In this post I'm going to look at six ways that we can use virtual reality in education and I'm going to include a bonus at the end looking at how you can create your own educational content in the metaverse. So I'm going to grab my Oculus Quest 2 headset and jump right in.
In my opinion power-skills like leadership, communication and empathy are some of the most important and impactful skills that you can learn and improve whether you are a school student or an executive at a large corporate. Don't believe me? Just look at this list from Linkedin's Workplace Learning Report that surveyed learning and development professionals globally on the most important important skills that people in any industry need to possess.
Skills like adaptability, emotional intelligence, team collaboration, mindfulness and time management are all what are know as soft or power skills and they are usually learned on the job pretty sporadically or from things like lectures or role-plays which aren't always that realistic.
When I trained as a surgeon soft-skills were vital; from communicating with patients to leading diverse teams in the operating theatre. The problem with traditional teaching is that even with role-plays using actors or simulated teamwork scenarios it's very difficult collecting any actionable data on what good soft-skills actually look like. Usually teachers will subjectively feedback and suggest learners make changes in their tone, how they structure what they're saying or switching up their body language. The issue here is that everyone has developed their own way of communicating and there are lots of variables here from accent to confidence levels and empathy and there really isn't a gold standard so people rely on mimicking people they see in their social group or at work when developing their own communication style.
In virtual reality you can be placed into virtual roleplay scenarios that can be accessed on-demand. From learning how to deal with a bully at school to understanding how to develop empathy for someone at work or even just practising your public speaking skills in a safe, repeatable space the metaverse has the unique ability to immerse people into what can be quite emotionally charged scenarios. Learners can then make decisions and practise communicating just like in real life but without the repercussions of making a bad choice. Importantly virtual reality allows the learner to be put into the position of others within these simulated scenarios to help develop empathy and identify any hidden biases. For example learners can be put into a VR scenario that simulates what it's like to be on the end of discriminatory behaviour to help them to understand what it might be like for people from different backgrounds. This helps to drive empathy and creates lasting behaviour change where more passive learning methods like powerpoint lectures and e-learning are much more passive.
Because the power-skill scenarios happen digitally learner responses can be captured and headsets with eye-tracking and biometric data capture can track everything from decision-making to eye-contact and team communication. This allows soft-skills like communication or leadership to be fed back to the learner in a much more objective way so that people can see how they compare to a gold standard rather than just learning subjectively based on what they see at school or in work.
For teachers and L&D professionals VR soft-skills training removes the need for paying expensive role-play actors and provides a gamified way to engage people at scale to help learners develop some of the most important skills out there that will improve their lives and career prospects.
The majority of VR headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 come with hand-held controllers as default and there is also quite a bit of work being done on hand tracking. This means that any technical skill lends itself to repeated practice in the metaverse where previously getting in reps of a practical technique would require the learner to have access to specific equipment.
Take for example a skill like learning to play the piano. You'd need access to a piano and a piano teacher or you might use a piano app on an iPad which isn't quite as realistic as the real thing. With VR you can be transported into your own virtual piano lesson or even put on stage at a piano recital in front of an audience to build engagement and confidence. Lessons can be automated and feedback can be very data driven as hand or controller movement can be tracked. If you do want a piano teacher to join you maybe they could jump in as an avatar and talk to you in real time in the shared environment and offer tips while they are actually at home in a completely different part o the world.
The metaverse is also great for skills that are infrequently practised but which are important to get right in real life. Take for example how to perform CPR or life saving resuscitation. There is evidence to show that performing CPR correctly outside of hospital for patients who have sudden onset cardiac arrest can save lives. CPR training is taught in schools and in work places and hospitals using mannequins but this might not prepare people for the stress and emotion of actually performing CPR in real life when it matters. VR can help to re-create this stress and emotion and then test the technical steps under pressure to not only embed muscle memory for performing the practical steps of calling for help and starting chest compressions at the correct depth and cadence but to improve confidence to perform CPR in real life. Because new environments can be quickly and easily built in the metaverse specific scenarios such as performing CPR on an airplane could add an added dimension and usefulness for industries like aviation.
Pretty much any practical skill can be translated into a VR scenario from changing a tyre to performing a surgical procedure or sinking that winning putt in a golf tournament. The main limitations on technical skills are the lack of true haptic feedback, for example when performing an operation you need to be able to actually hold tools a certain way and feel the different tissue layers as you perform actions. Controller tech and sensory feedback isn't quite there yet though companies like Hapt-X are working on it.
Virtual Trips and Languages
Everyone has been on a school field trip to a museum but how much more exciting would it be if you were actually transported to ancient Rome or Egypt and immersed into the sights and sounds of an ancient civilization. This is one of the big pushes Mark Zuckerberg is making with his company Meta. Whether jumping in solo or as part of a shared group field trip actually being able to interact and see what life was like for people throughout history will bring added perspective and drive engagement and learning retention. For schools it also means a reduction in the cost of field trips and hopefully fewer concerns about losing a student!
And Virtual trips aren't just for school students. Imagine learning a language and being transported into that culture. One of the best ways to learn a new dialect is to spend time in that country and the metaverse can do that without the cost of any airline tickets or hotels. Learners can speak with avatars or they can jump into a shared space and practise with language teachers or with native speakers who might be at home in their native country.
In addition to hopping between countries and time periods, the space and scale provided by VR also allows for learners to be transported to completely inaccessible locations such as the surface of a new planet or a zoomed out view of a solar system. By providing learners with more context, interactivity and engaging visuals learners of all ages can suddenly get an idea of what it might be like to be an astronaut on a space station. Nasa and National Geographic have some great 360 video and computer generated experiences you can hop into right now to check out what it's like yourself.
Social Learning and Live Events
Traditional elearning stats from Linkedin have shown that learners who interact socially by sharing content, participating in QA discussion and learning groups are way more engaged spending 30 times more hours of learning than those who don't. The metaverse is able to bring people together in shared spaces while avoiding the impersonal webcam view used by MSTeams and Zoom where actual participation is limited and class sizes mean that many learners can't interact and engage effectively.
Live events are an important part of education and social interaction adds accountability as well as providing shared learning experiences which learners naturally want to talk about and reflect on to help boost their understanding. We've seen games like Fortnite bring people together for shared concerts and game events that drive excitement and attention when everyone is vying for people's time and attention with so any accessible digital distractions.
Whether it is a virtual conference where you can watch keynotes and communicate with other learners like in Second Life or Alt Space or you just want to get a small group of learners around a virtual whiteboard they can write on like in Half-Life Alyx the metaverse provides a more engaging way to connect and learn than zoom and other video solutions.
For corporates collaboration tools are already in use by car manufacturers and architects to help visualise early design blueprints and prototypes and allow team members to join from anywhere in the world and walk around and visualise 3D designs in a much more meaningful way. With many high-performing teams composed of people with different backgrounds and who speak different languages being able to visualise and interact with what the team is building can help improve communication, speed up development time as well as reducing the carbon footprint made by flying teams to a real physical space.
Mindfulness and Fitness
Both mental and physical health are vital for us to form new memories and learn new things and as we've seen from LinkedIn's annual workplace survey building resilience and learning how to practise mindfulness are some of the most desirable traits for the workforce of the future.
Learning how to practice mindfulness and deal with the stresses of life usually means attending a physical mindfulness or meditation class or using an app like Calm to form habits. While audio mindfulness apps are great the immersive nature of VR means that you can be transported to a relaxing environment or taken on a computer generated virtual trip to help relax you even more. One of the benefits of VR is that the headsets block out the real world meaning that your senses are tricked into thinking you are actually in a tranquil field or by the ocean as a mindfulness track plays.
The same goes for fitness. Games like Beat Sabre have shown that you can work up a sweat in the metaverse and Meta's fitness tracking tools encourage people of all ages to learn skills like boxing or rhythmic movements to improve their health in a fun, gamified way. For people just getting started with fitness or exploring new sports VR offers a low barrier to entry with no kit required and no significant commitment to attending a class allowing people to experience what sports and exercises are like in a safe environment free from judgment. Some are very realistic too, just check out The Climb to see how it tricks your brain into thinking you're actually scaling a mountain or any table-tennis game to be wowed by how lifelike the physics are.
Another skill making LinkedIn's workplace desirable skill list is creativity. Creativity is vital to solving problems and is also important as an outlet to counter work stresses. The metaverse is a great way to introduce learners to art and creativity. There are lots of artists using VR to create 3D art and interactive worlds that can be explored. Experiences like Van Gogh's The Night Cafe even allow you to be immersed into moving paintings to stimulate art and creativity.
Apps like Tilt Brush, Gravity Sketch and SculptVR put you in creative control and allow you to sketch and create your own virtual art in 3D from your headset.
The space and scale of virtual reality opens learners minds to new possibilities and the plethora of escape rooms and puzzle games help people to develop creative thinking strategies which they can then apply in the real world.
BONUS - Creating VR Content
For educators it can be a little bit tricky figuring out where to start if you want to create your own immersive training or run a lesson in the metaverse. Now I'll dive into this in a longer video but as a final bonus tip there are a few really accessible creation tools you might want to check out.
If you're looking to bring elements of the real world into the metaverse the most accessible place to start is probably 360 video. You'll need a 360 camera like those from Insta360 and you can record pretty much anything from a surgical procedure to a live roleplay. You can then upload this to most video-hosting platforms including YouTube and your learners can then view in a headset through the YouTube app. If you want to add interactivity there are a bunch of platforms out there where you can create more advanced branching videos and add quiz questions to the 360 video.
If you are looking to create more of a shared discussion or meeting space apps like alt-space or Horizons allow you to create immersive worlds where your learners can meet and learn together. My company Virti specialise in soft-skills in the metaverse and has a no-code creation system where you can quickly create virtual roleplays, change avatars and locations all without needing to code anything.
For anyone looking for more advanced VR creation you'll need to dive into Unity or Unreal, the game engines which power the metaverse and see what you can create.