BY EUGENE RUDENKO
As a concept, virtual reality and its derivatives have been around for decades –the term itself was first introduced as long ago as the 80’s. However, It was only in recent years that they started becoming truly mainstream thanks to the advancements in a number of key areas and emergence of multiple software and hardware platforms that finally made the technology less of a sci-fi term and more of something that you can buy on Amazon with a couple of clicks. Originally intended almost exclusively for entertainment, VR is now viewed as a flexible and versatile technology that can be adapted to many spheres of life where visual content presentation is essential, and education seems to be a very natural candidate for quick and truly purposeful adoption of VR.
Benefits of using VR in education
The key question here is: “How can education, in all of its diverse forms, benefit from these technologies?” The answer is surprisingly simple: in nearly every way you can think of.
Starting from the most basic and almost static “virtual tours” based on 360-degree panoramic photos or videos and all the way to fully 3-dimensional interactive worlds revealing the full potential of VR, these technologies efficiently solve the following problems:
- Allow students from any part of the world to interact on a much deeper level by partaking in immersive virtual activities;
- Make for better and more efficient teamwork;
- Let students enjoy the benefits of detailed and often fully interactive visualization of complex processes, which is especially important in such sciences as medicine, physics, engineering and many others;
- Help obtain profound knowledge about a particular piece of equipment, process or location even before they are actually completed or made available for;
- Add a fresh incentive for students to attend courses offering a lot more than just descriptions of the object of study and some multimedia materials.
The most important trend observed in this area is the gamification of the learning process and emergence of the game-based learning (GBL), which capitalizes on our intrinsic motivation to win and achieve success. This is clearly seen in computer games as we know them, and now the same basic principles are being superimposed onto the learning domain to provide students with an impetus to face challenges and overcome them – yet in a visual and highly engaging environment with a great degree of interactivity.
Integration with existing e-learning solutions and LMS products
Modern LMS’s come bundled with a wealth of tools for creating online courses of any complexity, offering rich content with audio and video elements, live A/V interaction between students and teachers, screen sharing and other possibilities that bring the course-takers’ experience as close to a real classroom as possible. However, VR is capable of adding an extra dimension to the learning process by allowing students to take virtual tours, collaborate in simulated environments and learn complex processes through interactive visualizations.
The simplest form of VR integration is the embedding of 360-degree videos and photos into course pages. This type of content can be viewed with the help of affordable phone accessories, such as Google Cardboard, or more expensive devices like Samsung Gear VR. At the very minimum, these VR elements allow course-takers to travel to places they have never been to and get a better understanding of the object of study. There are dozens or even hundreds of embeddable video players with VR functionality on the market, from the most generic ones to flexible and versatile products with extended functionality, which can be implemented and even customized to your needs by a competent company with corresponding domain expertise.
The next step is the creation of mobile apps with AR functionality that can be downloaded to students’ mobile devices along with optional printable trackers. These apps are a perfect means of demonstrating the work of complex mechanisms, objects and processes that can be observed from any angle – and they don’t cost a fortune to create. A good example of this approach would be Compedia’s AR platform that aims to dramatically enrich the learning and collaboration experience at schools, universities, medical institutions and companies of different types taking steps towards improving the quality of their internal trainings.
Finally, the most impressive, and yet the most expensive VR option is the development of specialized VR applications that will require either a top-of-the-line mobile phone or an expensive VR headset. These apps, like the ones developed by Immersive VR Education, to name just one company, offer the highest degree of interactivity, but the cost of development currently makes them a viable option almost exclusively for narrowly-specialized professional courses.
Widespread proliferation of VR/AR technologies in education and e-learning is just a matter of time. The industry is currently preparing for a quantum leap in VR by testing various technologies in labs and on the consumer market, but it won’t be long before the cost of high-quality VR equipment drops to an acceptable level and its sales go up exponentially. When it happens and a VR headset becomes as commonplace as a set-top-box or game console, content will start pouring in – and education will be on the forefront of this process.
Byline: Eugene Rudenko is a senior online marketing manager for Oxagile, a software development company providing custom eLearning solutions with V0R/AR integration.