Could VR and AR Technologies Allow E-learning to Truly Rival In-person Learning?
E-learning is an exciting and innovative sector, and it could be on the brink of a new era with new and emerging technologies.
Principally, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in an educational setting could open doors to more immersive, engaging and accessible learning. But what exactly will this bold new future look like, and how can education providers capitalise on this wave of new technology?
In this article, we’ll be unpacking some of the most forward-thinking companies, products and ideas out there, and show you how Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) could change the educational landscape forever.
Market showing high levels of investment
Despite our current uncertain economic period, the UK Immersive Tech: VC Investment Report found that two-thirds of UK investors believe investment in VR and AR would increase in the coming year.
When interviewed about the report, the UK lead at Immerse UK, Asha Easton, said that the amount of investment happening currently showed the “huge potential of the XR (extended reality) sector.”
She added that it demonstrated the “various cross-sector applications of this technology, ranging from media and entertainment to medicine, manufacturing, education, training and more.”
Elsewhere, ARtillery Intelligence, an online publication focused on the latest developments in innovative technology, predicts that the use of virtual reality within businesses will grow to $4.26 billion by 2023.
Facebook also recently stepped up its interest in the VR market, going through a total rebrand to focus more on this technology. As ‘Meta’, they will be working towards developing immersive virtual reality experiences and exploring its use case in a professional setting.
VR and AR for building hard skills
Although discussions around VR and AR tend to focus on the flashy, eye-catching elements, various companies are using the technology for practical e-learning.
This can be especially true for training and courses that focus on building specific, hard skills that are best learnt in a physical setting, led by an instructor. Previously, e-learning couldn’t compete with in-person training. However, VR technology is quickly closing this gap.
Tech educator Credersi has partnered with DAM Health, a COVID-19 test clinic, to create a 3D virtual lab. This lab allows trainees to practice processing COVID-related patient samples and results – pioneering the world’s first entirely virtual COVID-19 training syllabus.
Spurred on by the success of the programme, their 3D lab will be taken into schools and universities as a way to increase young people’s interest in STEM, by enabling them to experience a lab environment in a safe way.
Meanwhile, universities in the UK are using the Microsoft Hololens as a vital part of their education programmes within medicine. Imperial College London gave senior doctors wearable Hololenses (augmented reality goggles) and had them go about their daily routine within the hospital. With patients’ consent, students were allowed to watch consultations in real time, giving trainee doctors the ability to ask questions and take down notes on procedures in a non-invasive way.
This application of technology gave students an unprecedented level of training immersion whilst studying at home. Professor Amir Sam, Head of Imperial College School of Medicine, explained how this technology allowed his students to get a high standard of education during the height of the pandemic.
“Medical students learn by observing and assisting a professional,” he said, “That was obviously impossible throughout the initial COVID peak, but we remain committed to ensuring Imperial produces some of the best doctors in the world.”
These examples demonstrate how VR and AR can take e-learning in an entirely new direction and help it to truly rival, and even supersede, the quality of education provided by in-person learning.
VR’s use case in soft skills training
VR and AR could also provide opportunities for education providers looking to build their students’ soft skills.
VR can have a significant advantage over in-person learning when it comes to soft skills as those with fewer soft skills in areas such as communication may feel nervous or under pressure when conducting face-to-face presentations or public speaking.
Virtual Speech is a company that offers students the ability to practice soft skills in a virtual environment. They create a virtual environment in which participants present a speech or a class to a virtual audience and then receive feedback on eye contact, the pace of presentation, and the use of filler words.
When focusing on training that’s designed to make people feel comfortable communicating with confidence, VR can allow them to flourish and get more out of their training.
A study from PwC found that students who were given soft skills training that used VR were 275% more confident to act on what they’d learned after training compared to those who received e-learning and in-person training with no VR technology. Furthermore, they were trained 4 times faster and were 4 times more focused than students who didn’t have access to VR technology.
Critics may argue that in-person training, especially in areas like soft skill training, will always have an advantage over virtual learning, as the personal and emotional connection that can be made in person will instil learning more effectively. However, the same study from PwC found that soft skills training that used virtual reality massively outperformed in-person training and even standard e-learning courses when looking at the emotional connection students had to the training.
With that in mind, it’s clear that training that incorporates virtual and augmented reality can elevate training to new levels of effectiveness, engagement, and, ultimately, enjoyment for learners.
The rapid development and deployment of VR and AR signals a shift in the way we see e-learning and virtual learning spaces.
All sectors and industries have the potential to utilise the exciting potential of VR and AR. Companies and projects, like those mentioned above, illustrate how the future of learning will soon be intertwined with the virtual space in the coming years.