In 1990, the box office watermark “Matrix” and its 360° pans, slow-mo bullet trajectories, left audiences gobsmacked, and the iconic visuals lingered in geek memories for years. This film set a benchmark for virtual reality (VR)in the entertainment world, and since then, technology has taken a dimensional shift from the regular to the out-of-the-box.
VR has been extensively employed in the gaming industry. Its foray into education is relatively new and yet to prove its potential. However, it has the potential to revolutionise learning, retention and content delivery exponentially. One can learn to play musical instruments, fix a computer, and draw a painting in the virtual world. It is true that some gifted teachers have made classroom experiences unforgettable and met teaching outcomes outstandingly.
With VR, students feel that they are in a different place, doing something hands-on. It enables a high impact learning experience and helps them engage more with the content, besides giving them the space for exploration, and trial and error. They learn through constant simulation that helps them apply their knowledge faster, think quicker and experience real-life situations.
VR has the potential to render physical tools and equipment, and place them in the hands of a student at no extra cost. Witnessing atomic collisions inside CERN’s Large Hadron Collider slowed down and virtualised to understand the action of electromagnetic forces might have sounded like science fiction 20 years ago. But today, virtual reality has changed the face of chemistry labs, engineering workshops and physics classrooms, altogether. Micro learning using VR can enhance learning practice and help students get first-hand experiences of different environments and retain what they learn, longer than usual.
Enhanced visual thinking
The capacity to create involved ecosystems enables the teacher to deliver knowledge in a more relatable and vivid manner than words. VR opens doors to the visual possibilities that students can access, explore or interact with. This makes understanding any new concept more natural and think on-their-feet. The other most important aspect of VR in a classroom is the instant emotional reaction of the students in various situations. It allows for the facilitator to monitor how students are responding to the learning and measure how immersive their learning is.
Map individual learning
VR-enabled classrooms allow real-time assessment of students with different capacities. There will always be students with different rates of lesson absorption, retention and ability for application. Checkpoints can be built into programmes that instantly test understanding, and learning pathways can be personalised to assess previously learned concepts upon which advanced lessons are based.
Stephen Hawking will not be remembered as the only person who could tap virtual encyclopaedias on a wheelchair. VR can provide a platform for the differently-abled student. They can become a part of any classroom merely with the addition of a headset. VR can empower every learner with the tools to fulfil potential.
In India, over seven million children are yet to be enrolled for elementary education, over 20% students drop out of schools and colleges after secondary education due to non-availability of educational establishments in rural areas. VR can change the way education is served in remote areas. A universal classroom can become a reality. Students can become a part of global education systems and instantly access latest breakthroughs in knowledge, practice and technology.
It is important to understand that it would be incorrect to assume that VR is a threat to mainstream teaching jobs. In truth, VR is not designed as a substitute for the teacher but as a supplement. With it, teaching does not need to take a back seat, nor should it take place in a completely rendered, virtual environment. Augmented reality will allow teachers, trainers, facilitators and institutions the option to insert the digitally rendered VR elements and graphics into the real world to help students attain learning goals more efficiently.
Industry 4.0 ready
Technology is changing industries at a pace that it must be constantly monitored, analysed and upgraded. For this task, experience and problem-solving skills are needed from the get-go. VR allows learners to obtain this proficiency in controlled and simulated settings. Students learning in virtual reality, and using its associated supplies, will become acclimatised to a new, innovative culture and be ready to embrace the possibilities of similar emerging technologies as they arrive. Virtual reality will help nurture creativity and critical thinking in students and help them become job- ready in the dynamically-challenged organisations of Industry 4.0.
The author is the Pro Vice Chancellor, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur.