It’s a Wednesday in September. I’m in my Marine Biology lecture. I open my pencil bag for a freshly sharpened pencil, and reach down into my bag for a lined piece of paper. But before I can fish out a sheet from my binder, my professor claps her hands at the front of the classroom, signaling for us to look up and give her our attention.
“Today, we’re doing something a little different.”
She shuffles some things around behind her desk and pulls out a box of VR headsets, which she begins to hand out to my classmates.
“Today, we’re going to the Great Barrier Reef.”
This, I believe, is the future of education. This field has rapidly changed in the past couple of years, for obvious reasons. It’s such a necessary part of the way our society works, how we teach our kids to understand the world and how to function in it. Over the pandemic, the inequities in access to tech became more apparent than ever, and at the same time, it forced us to rise to this challenge. When we were all learning from home, access to technology equaled access to education. There was no getting around it. It set the conversation around educational technology in motion.
Tech is a tool to elevate the learning experience for students and teachers alike. And some of the most advanced methodologies coming into the picture are in Immersive Technology, namely Virtual Reality. There are proven benefits to learning in a VR environment, which I’ll discuss in detail throughout this blog post.
First, it allows students to learn through experience. They can interact hands-on with elements that schools either don’t have access to, or that aren’t physically possible to interact with in the real world. For example, VR could allow us to shrink and explore the inside of a plant cell in first person. That is something that could just never be possible in the standard classroom. Immediate actualization of theory vastly improves knowledge retention, with “retention levels from VR learning up to 75%, compared to 5-10% for other learning methods” (Thompson). This is why science experiments are so effective in helping kids understand content. Imagine being able to create hands-on learning experiences in subjects beyond just Physics and Chemistry- like taking kids to Ancient Rome or Leonardo Da Vinci’s study.
Second, it keeps students attentive and engaged. The simple explanation here is that VR is fun. But, there’s also science behind it. When students are in a Virtual Reality environment, there are no external distractions- they quite literally become enveloped in this new world. Naturally, it helps students stay focused on what they are learning. PwC, for example, found that people were four times more focused with VR training than other learning methods.
Lastly, it provides a new, additional, form of learning analytics. Immersive technology allows us to track more than just whether a student got the answer right or wrong. It enables us to track body language, eye contact, completion rates, and more- kind of like video game analytics. It tells us how engaged students are with material, how confident they feel. Overall, it allows teachers to gather more qualitative data on their students’ progress.