“This technology is going to revolutionize the way we live, learn, work, and play.”
– Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR
It might be time to move virtual reality out of that ‘cool things that never came to fruition’ box. The Oculus Rift is coming to town, and it’s bringing with it not only a revolutionary approach to gaming, but applications that stretch into education and e-training.
Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey certainly views his device in a broader context: “Virtual reality provides more freedom for content creators than any other form, and allows us to simulate other art forms like movies, books, or traditional games. In that sense, it is the ultimate medium.”
Here’s four ways in which we think VR could become the ultimate educational tool.
1. Escaping the classroom
Research has shown that game-based learning exploits the natural competitive instinct in order to motivate, encourage and reward productive behaviour in the classroom. So surely VR could make this an even more powerful learning experience?
Naysayers insist that few educational games based on standard computers have made it into schools. Some suggest that too many adults associate video games with the propagation of violence, sleepless nights and an unhealthy obsession with artificial worlds and avatars.
But World of Warcraft has been successfully translated to the classroom, ‘gamifying’ the school day to increase productivity and pupil satisfaction. Similarly, a modification to online simulation game Minecraft is being used in over 1,000 schools to create hypothetical scenarios and reconstruct history.
The opportunities are boundless: PublicVR, for example, have created a virtual forest in which students can record measurements and make observations on tree species, canopy closure and tree biomass. It’s just one excellent example of VR-based experiential learning.
2. Learning from a distance
Imagine being able to join in with a lecture from one of the world’s top scientists from thousands of miles away. You’d be wearing a pair of goggles and have headphones in your ears and you’d only see each other as avatars. But would it be as engaging as being there in person?
Research suggests so. This type of digital teacher-student interaction could be even more valuable than the real thing by utilising ‘augmented gaze’. This involves digitally manipulating the avatar of the presenter to make constant direct eye contact with every participant separately.
Behavioural studies show that this simple strategy increases attention, naturally regulates conversation, and heightens physiological responses. The presenter or teacher becomes more influential and more persuasive as a result. We read this as better education for all.
3. Skills-based training
Practise makes perfect, but it’s not always practical. At PAULEY, we’ve created interactive and cost-saving e-training tools for companies who can’t always access the ‘real thing’, whether it’s checking the safety of train engines or training police officers to use new hardware.
VR really comes into its own in this arena, and hardware such as the Oculus Rift provides the closest thing to reality we can currently achieve in digital terms.
It’s no surprise that gory operation game Surgeon Simulator 2013 has already been adapted for Oculus Rift. Could something similar be used to train surgeons and health care professionals in complex surgical procedures?
4. Meditation & reassurance
Primary school teacher Mathieu Marunczyn has been using the Oculus Rift to help manage students with disabilities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD).
He’s found software such as BlueMarble has a remarkable ability to calm down students – something he’s dubbed ‘digital meditation’: “The student was immediately engaged and was calmly yet actively exploring the world he became immersed in. He was no longer physically ‘acting-out’ and I noticed that his whole body became more relaxed.”
The technology could also be used to help children and adults with learning difficulties, or disorders such as those on the autism spectrum, to practice social exchanges and real-life situations in safe, controlled environments. Access to a fine-tuned 3D environment would allow people to repeat certain processes – perhaps the recognising of emotional cues, or the correct way to interact with a sales assistant – until appropriate behaviours are achieved.
Here at PAULEY, we think that experiential learning through VR and digital technologies is justifiably on the up. The benefits are numerous for streamlining efficiencies across multiple sectors. Why shouldn’t we imagine a not-too-distant future in which a Ray Mears-esque avatar leads students on virtual school trips through jungles and across mountains?
Let us know what you think.