR and VR provide new learning opportunities that can keep students engaged and make lessons stick.
There are metrics to back up the success of VR and AR on learning and retention. A meta-analysis from the Eurasian Journal of Educational Research analyzed the effectiveness of AR learning and found that “AR applications increase students’ academic achievement in the learning process compared to traditional methods.” With the ability to put text, videos, images, audio, and 3D models all in one experience, AR can deliver a diversified ray of information in ways that are beneficial to all learning types.
AR is enhancing our current learning arsenal and VR provides an entirely new way to learn. Humans are sensory creations who use visual and audio cues to gain information. Learning new concepts in a virtual environment (which would be rich in sound design, visuals, and 3D objects), benefits our natural spatial learning style. When it comes to remembering new information, a University of Maryland study found that VR learning simulations provided “a superior memory recall ability compared to the desktop condition.”
What’s next for VR and AR
VR and AR’s influence on learning is ubiquitous. Its adoption is inevitable and almost any current educational experience can be enhanced by these technologies. It would be nearly impossible for me to describe all the ways educational institutions can adopt these new technologies, but the ones already in use are virtual classrooms where students can join class remotely, multidimensional data visualization that allows students to see data relationships that are not easily visible in two or three dimensions, and virtual recreations of historical times and events that let students “visit” the past.
The next generation of learners is here. If we, as educators, are dismissive of integrating current tech advancements into our classroom, we risk raising an entire generation of students that will fall behind.
Administrators and educators need to shift their paradigm on immersive tech’s adoption. VR and AR will enhance students’ educational experiences and give them a step up for their future.
The academic adoption of VR and AR is inevitable. We may need to develop a new pedagogy for how students interact with immersive technologies, but I am excited to have this technology make a positive impact on the next generation of learners.