5 reasons Virtual Reality will change the way we learn:
1. Virtual Reality makes a lasting impression
There is research that shows that the immersive nature of virtual reality causes a deeper connection to what we experience than watching something on a computer screen (Ahn, S. J., Fox, J., Dale, K. R., & Avant, J. A., 2015). While this may or may not have a positive impact on subjects such as mathematics and physical science (though it could), it could certainly have an effect on our connection to history and other social sciences. There are some who are already taking advantage of this emotional connection for humanitarian advocacy by allowing individuals to virtually “live” the experience of refugees. This could also go a long way in areas such as bullying prevention and sensitivity training.
2. Virtual Reality gives us authentic (virtual) experiences
If experiencing and solving real-world problems is an important factor in developing inquiry and analytic thinking skills, then virtual reality is ideally suited to authentic experiences. Educators and instructional designers can create open worlds and complex problems for learners to explore, and those worlds are not bound to the confines of a classroom or science lab (see Reasons 3, 4, and 5). Also, since the experience in immersive VR, with haptic feedback and a total sensory experience, is as close as possible to actually conducting learning in reality, the knowledge gained should more easily transfer to the real world. As noted by Donald Clark in this interview earlier this year, the real world is in 3D. If we can interact with an immersive 3D world, we have an opportunity to perform tasks in a way that is natural and intuitive. We do not need to learn how to use our hands in a 3D environment. There are no keyboard shortcuts or complex combinations of buttons and joysticks.
3. Virtual Reality lets us learn by doing
There is a shift in education, particularly in the sciences, but in other subjects as well, to emphasize learning through inquiry and analytical skills. A constructivist model of learning tells us that experience and exploration are critical to deep learning. Virtual reality gives learners the ability to explore any environment safely and in a nonlinear fashion. Physics and chemistry experiments and explorations that require strict supervision and safety training can be conducted in VR, with no risk to students (to say nothing of the cost of supplies and the hazards of dealing with waste materials). Furthermore, VR offers the ability to record the entire experience for later reflection and review to determine what went wrong – or what went right. The power of natural language processing, combined with learning analytics (see below), will allow for stealth assessments of both learning ability and content mastery. Learners won’t even need to know that they are being tested, and the assessment can be more holistic, focusing on skills and big picture thinking, rather than standard questioning formats.
4. Virtual reality is infinitely adaptable
Adaptability can mean so many things, and the beauty of VR is that it can be anything. With the development of learning analytics and intelligent tutoring systems, and the explosion of content available in online open repositories, learners will have the ability to access knowledge in the manner that they choose, at the level that they need, and at a pace that is suited to their individual ability. All of this can be applied to virtual reality, and VR has the flexibility to change the environment accordingly, so that each learner sees only what they need to see when they need to see it. For individuals who have learning disabilities or physical challenges, VR can create an environment that allows everyone to access the content they need.
5. Virtual Reality is not limited by time or space.
Like online learning, as the technology becomes more accessible, an immersive virtual world is always on. There are no office hours, the lab and the library never close, and learners can access the world whenever it is convenient for them. Learners also have the ability to travel to any place or time, whether real or fictional, in this universe, or any other. Google expeditions are one example of the potential of VR in creating field trips for students to places they may not otherwise be able to go. These virtual field trips aren’t bound to Earth, to the present time, or to the real world. As noted above, learners can experience the lives of refugees in the present day. However, VR could also take us to the surface of Mars, a Civil War battlefield, or the first performance of Romeo and Juliet. There is no reason to restrict our travels to reality, either. Literature classes could visit the world of Alice in Wonderland or Lord of the Flies. There is no end to the experiences and the learning potential that VR can provide.