Do you remember the first time you went on a scary roller coaster or the time you skied down a steep incline or your first scuba-dive? Chances are these memories are etched into your mind and if you close your eyes you can recall them in fair detail.

While momentous activities are remembered, you would struggle to remember the newspaper headlines of the same day. And that is because the engagement via the newspaper was one dimensional and boring.

Until not too long-ago teaching was similarly one dimensional and instruction heavy. Luckily, pedagogy has since evolved and learning in progressive schools has moved on from the tedious ‘chalk and talk’ methodology, but there is far more to be done to fully engage students.

How does Learning take place?

Learning is a function of Memory & Understanding and both attributes interweave throughout the learning process. Learning follows 5 key steps (APAR-A):

  • Absorbing the information being relayed (memorizing)
  • Processing and sorting the information (understanding)
  • Assimilating and storing the information (understanding + memorizing)
  • Recalling the information when required (memorizing)
  • Applying the knowledge and distilled wisdom (understanding)

Powerful Memories and Masterful Understanding therefore make for deeper learning. But both rely on strong anchors. Strong anchors in turn are created when multifaceted sensory engagement takes place and emotional responses are the outcome.

And that is where Spatial or Immersive computing comes in.

Immersive computing, whether through the medium of VR/AR or newer developments like Mixed Reality and Haptic computing, ensures a complete and focussed engagement of the user by activating multiple senses. Especially in this era of shortened attention spans it stands out for its ability to eliminate distractions and keep the user in the ‘moment’ for much longer.

Extending the Scuba diving analogy, the earlier pedagogy styles were akin to seeing pictures of fishes in a book and hoping that students would get excited about marine science. Present pedagogy is the equivalent of watching fishes in a large aquarium. But future pedagogy is going to be the equivalent of scuba diving at the world’s best dive sites, thanks to magic of immersive computing and EdTech companies that are developing content for this medium.

What’s cooking in the kitchen?

As hardware technology and computing power ramp up, the usage of VR will increase exponentially.

Already schools like Big Picture Learning and Orestad Gymnasium, amongst many others, are making immersive experiences the foundation of their institutions; technology is aiding the process but their pedagogy approach goes beyond technology. It’s only a matter of time before they become the norm rather than the exception.

New devices such as the AR based Microsoft Hololens or the VR based HP Reverb high resolution headset (backed by extra computing power on an accompanying backpack) are accelerating the adoption of immersive computing.

EdTech companies like AlchemyVR and Boulevard are breaking new ground with their educational VR content. Alchemy has tied up with stalwarts such as David Attenborough and Judi Dench to bring ultra-realistic natural resources VR content to life and Boulevard has tied up with leading museums across the globe to allow a virtual tour of their collections. Fascinating!

Closer home, Middle Eastern start-up Munfarid specialises in Medical and Educational VR content in Arabic and English. Their founder, Dr. Sana Farid, a Bahraini medical surgeon, has not only broken gender stereotypes but continues to evangelize adoption of VR content across educational institutes in the region.

The new frontier will be the amalgamation of Learning Management Solutions and VR. Corporate LMS systems are already starting to launch VR modules. K12 and Higher Education LMS companies will not be far behind. Classera is the leading K12 LMS in the MENA region, it has already incorporated AI into its schematic – will it take on VR/AR next?

Bridging the skills gap

The 21st century’s paradox is that on one hand there continues to be a persistent skill gap – from manufacturing to technology – however on the other hand there is an increasingly shorter shelf life of skills learnt. Every time there is progress made in bridging the gap on one skill, another skill is outdated and needs to be replaced or retaught.

In a recent study undertaken in UK it is predicted that 830,000 new science, engineering and technology (SET) professionals and 450,000 SET technicians are desperately needed between now and 2020. In India the employability of graduates continues to be below 20% due to the lack of actual skills employers are seeking. In Japan the skills shortage, based on corporate surveys and feedback, is estimated at 80%, the highest worldwide.

One of the most effective solutions in addressing the skills gap at scale and in budget is through virtual training. From recreating real life scenarios to enhancing soft skills, companies like VirtualSpeech, are leading the way in redressing this global challenge.

Addressing accessibility

Educational accessibility efforts and out-reach programs in impoverished and far flung rural areas have often been hampered by the lack of funds and difficulty in attracting educators to isolated regions.

A 2017 UNESCO report puts the number of children that do not have access to education at 264 Million. Many girls, especially in developing countries, can't go to school at all. Countries where the situation is particularly accentuated are India, Pakistan and Indonesia in Asia, as well as Nigeria and Ethiopia in Africa.

This is where Virtual Reality takes centre-stage.

As 5G networks and internet connectivity become more ubiquitous, virtual reality is destined to be the saviour that allows the creation of virtual schools led by talented teachers, transcending the constraints of capital, culture and geography. Yes, initial successes will come through the medium of online training but eventual long term and impactful solutions will be delivered through VR.

True social innovation and education disruption will take place when a girl from a remote village in India will have the opportunity to interact with a girl from an equally remote village in Ethiopia, through their digital avatars in a virtual classroom, and together they will explore not just the fascinating wonders of the world and the workings of science & nature, but also collaborate to design solutions that solve their local area issues and global problems.

Virtual reality offers not just better retention and comprehension of information but also the opportunity to create a framework for more equitable distribution of knowledge, with accessibility at scale.

 

The Future of Education is truly both Inclusive and Immersive.

 

Mayank Dhingra

About the Author

Mayank Dhingra is the Education Lead for HP Inc in the MENAT region. He is also the Founder of Yogasmriti, a not-for-profit initiative, that has been supporting under-privileged children across the globe for the last decade.

Disclaimer

The views expressed are the author’s personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of his current or previous organisations.

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