According to educational psychologists, we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear and 90% of what we do. So learning in an immersive virtual environment which has been created to meet the exact needs of the learner could be very succesful. Learning would be a lot easier for students of all ages and there would be potential for our brains to remember it for a long time. But how close are we to virtual reality really making an impact in education today?
Speed of adoption of Virtual Reality
In 2014, I took a group of 10 year olds to Hull University for a programming competition. During a breakout session, we were given a tour of the University and shown the new technologies that the Computing department were working on. The one that impressed me the most was the use of virtual reality to train technicians on the wind farms that were being developed in the local area - I understood immediately how creating virtual environments for educational purposes could really benefit students.
Fast forward two years and the use of virtually reality for educational purposes has really started to happen. Google are rolling their virtual reality program, Expeditions, out to selected schools across the globe. Here the students can immerse themselves in over 100 engaging journeys using Google Cardboard (a DIY headset) and virtual environments created by their content partners.
Virtual Reality Hardware
As with most new technology, the hardware comes first and then the software follows. Even though we used Occulus Rift headsets in 2013, they are still not available to purchase at the time of writing although the promise is that they will be launched to the general public in Q1 2016. The Samsung Gear VR has already been released and works in a similar way to Google Cardboard where the user slips their phone into the headset and immerses themself into a virtual experience.
Virtual reality software has also started to appear on the Internet. Unimersiv claims to be the first VR learning platform.
"A place on which people can come every weeks to learn something new in virtual reality. Virtual reality can give you experiences no educational book or video could and we want to embrace that."
Virtual Reality applications for Education
Unimersiv currently offer VR apps for the Occulus Rift, Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR. One of the apps, called Brain Connectivity Leap and available for the Occulus Rift, allows you to interact with a 3D Reconstruction of an actual human Brain:
Other educational apps are available such as a visit to the Colloseum in Rome, guided tours of planets and stars and House of Languages which immerses you in a language classroom to learn Spanish and German.
As the technology develops and reaches wider adoption, more developers will create content for these platforms. Imagine being in a virtual learning simulator which seats you in a classroom to attend a holographic lecture with many other people from around the world. Why simulate a classroom? Because the social experience of teaching (and hearing others’ questions) is key to learning.
How long will it be before virtual reality makes a big impact in our classrooms? Twenty years ago we didn't consider having tablets in our classrooms and now they are in most schools across the western world. How long before we learn by immersion in a virtual classroom as Parzival did in the dystopian thriller, Ready Player One?