With mandatory distance learning having been the norm for nearly two years, a majority of students are looking forward to the reopening of schools and colleges by the next year. However, a recent study by Forbes points out that a large number of students want the option of choosing between distance and in-person classes. The added flexibility of attending classes on-the-go, or from the comfort of one’s home, gives students the ability to choose the optimal learning environment for themselves.
While flexibility in mode of attendance is a worthwhile benefit, most learning methodologies still rely on verbal communication. These methods do not translate well via online conferencing applications – the medium strips the material of subtle cues in body language, and the impact of sharing a space with one’s peers and tutors is lost.
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This demerit will soon disappear with XR integration across all levels of education, an upgrade projected to achieve immense success.
XR in the Classroom
The usage of XR tech in specialized education has been touted for many decades, especially in fields like surgery and medicine. In the past few years, the tech has started to permeate into the lower rungs of the education system as well, a transition accelerated by the aforementioned uptick in distance learning modules.
The switch is natural. Most K-12 students find it difficult to maintain a high degree of concentration when taught only using verbal instruction. The role that XR can play in bridging the gap between instruction and engagement, in this context, is very promising. A recent study has even reported that up to 91% of surveyed K-12 educators feel XR has a ‘medium to large positive impact’ on their students.
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While each level of education requires tools and frameworks tailored to the target age group, the integration of XR technology offers a wide variety of benefits that even surpass traditional models of classroom learning. With the barrier of access to XR tech and hardware lowering with each year, we can expect a dramatic transformation in education – from primary schools to graduate courses.
XR in Primary Education
Teaching toddlers and children is an exercise in patience. Students in this age group have short attention spans, and typically lack cultivate self-control. To keep them engaged, teachers often turn to rewards and games that help cultivate a positive feedback loop between instruction and application.
Building on this principle, researchers from Texas A&M University have even advocated for integrating video games into the curriculum. XR provides many of the same gamification benefits as old-school video games, with the added advantages of heightened sensory immersion and spatial awareness. Through the use of XR (mainly VR headsets), children can be visually captivated and their learning experience made more memorable, increasing the overall information retention.
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Primary school children are also highly receptive to experiential learning, given its positive impact on their neurological development. In 2018, UNICEF launched an initiative that used XR tech to teach underprivileged students. The idea was simple: using VR headsets to virtually transport students to highly enriching learning environments, which they may not be able to access otherwise due to socio-economic barriers. The initiative made it possible for educators to familiarize students with locations and events of cultural importance, bringing them at par with their more affluent peers.
XR in Secondary Education
While primary education focuses on honing the senses and absorbing facts, subjects in senior classes are cognitive in nature. Learning disparities become starker in this age group, as students grapple with their unique needs in a counter-intuitively homogenous environment. Secondary education almost exclusively relies on verbal instruction and rote learning, with hands-on exploration often limited to infrequent lab visits.
Predictably, many students start feeling left out during secondary school, since the one-size-fits-all approach to education overlooks their specific requirements. With the use of XR tech, students can avail highly personalised educational experiences. These tools provide a multi-sensorial learning interface, making it possible for students to grasp a topic through their preferred way of learning and levelling the playing field among peers. The usage of XR technology is also in line with the modern theory of constructivism, which states that learning is not a passive learning process but rather an active process of constructing a storyline between facts and logic.
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Another important aspect of high schools is grading and standardized testing, both of which determine the collegiate future of a student. In a study conducted by the University of South Australia, two sets of high school students were taught a module – one using XR, and the other taught conventionally. When tested on their information retention and conceptual understanding, the students taught using XR outperformed their peers by 0.53% on average. In their findings, the research team noted that ‘the higher engagement levels, empathy and presence seen in the VR participants were connected to higher test scores’.
XR in Higher Education
So far, educators in universities and colleges have made the most abundant use of XR technology. As topics become more and more complex, the degree of difficulty experienced in understanding and visualizing them increases as well. Here’s where XR comes in – finding particular relevance in STEM courses, which require a high degree of visualization for academic success as well as post-collegiate application.
However, the classroom is not where the utility of XR tech ends. Colleges are cultural melting pots, bringing together people from across the country, and even the world. This often leads to xenophobia and racism, making the campus unsafe for minorities and affecting their education.
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The use of VR for sensitivity training has demonstrated a promising impact on racial biases. With a VR headset on, students can experience the life of their under-represented peers as part of an immersive and interactive session. Walking a mile in their peers’ shoes and experiencing the subtle social exclusion they face on a daily basis builds empathy and creates an enriching environment for all.
As XR becomes more commonplace than ever before, research highlighting its many benefits is increasing in volume as well. It is an irrefutable fact that integrating XR tech in education leads to improved test scores, higher classroom engagement, and an overall positive learning experience for students of all ages.
Parents of younger students are also recognizing the distinct edge that XR tech adds to their ward’s education, giving schools the impetus they need to shift to newer methodologies. Versatile in usage and deployment, the technology also provides educators the agility they need to continue innovating within the classroom.
In the new age of learning, where students’ needs are paramount, XR will be instrumental in overhauling education frameworks that have existed for decades.
This article was originally published on affinityvr