The EduCause Review published an article entitled “From VR and AR to Our XR Future: Transforming Higher Education” late last year about how immersive technologies will change university learning. Though the novelty of virtual reality and augmented reality have begun to wear off, the new applications that will define their legacy are just beginning to be discovered. Immersive role-play education is one of the main opportunities delineated in the article. Especially in the case of life-threatening scenarios that emergency responders and emergency room doctors have to face in their profession, being able to simulate an event immersively provides a way to truly prepare these professionals for their line of work without risking the lives of living test subjects. Other industries such as construction also come in to mind, where workers could be trained to avoid hazardous situations before ever stepping foot onto the real job site.
But preparation for the real world is just the beginning. A recent study from the University of Maryland confirmed that students retain information better when it is delivered in an immersive environment. The consumption of sensory input reinforces memory and leads to students performing better on exams. But this begs the question: Who will have access to this technology? If immersive learning is dependent on expensive equipment, are we not introducing another barrier to educational access by encouraging its development? How can we ensure that the headsets and the eyewear and the devices required for immersive education make it to those who need them most?
Lastly I want to challenge the notion that humans are the only ones who might benefit for immersive learning. We just got a new puppy named Oatmeal and he is currently learning to sit. I wonder if there is a future for immersive dog training. Where dogs can get socialized and learn basic commands in a virtual space. Obviously the head gear would have to be adapted and it might be better to just create projection cubes for the puppies, but I see real value in being able to introduce frightened dogs to virtual people and virtual friends before forcing them to interact and potentially injure real life subject. And even while in my sun-room trying to convince Oatmeal not to eat my 360 camera, I could still tap into some of the most engaging and progressive educational experiences around the world. Now that’s pretty cool.