Virtual reality (VR) has potential to take learning beyond the traditional online learning experience. With benefits such as enhanced engagement, improved retention and experiential learning, this simulation-based technology has the potential to revolutionise how online training programs are performed.
VR educational apps have recently begun entering the main stream market, as several leaders have been looking to use the tech for educational purposes – this, combined with marketing methods of VR companies, such as Kickstarter campaigns, have raised awareness for the industry.
Mobile VR headsets, such as the Google Cardboard, make VR experiences accessible to most people from anywhere they would take traditional online learning, whether it be at home or in the library. VR allows students to visualise concepts that are taught in textbooks and videos.
We’re going to be covering everything, from the current state to online learning, to the role social VR will play, to the future of an online education system integrated with virtual reality.
In a traditional classroom or lecture, you learn by listening to your teacher and talking to classmates. There is usually a specific time and location for these classes. With online learning however, you can be anywhere in the world and still receive the same high quality teaching as someone who is there in person.
Online learning is typically conducted through the internet, as a series of courses you can access anytime, anywhere. Socializing and asking questions is done through discussion forums or via email.
Online learning offers a number of advantages for students wanting to learn new skills or educate themselves – the key one being that they can access this educational material from anywhere, at any time.
Although many people still consider traditional universities, schools or classes as the best way to educate themselves, online learning proves to be a great alternative or supplementary tool.
There is plenty of positive information about an online education with some very obvious advantages. However, most students are still choosing traditional classes - why is this? There are still several big drawbacks to online education in comparison to traditional classroom education.
Few online classes are accredited by established institutions, which is important if people are taking these online classes for a potential new job or resume / CV boost. However this is gradually changing, with large sites offering their own certificates of completion (FutureLearn and Coursera) and companies starting to see students who have completed online courses as a positive, even without accreditation.
Online courses usually have deadlines for assignments, quizzes, commenting on lectures, etc. The problem is the time management and organization skills necessary to stay on top of your work, allot an appropriate amount of time to complete each task and balance your coursework against other priorities in your life. Students who tend to procrastinate find online courses hard to work through and complete.
Due to the low cost of online courses and training programs, there is less incentive to complete them and large course sites have noticed very few students actually make it to the end. Besides cost, few of these online courses have accreditation for them, further reducing the incentive to finish them. Some students might indeed only need to learn about certain topics on the course and therefore never intend to complete the whole of it, but for the majority of students this is not the case.
Online courses require the self-discipline to set aside time to complete your studies. It means you have to make online studying a priority and not let other activities interfere.
The social aspect of regular classes is an important part of learning and improving soft skills. Getting stuck on problems and asking classmates, group work and other group based activities help people learn more efficiently and provide a collaborative environment similar to a company workspace. It’s hard to recreate this social aspect with online learning.
Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions to determine what happens in the environment.
Virtual reality usually has these characteristics:
For a more detailed description, visit our article on the Complete Guide to Virtual Reality.
The most important element to virtual reality is the headset, a device like a pair of goggles that goes over your eyes. The more expensive, higher quality headsets need to be connected to a computer to run apps and games, while some cheaper ones use a mobile placed at the front of the headset.
Headsets work best when combined with a pair of headphones, and there are other optional accessories such as hand controllers, to enhance your simulated experience of being in another world.
Virtual reality headsets generally fit into two categories, mobile or non-mobile. Non-mobile will be preferable for most people exploring online learning with VR as the mobile headsets are much cheaper.
Mobile VR headsets
Mobile headsets are shells with lenses into which you place your smartphone. The lenses separate the screen into two images for your eyes, turning your smartphone into a VR device. Mobile headsets like the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream View are relatively inexpensive at under $100, and because all of the processing is done on your phone, you don't need to connect any wires to the headset.
However, because phones aren't designed specifically for VR, they can't offer the best visual experiences, and are underpowered compared with PC or game console-based VR. In addition, there is currently no positional tracking with mobile VR. You can look around an environment from a single point, however you can’t look around objects.
Non-mobile VR headsets
Non-mobile headsets, both non-tethered and tethered headsets (currently the most common) such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR headsets provide a more immersive experience at a higher price point. Most of these headsets are tethered with cables form the headset to an external piece of hardware to power the headset.
The dedicated display, use of built-in motion sensors and an external camera tracker, drastically improves both image and sound quality, as well as providing head tracking.
The trade-off, besides the clunky cables, is the price. The least expensive tethered options are currently around $400, and with the Rift and the Vive, you’ll need a powerful PC to run them, while the PS VR requires a PlayStation 4.
Experiential learning is a process of learning through first-hand experience. It’s a method of gaining expertise and skills through the practical application of concepts, theories and problem solving techniques instead of just reading or hearing about them.
The Hermann Ebbinghaus forgetting curve roughly says that during a traditional lecture, if your absorption rate is at 100 percent on day one, there is a 50-80 percent loss of learning from the second day onward, which is reduced to a retention rate of just 2-3 percent at the end of thirty days. Experiential learning increases this retention rate considerably.
VR lets you learn experientially by immersing you to any world imaginable – walk with dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period, live through Stalingrad during WW2, practice a heart operation on a virtual avatar, talk to a press room full of journalists – the use cases are endless.
Here are some of the benefits of experiential learning with VR:
Just like traditional online learning, VR can be used anywhere with an internet connection. You can practice public speaking, experience walking through Ancient Rome or teleport inside a brain cell – all form the comfort of your own home.
The importance of social and collaborative learning
Whether it’s getting the job, building your network, or just interacting with customers, knowing how to interact with the people around you is an important element to success and can be improved by spending time with other people.
Lack of contact with other people can also harm your intellectual development. A BBC article about the impact of antisocial shift work on the human mind shows that when you’re in isolation and working long hours, you can lose memory, speed of thought and wider cognitive ability.
This is big negative of traditional online learning, there are discussion forums where you can e-meet and talk with other people, but you still miss the connection of a face to face interaction. Virtual reality goes some way to changing this – you can meet other people’s avatar in a virtual world, where elements such as eye contact and body language are still important.
Benefits of learning in a collaborative VR environment compared to traditional online learning include:
The current state of social in virtual reality
Social VR allows you to meet other students virtually, in much the same way you would in real life. You can do homework together (Bigscreen), travel around the world during the holidays (Facebook Spaces) and even attend classes together (Engage).
Combining the social aspects of current VR applications with educational programs lets students get a somewhat similar experience to actually attending classes and completing group work with other students.
Here are some examples of how VR is currently being used in the educational industry. Companies are using VR as a standalone learning experience and also combining VR with traditional online learning courses.
Hybrid VR and regular online learning
This sales course combines traditional online tutorial videos with virtual reality for an enhanced learning experience. You’ll learn fundamental sales skills, such as how to give a sales pitch or how to sell at a trade show, and then practice what you’ve learnt in virtual reality.
Complete learning in VR
This VR learning platform puts you in a virtual lecture or classroom with other virtual students, where you can watch lectures from leading teachers from around the world. Teachers can spawn objects into the lecture room, such as a skeleton or whale, to bring to life what they are describing.
Hybrid VR and regular online learning
This hybrid public speaking online course and VR lets gives you an opportunity to practice what you learn. For example, you’ll watch videos and read about how to give eye contact to different sized audiences, then get the chance to practice this in VR in front of virtual avatars in realistic conference and meeting rooms.
Complete learning in VR
Unimersiv give you the opportunity to travel to Ancient Rome and wonder the streets with a guided tour of the city. This is a great example of how VR and improve history by bringing ancient cities and locations to life.
Currently online learning is mostly constrained to learning a useful skill (Udemy, CreativeLive), completing several lectures (Coursera) or improving areas of your existing knowledge (Pluralsight). There are some longer, more in depth learning experiences (e.g. Udacity self-driving car course), however the majority of online learning does not replace traditional in person learning.
As VR improves, whole curriculum and degrees will be built within virtual environments, where you attend lectures virtually while retaining the collaborative learning experience with other students. This immersive form of learning has many advantages, for example being in a virtual chemistry lesson and the lecturer spawning a molecule or showing a chemical reaction virtually in that classroom.
Here are examples of how online degrees might look with virtual reality integrated into them.
1. Virtual aeronautical engineering degree
2. Virtual language learning degree