When Oculus was acquired by Facebook for $2 billion, the endless possibilities of virtual reality that had been bandied about for decades were finally validated by one of the world’s biggest tech giants. Much of the conversation surrounding the acquisition was dominated by talk about the future of video games, but one of the quieter topics — VR in education — turned out to be game changer less than a year later.
For many teachers, the ‘reality’ of VR has already arrived
Stories of students using VR to learn in incredible new ways are already popping up all over the world. For example, students in Ireland took a field trip to explore the historical ruins in Clonmacnoise. After the trip, the students made a replica of the site using OpenSim, an open source 3D application. Within a mere two weeks, the students where using Oculus Rift headsets to explore their model of the ruins in 3D.
James Corbett, the managing director of Mission V, an organisation testing this program in eleven other Irish schools, said of the initiative, “We are in no doubt now that virtual reality will become an ever more important part of education.”
The founder of Oculus, Palmer Luckey, said in a White House Google Hangout last year about the possibilities of VR in the classroom, “It’s going to be really important for STEM education. Because kids don’t learn best from reading a book or looking at a chalk board. We’ve decided, as a society, that there’s some benefit in field trips; actually having hands-on experiences where we send people to do things. The problem is, it takes a lot of resources to do that. Most field trips I’ve been on have been mostly travelling and corralling kids, and eating lunch, and not nearly as much actual learning. And you’re limited in what you can do. You can’t go to a new place every day because the resources aren’t there.”
Virtual reality is especially finding proponents at the university level. Jane Wilde, an instructor at Marlboro College, says of 3D simulators like Oculus Rift, “I anticipate that it, or something like it, will become as ubiquitous as a mouse or game controller. I see both questing platforms like World of Warcraft and constructive platforms like Second Life and Minecraft being enhanced by the Oculus Rift.” At Harvard University, a team has created The Giza Project, which allows students to virtually explore the pyramids while travelling through time. For their next project the team is creating a replica of Rome.
Virtual reality is even expanding what students can do with real labs. Nanotronics Imaging, which is backed by PayPal founder and Facebook investor Peter Thiel, has begun an initiative that will allow students to view the output of atomic-scale microscopes with VR headsets.
Impressive results are contributing to widespread implementation
In the 1960s, educator Edgar Dale developed the Cone of Experience, which theorized that students remember 20 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they see and up to 90 percent of what they do. With the early results from studies on the effect of VR on learning outcomes, Dale is proving to be more right than he ever imagined.
A study published in Nature Biotechnology found a 76 percent increase in learning outcomes when students used a gamified lab simulation from Labster and a 101 percent increase when they used it in combination with traditional teaching methods. Imagine if we could improve the impact of teachers all over the world by 100 percent by simply giving them the right VR tools to teach with.
Major players in virtual reality have recognized these impressive results in VR education, contributing to the growing virtual reality market which is projected to be worth over $400 billion and have more than 25 million users by 2018.
Labster’s role in the VR in education movement
At Labster, we’ve developed advanced lab simulations based on mathematical algorithms supporting open-ended investigations and combining these with gamification elements like immersive 3D universes, storytelling and scoring systems. All of our labs highlight the connection between science and real-world issues. For example, in our CSI lab, students investigate a virtual crime scene by collecting blood samples in hopes that the murderer has left traces of DNA. After sampling, the student accesses a virtual lab to perform DNA analysis.
Labs like these solve issues for science programs at universities, who are finding it difficult to offer quality labs in their courses due to a lack of time, funds, and safety concerns. VR in science education can also help stem the tide of the large percentage of STEM majors that drop out.
Additionally, VR can provide students with a more engaging learning experience compared to the typical reading, writing, and testing in the classroom.
The future of learning is here with virtual reality, and the sooner universities adopt the technology the faster their students will begin to reap the benefits.