• Debansu

Virtual Reality and Learning

Virtual Reality


Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of a computer-generated environment with landscapes and objects that appear to be authentic, which makes the user feel like they are fully immersed in their milieu. To perceive the environment around them the user needs to wear a Virtual Reality headset. The user gets to interact with the virtual world by simulating their senses like vision, touch, hearing and smell, instead of just seeing them in front of a screen. Just think about video games for a second now you get to be one of the characters truly, you get to learn how to perform heart surgery and enhance the quality of sports training by maximising performance.


But where does the idea of Virtual Reality originate?


Like most technological advancements, it starts with a 1935 science fiction story by Stanley G. Weinbaum called “Pygmalion’s Spectacles”. In this story a scientist makes a set of glasses which can “make it so that you are in the story, you speak to the shadows, and the shadows reply, and instead of being on a screen, the story is all about you, and you are in it.”



What’s the difference between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?


Although most people are unaware of VR as a concept, the first Virtual Reality technology was called the Sensorama and in 1962 it was introduced by Morton Heilig. The device was made for the user to experience 3D movies; it was capable of releasing odours and could generate vibrations which make the experience as immersive as possible. Even those who are aware of VR as a concept sometimes confuse it with Augmented Reality (AR).


Let’s talk about Augmented Reality first.


Augmented Reality (AR) is where our world becomes the structure within which the images, objects are placed. In this we don’t need to wear a headset necessarily, instead, AR uses a real environment. The most mainstream example that is right in front of us is Pokémon Go. On the other hand, Virtual Reality (VR) is a fully immersive experience, and everything that we see around us is artificially constructed. There is also a combination of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality which is known as Mixed Reality. With the real and virtual worlds integrating, one can create new surroundings where both the digital and physical worlds would interact and co-exist in real-time.



What makes Virtual Reality in education beneficial?


If I were to put it simply, Virtual Reality will completely transform education in the way students consume information. Good technology has no adversaries. Think about the methods the students now get to enhance their learning and you’ll name the same age-old systems. Not anymore. VR creates a new world for them; they get to drive their own car, not just be an idle viewer, but to be truly interacting with the world by fully immersing into it. What one really should recognise is, if one is fully immersed in something, it will motivate that student to fully understand it and there’s no denying it.


As a result, you’re actively not processing information anymore and just being immersed in that world reduces a student's cognitive load. Now we shall talk about a few properties which make VR in the education sector so powerful.


Gives you a better sense of place

As young students when all of us were taught something, we wished if only we could experience it, which was never possible because of various reasons, but not anymore. Name it and you will be there at a moment’s notice. Now we are not limited to information provided by our textbooks, we get to explore it and witness how it was put together in the first place. Students will now not only learn they will live. Although sceptics will say that Virtual Reality experiences are not real, it’s really hard to contradict, but if your mind is engaged the body adapts remarkably quickly.



Learning At Scale

Often in developing countries, this is an issue that is left unanswered. Science labs are amazing and provide students with practical experience. Although amazing it is impossible to scale it and even if you could it's expensive and one needs to be aware of it is a resource constraint world. Now there are physical limits to the number of things you can do, the same cannot be said about VR. VR can act as entire labs which can cater to your interest whether it is physics, chemistry or biology.



Learning By Doing

Everyone is aware that learning by doing is by far the best approach. However, we all are also well aware of the amount of learning that happens by doing. Unfortunate as it may sound, students are encouraged to read it rather than using it in practice. With VR education, that is one thing that gets addressed immediately. In VR students get a chance to learn by doing rather than passive reading.



Develop Creativity

VR in education is not only useful for consuming content, but it also develops creativity as early research has suggested. The study that was undertaken in China, found that students develop more creativity when they are asked to explore VR and AR environments. Students who were using VR had the task of breaking down virtual walls and they went to display superior creativity within the simulation – when compared to the students who did not face any obstacles their way. Researchers found that students using VR showed higher levels of flexibility and persistence. And this is exactly what teachers want to see, students pushing their boundaries and working at the edge of their abilities.



Gamification In Learning

We learn the best when we are having fun. Then why not do that. And not this they learn best when they have goals, targets and achievements at sight, which they can aim for. You see you’re learning, yet you get to have fun and something to look forward to. The concept of gamification in learning involves elements such as point scoring, teamwork, peer competition; score tables which helps drive self-improvement and engagement. This helps students to assimilate information and test their knowledge. It can be applied across different subjects and this is where VR works at its best. Only VR can create such a habitat where all of this is possible.



Peer Learning

When asked where we truly sharpened our understanding the obvious answer is among peers or groups, whether it is through debates or collegiality. Often the important knowledge that we gain doesn’t come from the lectures that we attend, but rather from communication with our peers. VR provides the platform where communication is of paramount significance and students via avatars or mapped facial expressions can discuss, collaborate and learn from each other.



Distance Learning

With VR the students and educators get together in the same virtual room. They get to see each other’s virtual avatars and the teacher can teleport the student into the VR world that they are currently in and guide students through their different experiences. VR creates this bridge between educators and students which can be quite effective.



Internships

Do you remember being a young boy/girl and being asked what you want to become in the future? I’m sure you’ve had dreams about that. Do you remember your answer? What if I tell you that you get to be one of those inspiring professionals and witness what it’s like to be one of them, sounds startling doesn’t it? It’s essential for all of us in getting exposed to different careers around us and only you understand it best through internships. VR will not only expose different fields to students but also broaden their options. With VR you can be in another person’s shoes and see what it’s like to work in a particular field. You can get an understanding of what they like about it, dislike about it, and the challenges they face. Using VR you can experience all of this and more, you get to be one of them just like that.



Role of Teachers in VR Education


Don’t worry you’ll still have a job and you can be sure about it. What’s going to change is the role you play in the classroom and thereby the effect you have in your student’s life. Now the teacher is not the individual who delivers content first hand, but will rather become a content facilitator. Immediately you can witness the change, now teachers will be focused on creating conditions for exploring instead of delivering the information that was available to them through books. All of this said, ultimately the decision is also of the educators whether they are willing to push boundaries and adopt new technologies inside the classroom.



Opening New Horizons with VR Education


In the education sector, VR is at its nascent stage and just getting started. VR just might change the world as we know it and the 21st-century classrooms are just another place that will look different. While these classrooms are going to be technologically advanced places of learning, they are going to be havens for curious students. The goal for education should be to make knowledge available, accessible and affordable for all, and VR is set to inspire the new generation of learners who are keen and ready to change the world.


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