A growing snowball of factors have brought the education world to the brink of combining the innovations from pedagogy, with the innovations from interactive technology and virtual/augmented/mixed reality.
The following is part 2/2 in a series on “Stacking the Building Blocks of Education’s Future”. In part one I highlighted key factors that have led us to this exciting time for education technology, while also discussing how interactive 3D can help connect with learners on a more personal level.
If you haven’t already, you can read part one here. Part two focuses on how augmented reality and virtual reality technologies add an immersive layer to interactive 3D, and how cutting edge pedagogy provides the missing link needed to change the future of education.
Making interactive 3D immersive
There is a growing buzz surrounding AR and VR technologies, and knowing what they are and their distinctions can help to inform an understanding for their potential impact on education.
Augmented Reality superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, meaning that they see the natural real world setting around them, augmented by 3D hologram-like images. Examples of AR range from Pokemon Go, to Skype for Hololens, which enables one caller to draw markups in the other caller’s room (perfect for teaching your grandma to use the clicker, or for remotely helping an engineer repair heavy equipment).
Virtual Reality uses enclosed headsets to generate realistic images, sounds, and other sensations that replace our reality, and simulate a user’s physical presence in a new, virtual environment. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to “look around” the artificial world, and even to move about in it, and interact with virtual features or items.
The momentum behind these technologies is accelerating, with leading drivers including giants such as Microsoft (Hololens), Google (Daydream and Tango), and Facebook (Oculus and beyond). At first glance one might assume that AR and VR are primarily intended for consumer applications and video games, however, based on the benefits of interactive 3D, and already successful real-world applications, education stands to see some of the greatest benefit from these technologies.
What we’re really talking about with AR/VR technologies is adding an immersion layer to interactive 3D. The opportunity is to take the proven benefits of increased engagement and retention provided by interactive 3D, and amplify them by making the experience even more personal and tangible.
The evidence indicates that immersive and experiential learning yields tremendous results. In comparison to rote memorization or repetitive study, experiential learning accelerates understanding by demanding critical thinking and problem solving. Immersive learning also offers an opportunity for students to “learn by doing”. By providing a more cost effective and/or safer option, AR/VR experiential learning makes having “first hand” experiences more accessible for students worldwide.
Leading early examples of AR/VR unlocking immersive learning experiences exist in subject areas one might expect, such as anatomy, with Case Western University recreating human anatomy on the Microsoft Hololens, and LlamaZOO bringing the study of the canine to virtual reality for the first time ever. Both applications enable students to be less reliant on allocated dissection lab time, and less confined to campus grounds for study.
Google and others have already shown that AR/VR technologies can be made widely available at relatively low cost (over 10 million of the $20 Google Cardboard headsets have now been distributed worldwide, resulting in over 160 million cardboard VR app installs). With costs being driven down and accessibility going up, learners who would otherwise never have access to various educational resources – due to either geographic or financial constraints – will be able to have virtually real world personalized instruction, available on demand.
The addition of AR and VR technologies to interactive 3D has the potential to drive a massive influx of diverse new learners into STEM and other subjects. The remaining key element however, is whether the educational experience they receive using this technology will actually live up to its potential.
Cutting edge pedagogy provides the missing link
Simply creating cool technology will not be enough to change the future of education. Without pedagogy and subject matter expertise, interactive 3D and AR/VR are reduced to mere shiny toys (curiosity stoking though they may be). Education is a well-honed discipline, and technology needs to work with subject matter experts and those skilled in pedagogy.
We have a wealth of research and studies that show what is effective in teaching, but how can these best practices be implemented given the 1:n relationship of teachers to students in classrooms, budget cuts, and lack of resources that have become the norm in North America?
Advances such as big data, AI, and procedurally generated content simply expand the reach of educational material – they do not replace it. What they can help achieve, however, is to scale personalized learning, in a way that one teacher would otherwise never be able to provide, given time constraints.
While AR, VR, and interactive 3D can provide the “wow” factor that grabs learners’ attention and enhances their memory, the innovations and best practices in education are the critical ingredient for truly blending interactive and immersive technologies into the classroom. This provides a tremendous opportunity if the right information, methodologies, and lessons can be layered into the experience (and an enormously lost opportunity for education if not).
To make meaningful advances in education technology, and see wide adoption of this new potential, creators of technology must work closely with subject matter experts and pedagogy thought leaders.
Stacking the blocks
With the amazing advancements we currently enjoy in AR/VR, interactive 3D, and educational methodologies, it is hard to imagine a more exciting point of inflection for edtech.
Interactive 3D provides more engaging and easier to grasp material for students. AR and VR provide the immersive layer on top of that technology, delivering personalized and “first hand” learning experiences. And, most critically for this educational structure, breakthroughs in pedagogy provide the missing link that can bring it all together into a cohesive and beneficial future for education.
Silicon Valley and the tech industry as a whole have caught flack for a certain degree of arrogance, assuming that they’re best suited to solve other industries’ problems. This arrogance needs to be overcome, for without close collaboration between technological and pedagogical innovation, and those that are actively learning and teaching in today’s classrooms and lecture halls, the great promise that we have at hand will go unrealized.
Kevin Oke is our co-founder and VP of Sales at LlamaZOO. We are an award-winning AR/VR software studio that develops 3D education and communication software for higher education and enterprise. Our first product for higher education – EasyAnatomy, is the leading 3D canine anatomy learning software used in over 70 universities worldwide. More recently, we developed and released the world’s first virtual reality (and augmented reality) canine dissection experience – Jetson VR.
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