What Does the Metaverse Mean for Education?
By Lance Huang
The last two years have accelerated the evolution of our digital lives – to the point that life in the digital world and life in the physical world are one in the same. Educators and students meet for virtual lessons. Professionals in nearly all industries have learned to collaborate and succeed virtually. From social interactions to mental and physical healthcare, to entertainment and gaming, we’ve grown comfortable with the current reality that if you have an Internet connection, you can move through daily life and accomplish your goals seamlessly switching from virtual to in-person settings.
For anyone who is curious about the metaverse, we’ve been promised: The way we’re living virtually right now is helping us create the metaverse. Today, we mainly have these virtual experiences one at a time. The virtual classroom is a different setting than a virtual game. The patient portal for a doctor visit is not the same place as a football game you experience in an augmented reality–enabled setting at home. In the metaverse, these currently distinct and siloed experiences will be connected to each other. The metaverse will be accessible across platforms and devices, and we’ll move throughout these connected settings and applications as naturally as we do in the physical world. Indeed, the metaverse differs from the virtual tools we’ve adapted quickly over the last few years in that it is a fully immersive experience that mimics the physical world itself – and then adds the kind of interactive features only the digital world can provide.
In other words, the metaverse will eliminate the friction that comes from continually switching between the physical world (where we’re not connected to each other technologically) and virtual worlds (where we generally can’t do everything we can do face-to-face, which often necessitates time-consuming workarounds). For educators and students, eliminating that friction and those inefficiencies will be a game-changer. It will allow more time for actually educating and learning. And it will foster more creative, hands-on and engaging ways for students to learn.
We’re still near the beginning of the development of a unified metaverse. Businesses and organizations are still learning how to create virtual versions of physical-world experiences. But we’re learning and creating rapidly. By 2026, 25 percent of all people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse – for any reason at all, including school. And educators have a lot of reasons to embrace and look forward to the further evolution of the metaverse.
Here are some of the brightest features the metaverse has for educating.
Boosted student engagement
Metaverse applications make lessons more tangible for students, easier to remember and internalize. Immersive virtual experiences truly enable learning by doing. These experiences provide 3D simulations of familiar physical-world settings, with interactivity that can deepen the lesson and provide new ways for students to become active participants. Educators will be emboldened to imagine lessons that go far beyond passive instruction – including finding opportunities for gamification, and experiences that take the lesson beyond the four walls of the classroom. Hands-on learning already boosts student engagement, and the array of experiences within a unified metaverse opens doors to boost engagement even more dramatically. Think of taking a class to a museum or a historical landmark. In a virtual environment, students can interact with virtual objects that would have been off-limits to touch in the physical world. A group of students can have an experience all together, in real time, that they would have had to experience one at a time in a physical environment. The metaverse also enables educators to gamify learning experiences in truly creative ways, using virtual settings and items that educators simply would not have access to in a physical classroom, at home, or on a field trip. These deep, interactive experiences captivate students’ attention, and ignite curiosity in the subject, while encouraging skills like problem-solving and group collaboration.
Elevated real-time engagement experience
Over the last two years, as we’ve come to more and more of our lives virtually, VR and AR technology has rapidly matured to support applications that rely on it – for example, sporting events, concerts and parties where the attendees all were at home. These experiences are built on principles of real-time engagement, where a broad, decentralized audience interact with the event and with each other truly in sync. Now, tech providers and their partners are exploring new applications and new platforms that engage the audience in real time. The metaverse will bring that engagement to an entirely new level. It’s a far more immersive – and synchronous – prospect than general-purpose video conferencing tools. Instead of the instructor and students observing each other as if through a window, the metaverse gives all participants the sense of physically engaging with each other and with different settings or environments. There’s great potential here for enhancing a virtual laboratory experience – participants can simulate experiments in groups, collaborating and solving problems in real time and with their hands wherever they’re located. The metaverse delivers these hands-on, collaborative experiences that students and teachers so greatly missed while communicating through screens and cameras alone.
Improved learning outcomes and efficiencies
The business world has already seen how VR technology enhances employee training – not only core job skills, but also soft skills. Educators should take a page from the insights business leaders have gained on the positive effects of VR-enabled soft skills training. A recent PwC study found VR learners could be trained four times faster than classroom learners and were four times more focused than basic remote e-learners. VR learners were also found to be more confident (by 275 percent) in applying those soft skills they learned, and more emotionally connected to the training content, than classroom learners. Keep in mind that in a VR setting, there are no off-screen distractions or interruptions to the lesson – no smartphone screens getting in the way of learners’ attention. The study even found that in enterprise businesses, VR learning can be more cost-effective at scale than classroom learning or e-learning. In other words, the cost of deploying VR tech on a per-user basis is lower for a base of thousands of users than it is for dozens. That’s highly beneficial to large school districts – although you need only 375 VR users to reach the point where VR and classroom learning bear equal costs.
Increased authenticity of academic achievements
In the metaverse, we can realize more of the full potential of blockchain technology, and the transparency it provides. A blockchain – which, it’s important to point out, is a central feature of cryptocurrency transactions, but is not the same as cryptocurrency and has many other use cases beyond currency and commerce – keeps a record of transactions or activities, which are time-stamped and cannot be modified without affecting any later records on the chain. No one person or entity can own a blockchain outright. We can see how blockchain can be applied in education, to record each learning activity and achievement occurring within the metaverse. Those records are authenticated and verified as accurate and cannot be tampered with later on. Now we can imagine a metaverse where it’s prohibitively challenging to falsify academic records – and where every student receives a proven, transparent, public and immutable certification or degree.
Metaverse experiences are no longer a pipe dream – they’re tangible, figuratively and literally. These experiences open new doors for how we all learn and teach. As we build new VR-enabled metaverse applications and bridge them to create and interact in the broader metaverse, the educational opportunities therein will be limited only by the imagination of students and instructors themselves.
About the author
Based in Silicon Valley, Lance Huang is a Product Marketing Manager at Agora, a public company offering a real-time engagement platform that enables video/audio calls, live interactive streaming and real-time messaging. He is dedicated to helping EdTech companies assemble interactive online classrooms and effectively engage students across the world. Prior to Agora, Lance was the Investment Manager at TAL Education Group, one of the leading EdTech companies providing after-school tutoring services. He has experience in strategic investment, accelerating the business growth of EdTech companies, and devising sustainable growth strategies.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.