Technology is constantly changing the world and the way we live, and higher education is not an exception. Over the last few years, digital has transformed the way students learn, from providing them with wider access to content to the growth of distance and online learning courses.
The next big transformation is likely to be the introduction of virtual reality (VR), an interactive technology that transports people to a simulated space but enables them to operate as if they are in reality. VR shouldn’t be confused with Augmented Reality (AR), which produces a new experience of the real world by seamlessly overlaying sensory data on top of reality.
VR, if used correctly, could combine the best features of physical and online learning within an integrated platform.
It seems that people are starting to invest in VR. In 2017, Suir Valley Ventures, the entrepreneur-led venture capital fund, invested in Immersive VR Education Ltd. (‘IVRE’), a company which produces VR software and immersive experiences for education. As well as this, it has been forecasted that $108 billion will be invested in VR/AR for the education sector by 2021.
In addition, in April 2018, the University of Bristol opened The Bristol VR Lab, which enables companies and creators to work with VR to develop future products and services, whilst University College London now offers students an Immersive Virtual Environments Laboratory.
Considering this context, we have outlined three ways in which VR will change, improve and transform the higher education sector.
1. Immersive Lectures
VR will transform lectures into an immersive learning experience, with the possibility to brings topics to life. For example, those who are studying architecture will be able to build buildings, and those who are interested in history will be able to explore ancient ruins. The use of VR in this way eradicates the barriers of time and space and allows students to experience their field of study without leaving campus.
2. Virtual Reality Tours
Choosing a university is a big decision and a big commitment. Most students will be advised to attend university open days to get to know their potential course, the campus, the accommodation and the surrounding area before making their decision. However, for some students, attending open days is not always an option. VR tours could provide a helpful solution. Students will be able to listen to talks from lecturers or current students, take a stroll around the student village, and explore the local area.
3. Distance Learning
With the development of online learning, many students have started to access distance learning courses, which can sometimes prove problematic. Completion rates for distance learning courses are typically low, partly due to the lack of physical interaction with lecturers and peers. This makes it easy for students to lose interest, or feel disengaged, particularly if they are struggling with a certain topic. With VR, distance learners can have a more engaging and inclusive experience by attending virtual lecturers and seminars with lecturers and peers. This could help lead to increased engagement levels and reduced feelings of isolation.
As illustrated above, VR has the potential to bring many benefits to the education sector in the future. Despite this, there will inevitably be problems and issues to overcome before VR becomes a regular part of mainstream teaching.
Nevertheless, institutions and other education companies are already investing in VR, which means this new technology will be soon part of our reality.