The state of immersive technology in education

Last week I had the opportunity to attend two events dedicated to immersive technology in education: xR in EDU, sponsored by the EdTechTimes, and SRI and the California State University System’s Immersive Learning Summit.  As someone who has a vested interest in seeing the acceleration of the adoption of technology-supported pedagogical innovation, it was encouraging to see the dedicated focus on a subject that I truly believe can significantly improve the accessibility of a high-quality education and revolutionize the student experience.  While these events represented a meaningful step forward, it’s clear that both ed tech providers and institutions still have a long way to go to realize the full potential of immersive technology in education.
Last week’s events allowed me to identify key xR (extended reality) trends and barriers to adoption, based on the feedback of thought leaders and institutional users of immersive technology alike. Here are some of those key learnings:

1. Immersive technology content must be much more comprehensive

Much xR represents a disconnected set of subject-specific content and technology platforms that can be difficult to implement and integrate to support an entire program or academic department.  Due to the emerging nature of immersive technology, educational institutions are forced to splice together numerous technologies to support entire programs.  This process can be unwieldy to manage and represents a mixed experience for both users and educators.  xR providers must work to ensure the completeness of their catalogs and ease of implementation for both administrators and educators.  Additionally, providers must offer single sign-on and deep Learning Management System integration.  If immersive technology companies can develop comprehensive content that can legitimately replace textbooks or static digital content, they can significantly reduce the barrier of entry for institutions.

2. Much of the innovation in xR is happening among smaller start-ups

While many of the publishers are investing in the development of immersive technology, the real disruption will come from the little guys. This will not be possible however, without developing close working relationships with institutions who can help drive the product development that best serves students.

3. Institutions must mandate use and provide adequate support to encourage adoption

While mandates are never popular among faculty, they’re critical for broader adoption of xR. To date, much of the adoption of immersive technology has been led by the most innovative faculty and administrators. With everything educators have on their plate, it’s unreasonable to expect most of them to have the bandwidth to research, procure, implement, and actively use xR. If institutions buy-into the potential impact that initial research suggests, they need to adopt these technologies across an institution and put adequate funding behind implementation and support.  Additionally, immersive technology needs to be a core part of the curriculum and involve mandatory assignments for students to be most effective.

4. Institutions must find ways to fund xR projects at scale

It’s difficult to fault institutions for operating in this manner, but a vast amount of university budgets are allocated to education technology platforms that support more administrative than pedagogical functions. xR represents the next generation of learning technologies and must be funded at the same rate as its predecessors. In order to justify the investment however, providers need to demonstrate a clear return on investment for institutions – notably around improving student outcomes and retention.

5. Social pressure is key to encourage adoption

Early adopters need to also be evangelists and institutions must showcase their innovation. Ensuring that xR experiences delight and motivate students is also key to leveraging the influence they have with the institutions that serve them.

6. To-date, most xR is still being used for non-instructional purposes

Now is the time to shift from experimentation to broader adoption and university innovation labs and makerspaces can help lead the way.

7. Research needs to continue to ensure that institutions realize the potential of xR

Much of the discussion about the benefits of immersive technology has been focused on the qualitative elements of adoption and less on true impact on learning outcomes. While significant research already exists, there’s little that looks at full scale adoption across a campus.

8. Content creators are more engaged

By developing tools that allow the easy creation of xR content, faculty members are far more likely to accelerate adoption.
Despite barriers to immersive technology adoption in education, there is quite a bit to be optimistic about. Thanks to significant improvements to the underlying technology, content creators can turn out high-quality xR experiences at a pace they never could before.  Additionally, institutions are developing comprehensive xR strategies for both research and practical application and are investing in innovation labs on campus to encourage exploration of these technologies.
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