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How will AR and VR in classrooms affect the future of education?

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Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology — collectively known as extended reality (XR) — is on the rise, especially in education. Seven out of 10 teachers want more VR and AR in education, especially when it reinforces the curriculum and student interest, according to a recent study by Statista. This type of technology creates opportunities for experiential learning, which:

  • Helps students make deeper connections with learning.
  • Gives students hands-on experiences with things they may never otherwise encounter.
  • Goes beyond rote memorization and into immersive learning.
  • Customizes experiences to students’ interests, abilities, and learning styles.

You can see what XR learning is like by exploring VR and AR apps like Mapper’s Delight, Visceral Science, Gravity Simulator and more. Most often the only VR equipment you need is a VR headset, but the experience can be enhanced with haptic gloves and other equipment.

By making learning immersive and experiential, VR and AR technology can help create a better understanding of complex topics. XR facilitates a new, exciting kind of experiential learning, and experiential learning has been proven to work.

A rigorous meta-analysis of experiential learning outcomes across 89 studies showed overwhelmingly positive and robust results for students. Experiential learning outcomes are nearly 50% better than traditional learning outcomes. Through experiential learning, students increase cognitive and social skills, meaning they retain information better, improve problem-solving and develop a deeper understanding of social issues.

By helping students experience feelings of wonder and delight as they view the world in a new way, XR can serve as a highly effective experiential learning tool. Let’s explore eight ways that this technology can expand learning beyond the classroom.

Expanding interactive experiences

Some common VR and AR interactive experiences include:

  • Virtual field trips for K-12;
  • Immersive learning for skill building;
  • Creating to-scale 3-D models for architects and engineers;
  • Accessibility for differently-abled students;
  • High-risk training scenarios for health care professionals;
  • Laboratory research methods training for science students;
  • Field training for construction and advanced manufacturing specialists.

With XR technology in education, students can experiment with immersive experiences from the arts and humanities to technology, vocational programs and science. Instead of just listening to an orchestra, they can play first chair or practice helping the injured in a high-risk situation. 

Instead of dissecting a frog or a pig’s heart a few times in a lab, students can do it hundreds of times in a digital world, which improves the accessibility of science education. Instead of conducting dangerous experiments with toxic substances in-person, researchers can safely simulate these experiments with XR.

These broad and diverse educational experiences can help students do anything from exploring the world to building practical skills and preparing for the modern, tech-rich workplace.

Overcoming experience barriers

Have you ever seen the Aurora Borealis? Watched a lion pride hunt in the African sun? Perhaps you want to experience history first-hand. VR and AR technology in education can put you right in the middle of the world outside your borders. Experiences that are impractical for a classroom can become daily activities.

With AR and VR, people without access to certain resources can build practical skills through experiential learning. These kinds of experiences not only expand intellectual intelligence, but also our emotional intelligence. It creates deeper levels of critical and abstract thinking.

Overcoming financial barriers

Many education systems are already strapped for funding, which makes it hard to give students access to activities to enhance learning. Augmented and virtual reality in education brings those experiences into the classroom, overcoming financial barriers for both schools and students.

VR and AR education statistics show that equipment is already in most classrooms, but the comfort isn’t. In a report from Statista on the demand for VR services by industry, almost 80% of teachers have access to VR devices, but less than 7% use them. If the technology is already available, you can begin creating immersive experiences from day one.

Overcoming language barriers

Language differences can create inequitable access to learning, but AR/VR in education transcends those barriers. AR/VR technology offers language translation for students who may not understand the material. They can sit in the classroom with their actual teacher while using AR/VR to translate the lesson and even participate in classroom discussions. 

For students learning a foreign language, having access to AR/VR in education puts them in immersive scenarios to practice and explore. Order dinner in a French restaurant, complete a job interview in English, or tour a museum in Spanish. Virtual and augmented reality give you ways to practice new languages in authentic settings.

Increasing enjoyment of activities

Research shows that interest-based learning, where lessons are built around the topics students find interesting, promotes deeper engagement with learning. AR and VR technology in education immerses students in a world where they can explore their interests beyond textbooks. And with AR in the cloud, students could take their learning with them on the go, using cloud-based apps or even classroom notes to engage with the world in real-time as they explore new places or encounter new things.

Even more mundane assignments, like memorizing multiplication tables or learning about civics, can come to life with VR. Instead of writing out answers, you can catch them in the air with your hands. Instead of learning about the government, you can sit in Congress and vote on legislation.

Offering spatial references

The smallest particles we know of are called quarks — they are smaller than atoms, protons, neutrons and even electrons. When taught in the classroom, we use diagrams, videos and photos to convey the size of our subatomic world. But our minds can never understand how truly tiny this world is with merely a diagram. That’s a time when AR and VR can magnify learning.

AR/VR technology transports students into various spatial worlds. On the subatomic scale, Belle2VR — which was developed by researchers at Virginia Tech — allows students to interact with a VR visualization of particle physics. Students can view subatomic particle collisions impossible to see with the naked eye. They can zoom in and out, adjusting transparency to watch a particle race head-on towards another.

Or, with the Virtual Reality Universe Project, students can zoom all the way out and explore a virtual universe based on the most detailed contemporary astrophysical and cosmological data. Imagine flying past galaxies, space stations, planets, multicolored gas, stars and black holes in real time.

Those studying a particular type of animal can examine a realistic scale of the species. Veterinarian students can see the actual size difference between organs. Builders can see how measurements will fit together in real size. With this type of emerging technology in education, students get spatial references that help them better understand complex concepts.

Offering more accommodations for disabilities

Augmented and virtual reality in education has a powerfully unifying benefit — inclusivity. Students of all abilities can have immersive experiences with their learning, thanks to the growth of VR and AR in education. Activities that were limited to only one learning style are now open to all kinds of learners. The accessibility accommodations powered by technology are constantly growing.

VR and AR are particularly empowering for students diagnosed with learning disabilities. This tech can break down barriers to learning by allowing differently-abled students to learn through experience. It can help students stay focused, persist through challenging tasks, problem-solve, and practice in a low-stress, low-pressure environment. Early research even suggests that VR users with various health impairments may stand to gain the most from using VR therapeutically and recreationally.

Creating opportunities for hands-on experiences

AR and VR technology has some practical uses in education, especially when it comes to hands-on experiences. Students engage in activities tactilely, embedding knowledge not just into their minds, but also into their senses. People ready to work can get hands-on skill training and practice anytime with AR and VR technology. Students unsure of their career path can learn about certain jobs by exploring them virtually.

The opportunities for self-discovery with AR and VR in education are endless. There is no age, subject, industry, skill, or trade beyond its capability. Education can become a more transformative experience for learners of all abilities with the growth and development of VR and AR technology in education.