VR and AR in Education
March 30 2020
Do virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have a place in learning? We think so. By using either technology, anyone can learn anything from how to turn on an electric generator, to a history lesson in WWII. Whether you’re a project manager, educator, or just interested in learning new things, VR and AR can accelerate learning in nearly any field.
Have a look at this example:
These days, most people are indoors, isolating themselves to suppress the spread of COVID-19. Even so, being isolated didn’t hold one teacher back from sharing a math lesson with his students.
In the VR game Half-Life: Alyx, there’s a location on top of a greenhouse where players can discover markers and a marker eraser.
When player Charles Coomber saw the tools, he realized their capacity for more than just entertainment in a video game. He picked up the drawing tools and led viewers through a fifteen-minute review on angle vocabulary.
Charles Coomber’s ingenuity emphasizes the potential of VR learning solutions, which are even more relevant given the situation we’re in.
By teaching within a VR game, Coomber was able to remotely educate students by using immersive modern technology. From the student’s perspective, they received a lecture in an exciting environment and had a first-hand experience as if they were in a classroom.
Learning With VR
VR offers an immersive learning environment for students. By using VR, a structural engineering student can see a full-size rendering of the Eiffel Tower to learn how it was made. A marine biology student can watch a whale swim past and take notes on its mannerisms.
People can’t learn motion, impact, or scope from a textbook, which is where VR can shine. In a VR environment, they can observe all three and more.
Google was quick to jump into VR education with their Google Expeditions. Expeditions offers immersive VR simulations that are available to students and teachers. By using Expeditions, teachers can take their students on a VR tour of the pyramids of Giza, or use AR to put an asteroid right in the classroom.
Recently, Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO at Miami Children’s Health System, has found VR to be an incredible tool when training medical students. Typically, when teaching using PowerPoints, textbooks, and in-class lectures, she found students to have only a 20% retention rate. Meaning students typically only remembered 20% of their lesson one week after a lecture.
By incorporating VR in their medical training, Kini found that her students had up to an 80% retention rate one year after the lecture. That’s not only a 400% increase, but the students remember their lessons for a substantially longer period of time.
Did Kini work magic? Or is there some logical explanation behind her success?
Let’s take the scientific approach and rule out magic. Why did VR training work?
Imagine studying the colosseum in a textbook. You see pictures, you see images. You see where the gladiators got ready before stepping out in the arena and you see where the spectators sat. But can you put it all together? Can you imagine which doors the spectators entered and how they got to their seats? You could with a 3-D colosseum right in front of you.
The Suspension of Disbelief
During his Ted Talk, Chris Milk, esteemed immersive artist and cofounder of Within, refers to the “suspension of disbelief” — the gap between a reality shared verbally through words, and what our senses would feel if we experienced the reality firsthand. There’s a gap where we can’t quite believe or comprehend that reality without experiencing it for ourselves.
Enter VR. VR is the bridge that allows us to see and even feel a story or concept with our senses. Through a VR simulation, we can see the paths and hallways of the colosseum. We can understand what things are and how they work. Being able to bridge this gap is the key to helping people remember; it’s the bridge that changes a 20% retention rate to an 80% retention rate.
As mentioned earlier, Google got an early start to education through VR with their Google Expeditions project.
How many simulations do they offer? According to Google, “something amazing to explore for every subject.” Their pre-made content is targeted toward grades K-12. But don’t let that hold you back! Google also offers a handy, online Tour Creator for you to transform your own 360° pictures into virtual tours.
Aside from Google, ThingLink also offers tools to create your own XR simulations and tours. Their solutions are designed for both education and business learning systems.
For generic content, you can try Veer; a website where visitors can share or watch VR experiences. Also, have a look at Glitch’s WebVR builder, A-Frame. They aim to create VR realities that work on the web, and you can make your own too.
Keep an eye out for more online repositories; there will be more popping up as VR gains even more traction.
On the other hand, if you want to go the extra mile with VR and AR education, there are avenues you can pursue to create your own VR and AR applications.
Consider the example at the start of this article. Charles Coomber didn’t have a solution to simulate a virtual whiteboard for his students. So, in a moment of brilliance, he repurposed a VR game to fit his needs.
But what if Coomber had the knowledge and skill to make his own VR app? If he did have the knowledge, he’d be able to create his own VR space with a whiteboard. Not to mention, his students wouldn’t have to make their way through a VR game to join his lesson.
Did I say have to? Then again, traveling through a VR world to get to a lesson doesn’t sound half so bad. If it helped students learn, Coomber could create whatever type of world he wanted if he had the background knowledge to develop VR applications.
Consider Circuit Stream’s XR Development With Unity course. In 10 weeks, students graduate with their own app finished or well on the way to completion. Unlike pre-recorded online classes, the Circuit Stream course offers one-on-one mentorship that helps students target their own designs. Within 10 weeks, Coomber could have a fully-functional VR whiteboard to share remotely with his students.
Unity is a powerful developing platform that enables you to create 3D, 2D VR, and AR applications. Whether you have previous coding history or not doesn’t matter. Anyone can learn how to use Unity within weeks of training with the right instructors.
Have a look at what some of our course alumni have said about their experience learning Unity. Karen Vanderpool is a talented designer with a biomedical background who started her VR experience with Tilt Brush before joining our course. Alberto Lopez, a senior motion designer, dove into Unity to create battle simulations for the military.
The Next Step
The possibilities of learning with VR are endless. So, what’s the next step? Where is it going? Artificial intelligence (AI) seems like a likely candidate.
There are many different kinds of learners. There are visual learners, auditory learners, tactile learners… the point is, everyone has their own style of learning.
By integrating AI into a student’s learning, the lesson could hone in on the individual’s strengths. There doesn’t need to be a teacher or instructor involved, personalizing every student’s experience. Instead, AI technology can assess and fine-tune the course depending on a student’s needs.
What’s more, AR technology is already using AI to improve its user experience. For example, Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 has progressed to using AI to recreate the user. The device’s AI does its best to replicate the user’s clothing, characteristics, and even the tone of her voice. The example Microsoft gives during a keynote event is, the user wants to be able to speak Japanese without knowing how to speak Japanese. By using AI in conjunction with AR, the HoloLens not only recreates the user, but also translates her words, in the tone of her voice, into Japanese.
AI is just one suggestion for where VR and AR is headed.
After centuries of classroom-based education, the learning experience is evolving at last.
The realm of possibilities and uses for VR and AR in learning is expanding by the day. Whether the growth comes from ideas thought up in someone’s garage or big companies like Microsoft, the industry is changing.
Teachers want to immerse their students in their lessons and students are hankering for adventures. Plus, the fact that students retain the lesson better when using VR compared to traditional methods is a huge bonus. With new technology on the horizon, we can only dream of where the learning experience will go next!
As our world steers toward VR and AR technologies, now is the time to dive into development. If you’re interested in learning how to design your own VR or AR applications, have a look at our XR Development with Unity course.