June 25, 2019

Virtual Reality in Education

Let’s talk about the possibilities of virtual reality (VR) in learning.  The coming virtual reality revolution will lead to dramatic changes in who benefits from learning experiences and how learning occurs. In other words, VR will have a significant impact on people and systems.

A few years ago, I took part in a conversation with educational leaders from across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania about the barriers that are in place for an optimal learning experience for students.  Although there are specific barriers rooted in specific problems within a learning organization, the number one concern for our group was more global… inequality. Inequality encompasses both people and systems.  Inequality means inequality of access (to great teachers, curriculum, and enriched learning opportunities); inequality of opportunity (a student is not aware of what she/he does not know); inequality of resources (the financial wherewithal to provide an outstanding learning experience).  Virtual reality has the potential to bend the arc of inequality allowing more students to access outstanding learning experiences and leveling the playing fiels for learners. 

3 Things to Consider

1.     VR will allow students from all geographic and socioeconomic levels to access enriched learning experiences.  The promise of an inexpensive VR system will allow students to access content and instruction from all over the world. Imagine actually being in a class with students from all over the world and interacting as if you are in a face to face environment.  VR will force us to change the way we categorize learning environments.  After all, if modern VR headsets allows us to interact in the same ways in which current face to face environments do, then the needs for different categories becomes moot. 

2.     More than the present day “online” learning environment, VR will be a submersive experience.  A student will be able to actually experience a learning environment and be able to interact with it in ways that are not possible in a traditional “2-D” environment.  Imagine a learning environment where students charge over the top of a WWI trench with the soldiers or walk the moon with astronauts.  What a challenge this will provide for instructional and curricular theorists and practitioners!

3.     Here are some questions that I have forming in my mind about the possibilities of VR that I will leave unanswered.

a.      What will a futuristic school look like? 

b.     Will we need expensive buildings? 

c.      How will tutoring occur with students? 

d.     Where will learning occur? Do students need to meet in one place at all?  If they do, what specification will be necessary to allow VR to occur?

e.      What are the new instructional practices necessary to engage students in their learning?

f.      Who becomes a teacher?  What are the implications of this answer?

g.     Will school districts and schools become obsolete in their current iteration as learners and learning facilitators self-congregate in ad-hoc or semi organized organizations?

h.     Is VR the technological breakthrough that will finally allow true customization of  learning?

Here is the article that sparked this blog post.  Enjoy!

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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