How VR and Emerging EdTech Will Affect Learning

Find out how the educational landscape will be affected by VR and emerging edtech, and what this will mean for teachers and learners.

Set against a backdrop of vast improvements in connectivity, smartphone ownership and 5G technology, it is no surprise that the edtech industry has caught the attention of investors. Valued at $254.8 billion today, the industry is forecast to reach $605.4 billion by 2027, according to the Global EdTech Market Outlook & Forecast Report 2022.

The question is, what new technology will this swathe of investment bring? And how will VR and emerging edtech impact the teaching and learning environment?

We spoke to Jaime Donally, Virtual reality (VR) and Augmented reality (AR) expert about the technology used in education today. Specifically, the benefits of edtech and how these tools will drive game-based and immersive language learning.

How technology is improving access to education

Today, 4.95 billion people around the world use the internet – that’s over 60% of the global population. Of this number, approximately 93% go online using mobile devices, which is no surprise, as smartphone subscriptions number around six billion.

This increased connectivity is bringing access to information and education to people all over the world, including in more remote locations. In one unusual US programme, teachers delivered classes in hard-to-reach areas of Utah using telepresence robots. But almost anyone with an internet connection can access quality teaching resources through apps, platforms and regular smartphone devices.

But the way that students access education isn’t the only thing that technology has changed. Technology has altered the learning landscape itself. Let’s take a look.

VR and AR

In the last couple of years, the learning environment has expanded far beyond the bricks-and-mortar classroom. This paradigm shift means that both educators and students are now more used to technology as an integral part of education.

For example, hybrid classes – that is, lessons that mix students who are online and in the physical classroom at the same time – have become commonplace. Thanks to technology, teachers are appearing on screens in a student’s living room. Students are learning via educational platforms, websites and apps.

This has created a receptive audience for new forms of educational technology. In essence, it means we are a step closer to virtual and augmented reality immersive learning.

Immersive learning

Virtual reality is an immersive technology that uses hardware and software to place the user in a virtual space, where they can move, interact and learn. VR instruction has been used for decades to teach pilots and medical professionals (and has been used in gaming). But it hasn’t come into mainstream language education until recently. Historically, this is because the hardware has been too expensive, clunky and difficult to use.

“Bringing our students to immersive learning experiences is personalized and relevant,” says education technologist, Jaime Donally. “Not only are we lacking that option today, but it’s also impossible to implement at scale.”

But now we have improved consumer hardware (eg Oculus Quest and Samsung Gear VR), reduced equipment costs, and a more adventurous consumer market. “We are approaching immersive experiences that need to be easier to access,” says Jaime. “VR headsets will continue to get smaller and more immersive.”

And this burgeoning VR education revolution is not just theoretical. Companies like Immerse are already leading the way in the VR language learning arena. They are giving language learners of different ages the opportunity to experience being in an English-speaking country, practicing the language, and interacting with others.

Education in the metaverse

VR and AR promise great things for those learning a new language. Imagine being able to step into a London street, look around, see the black cabs and see Big Ben at the distance. Then have the chance to talk to a shopkeeper, tourist guide or ask someone for directions.

VR learning scenarios have the potential for an almost unlimited number of additional learning elements, including in-experience videos, teacher intervention, and deep emotional engagement of the learner. On top of this, VR in education promises the opportunity to learn or teach with no outside distraction. It also gives the chance to experience a gamified lesson that improves motivation.

AR and mixed reality technology have lots of potential to disrupt language education in a positive way. AR apps use smartphone cameras and other tools to layer digital elements over real-life scenarios. In this way, they can bring texts, educational resources and even live exhibits to life through digital enhancement. Here’s an example of how it can be applied in a chemistry setting:

But VR and emerging edtech offer more than just an immersive learning experience. Research on learning in VR from PwC points to VR’s effectiveness as an approach to learning and teaching. According to the report, VR learners are more confident about the learning content. They are also up to four times more focused than students studying online.

However, Jaime believes that for VR learning to become mainstream, the metaverse will need to be universal. “There are many new “metaverse” type experiences being built, but a true metaverse isn’t owned by one company or platform,” says Jaime. “Digital identity access and management will continue to grow and become a necessity to see the metaverse a reality, especially in education.”

Jaime concludes with some cautious optimism

“I believe the technology changes will improve collaboration across our departments,” she says. However, that comes with a caveat. “Trying to push innovation without security, planning, or connections to the curriculum will prevent any new technology from enhancing the classroom.”

See you in the metaverse, maybe?

Want to find out more about teaching with technology? Check out the seven best digital teaching tools for your online ESL classroom.

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