Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Education: everything you need to know.

Written on 10/08/2021

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) have long been said to completely revolutionize our lives. The ability of these technologies to transport us to a different world and enhance what we have in sight has a giant potential to change the way we interact, consume content and even live new experiences.

One of the areas where most people hear about the potential of VR and AR is in education. By transporting us to new contexts and situations, these technologies take the idea of learning by doing to a completely new level. This is especially relevant in higher education, where there is a growing gap between the content that is taught and the skills that are required in the job market.

However, we have been waiting for a long time for the mass transformation of the transformative results these technologies promise for the training of professionals. Will they truly be able to revolutionize the way we learn, or are they just another fad that will fail to live up to your expectations?

**What we can say for sure is that virtual reality and augmented reality are already used in higher education institutions with proven positive effects on learning. **

If you’re looking to innovate in your institution’s classrooms, these technologies may be the tool you need. Contrary to what many people think, its implementation does not require a huge expenditure of resources, or expert personnel in technology. Companies like Yoy make virtual and augmented reality available to any institution in a very simple way.

In order for you to see how virtual and augmented reality can transform learning in your classrooms, in this article we will explain what exactly these technologies are and how they are used today in other institutions. Let’s start with virtual reality.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is the immersion of a person in a digitally simulated experience. The most common way to generate this immersion is through a virtual reality headset: a device that projects an image onto the user’s field of vision and makes them experience a digitally created scene.

An operator using a virtual reality headset.

The image projected by these devices -known in English as HMD (head-mounted-display)- adapts in real time to the movements of the user. In this way, this technology tricks our brain by generating a sensation of total immersion that produces very real sensations, including amazement, excitement and fright.

The ability to make us live an experience is what makes virtual reality a very important technology for education. It is undoubted that when we experiment with what is being studied, our learning is much more effective than passively receiving concepts from a book or video.

Some recent studies have already shown that this is more than speculation: it is proven that virtual reality can improve learning outcomes. For example, an experiment conducted at the University of Maryland and published in 2018 in the scientific journal Virtual Reality, showed that using a virtual reality environment, it was possible to improve the memory of a group of students by 9%, compared to a group that only used a computer screen.

Making learning more effective is not the only advantage of this technology. Using virtual reality also allows students to experiment in contexts that would be impossible or very expensive to recreate in a classroom. For example, we can use virtual reality to simulate the operation of heavy machinery, allowing learners to reduce the knowledge gap between the classroom and the moment when a student operates these machines for the first time.

Another very illustrative example of this advantage is the use of virtual reality to teach people to use fire extinguishers. Unless you can run a small test fire in your premises, virtual reality is a much more effective option than typical training in teaching how to use this tool correctly.

Virtual Reality is not only used for teaching operational tasks, it can also be used to help students visualize complex contents that are at the forefront of knowledge. A very interesting example is the Qubit Arcade application, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the most technologically advanced universities on the planet. This virtual reality simulation allows students to explore fundamental concepts of quantum computing - the field that investigates how to apply the principles of quantum physics to the development of supercomputers.

And MIT they don’t stop there, in 2020, this university inaugurated the MIT nano Immersion Lab, an open laboratory focused on virtual reality and augmented reality. The objective of this laboratory is to make these technologies available to all students and teachers to support their own areas of teaching, learning and research. Since its creation, several interdisciplinary projects have already been carried out that put these technologies at the service of different areas such as manufacturing, health, cinematography, and architecture, among others. We will certainly continue to hear about this initiative in the future.

To finish this introduction to virtual reality, we want to tell you about five other ways this technology is being used in the classroom:

  • Experiences relevant, historical events, such as wars or crises, in the first person.

  • Explore heritage and cultural places, such as archaeological sites or museums.

  • Allow medical students to practice performing high-risk surgeries.

  • Investigate the functioning of the human body from within.

  • Live a cultural immersion in another city, interacting with people to learn a new language.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality consists of adding information to the observable world using technology to offer an interactive experience. As when using virtual reality, the object is to immerse people in the experience, but in this case, it is only intended to complement the perceived reality and not to replace it completely with a simulation.

This technology can be implemented with different devices. However, there is one that due to its ubiquity, is the most popular: the smartphone. At present, there are already countless applications that use your phone’s camera and spatial recognition algorithms to complement the world we observe with new objects and information in real time. This is what applications like Pokemon Go or Instagram filters do.

Pokemon Go is the most popular augmented reality app. With it, the map of a city is transformed into a new adventure.

There are also augmented reality lenses, which project images onto a transparent glass that overlap your field of vision. By allowing us to connect the virtual world with the real world, augmented reality open ups a huge universe of possibilities in education. This technology allows adding new dimensions to study materials typically used in a classroom, making learning more interactive and effective. Best of all, it can be used with the same student phones and tablets.

The impact of augmented reality on learning outcomes is also endorsed by education experts. In 2019, a systematic analysis of more than 60 quantitative studies of the impact of this technology on learning was published in the prestigious Educational Research Review journal. This study concluded that the effect of augmented reality was positive, and that it is more effective in students who are in their first years of higher education.

One of the main uses of this technology in education is to generate virtual 3D projections with which students can interact. These visualizations allow the class to observe objects or spatial relationships difficult to display on a book page or traditional screen. Examples of this are three-dimensional graphics, some inaccessible objects such as galaxies or chemical structures, or invisible phenomena such as the flow of air or magnetic fields. All of these can be shown interactively with augmented reality.

As in the case of virtual reality, we find real examples of the use of augmented reality in the universities that lead the ranking of technological innovation worldwide. This is the case of ETH Zürich, a leading Swiss university in research and innovation in Europe. At this institution, they developed Essential Vision, an augmented reality application that uses the HoloLens viewer, created by Microsoft, to view anatomical structures in an interactive and shared way. This means they can be manipulated with manual gestures, to zoom or change perspective.

Of course this is not the only augmented reality project that is being carried out at this university. On the contrary, at ETH Zurich they are developing various lines of work to exploit the potential of this technology in different areas. Some of the most recent projects are: an application to view your events of the day as information added to a wall clock, a system to view news displayed on a globe, according to its location of origin; a minimally distracting auditory guidance system for cyclists; and “augmented paper” - a system that displays digital information on a sheet of paper to give you the feeling that you are reading physically.

Another advantage of augmented reality is the possibility of turning any context into a multimedia environment. For example, a traditional class book can be enhanced by using QR code that students scan on their phone to view interactive content in real time. Another interesting case is the projection of works of art on the wall of a room, which you can do with applications such as Arts & Culture, from Google. Undoubtedly, the applications of augmented reality in education are endless and we are just beginning to see its potential.

The technology is already at your fingertips

In this article we have taken a tour explaining what virtual reality and augmented reality are, what are the advantages of each one and its possible uses in education. With this review, we have made it clear that these technologies are already available and their benefits for learning are proven.

It is difficult to imagine what a future will be like in which these technologies become widespread, but everything indicates that this will be the case. According to results of a survey carried out in 2019 to different leaders of technology companies, in 2025 these tools will be as common as smartphones. In this same survey, about half of the participants declared that education is one of the sectors with the greatest potential for the use of these technologies, along with video games and medicine.

In terms of market size, the estimated economic valuation for the future of these technologies reaches astronomical figures. According to a report by PwC - one of the largest and most reputable consulting firms in the world - virtual and augmented reality could add 1 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2030. In this same report, it stands out that one of the main contributions of these technologies is their ability to improve the effectiveness of the training and education of professionals.

If you are looking to enhance teaching in your classrooms, both virtual and augmented reality are accessible options that will put your institution at the forefront of pedagogical innovation.

To start with them, the first thing you should do is identify what are the main challenges for teaching in your institution. Is there any content that is always difficult for students to understand correctly? Is there a subject where you see a gap between what is taught and what students need to know? Is there an experience that students need to live but cannot because it is physically impossible.

Once you identify these challenges, the opportunities for the applications of these technologies will be clear. If you are looking for advice on how to implement them in your institution, in Yoy you will find a partner capable of making tools tailored to your needs. You can contact us by clicking here.

Now it's only up to you to begin this process of transformation in the way of teaching!

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