Imagine learning how to fly an airplane by reading a textbook. Or learning how to shape pottery from an audiobook. Neither of these are ideal ways to learn the respective skills. And yet today, much of how we educate ourselves and our children comes through these sorts of mis-matched mediums. At the same time, the meteoric rise of Youtube and other online learning platforms has improved one of education’s greatest obstacles: easy, affordable access to information. Still, video is limited by being an inherently passive experience, or one in which the student can simply observe.
So how can we address both passive education and a mismatch of medium to change how we educate ourselves? Through immersive technology. Virtual and augmented reality offer an unparalleled experience that places students into the shoes of an active participant. This new sense of agency allows them to suspend their disbelief, and experience things as though they were actually there.
Let’s consider the airplane scenario once more. In a textbook, students may learn about the procedures and functions of gauges and instrument panels on a plane. They may even have pictures of what a cockpit looks like. But in a virtual reality experience, the student sits inside the plane. They are able to see processes and procedures specific to that plane, or others. And perhaps most importantly, they’re able to attempt their first flight in a virtual world without endangering themselves or others.
This manner of interactive experience takes passive information and brings it to life. And an important distinction is made: students are no longer passive observers, but active participants. Tim Trask, an Instructional Technology Specialist with Virginia Beach Public Schools has explored the technology, noting, “Through AR/VR technology, students can experience multi-sensory exploration in ways never before possible.”
In any learning situation, student engagement is critical. Whether it’s flying an airplane, photographing an historical event, or shaping pottery, immersive experiences captivate and create unforgettable learning opportunities. With students actively participating, each new action is a chance to gain insight. This is where immersive technology shines — in its ability to offer real-time feedback. Unlike traditional media in which there is a finite beginning and end, interactive experiences can offer students feedback in real-time, allowing them to correct their mistakes and see what they did wrong. This automatic feedback also ensures that the burden of grading a student’s quantitative performance no longer falls on the instructor, who is now able to focus on giving qualitative feedback as needed. The quantitative metrics like test scores or performance reviews can be collected and reviewed in the aggregate, giving instructors an easy way to identify which students need extra attention. As educational philosophies move towards performance-based assessments, immersive technology offers fascinating implications for the future of high stakes testing.
Finally, and most crucially, immersive technologies enable students to better retain information. Sometimes referred to as stickiness, retention is the act of not just having studied, but also having the ability to recall. For mission-critical training and important exams, these results are paramount. A 2016 study from the University of Maryland determined that immersive environments aided memory recall greater than their traditional counterparts, stating that those who used virtual environments to learn were “… able to organize and structure large information spaces and navigate them in ways that assist in superior recall.”
Jeff Aronowitz, a former educator with the Jamestown Rediscovery at Historic Jamestowne, attributes this to immersive technology’s ability to provide a better background to the lesson at hand. “When connecting historical events to material culture, creating the context in which the students learn can make a profound difference.”
Though the research and results all point in a positive direction, immersive technology in the education setting faces an uphill battle. Along with access to the necessary equipment, lack of curriculum-aligned experiences is an obstacle to widespread adoption. But with falling equipment costs and availability of federal funds for technology in the classroom, the financial component is exponentially improving. Now, sourcing curriculum-aligned experiences remains the biggest roadblock.
For many, including our team at Capitol Interactive, we see XR technology as the obvious next step towards creating more robust, engaging educational experiences. To this end, we are dedicated to contributing meaningful content and improving ways to access it.