Virtual education is on the rise as a result of the 2020 Pandemic. For more than a year, students were forced to learn from home. Few people were prepared for this drastic shift, and most were thrown under the bus and unable to fully appreciate the use of a virtual classroom or learning situation. With adequate preparation, there are multiple ways in which to utilize the benefits of a virtual education. The first and most thought of is an online one in which students attend classes via Zoom or any other video communication service.
While this did help mitigate the negative aspects of this sudden shift, as well as showcase a few benefits of virtual learning, it didn't allow for a full view of the possibilities that virtual learning presents. This leads to the second way for students to learn virtually, which is by the use of virtual reality (VR), a digital extension of the physical world. While it did take a major pandemic to launch VR into the educational spotlight, virtual reality is modernizing the classroom in ways it never has before.
Benefits of Virtual Reality in Educations
There is a reason that virtual reality sits quite naturally in the education industry. Its educational benefits cover just about every area of information that schools try so hard to instill into young minds. Here are seven benefits of virtual reality in education:
1. Virtual reality enables students to learn faster with a much shorter learning curve, while retaining more information than standard book work. Its more immersive nature creates a positive learning environment that helps them see the progress they've made in real time, rather than waiting for recognition from a teacher.
2. VR education helps students learn critical 21st Century skills that are necessary in today's modern working environment. These skills can be narrowed down into three groups, learning, literacy, and life skills and include things like critical thinking, collaboration, information and technology, and leadership, flexibility, and productivity. Virtual reality can help prepare students to enter the work force with more of the applicable skills that employers are looking for.
3. Virtual reality is more exciting and engaging than standard book work. There's a reason that younger generations are drawn to the gamified nature of virtual reality immersion. VR can simulate experiences like unstable chemical reactions, show larger than life illustrations of atoms and molecules for a more in depth understanding of what makes up matter, and take students on field trips to the moon (or a museum, if you're looking for something a little closer to home).
4. Because of the immersive nature of virtual reality, students gain a deeper understanding of critical concepts within lesson groups that allow them to further their knowledge in a given area. Some concepts are difficult to understand when looking at a textbook, or even in a video. Sometimes, the act of doing something physically, especially something fun, is more encouraging than simply reading or watching about it. VR helps students internalize and work through information input, which results in a better outcome.
5. Speaking of textbooks- virtual reality doesn't have to replace textbook learning. A little-known fact is that many textbooks are equipped with a square, a little QR code (which is actually a bit of augmented reality technology) that leads to other methods of learning. Using virtual reality to supplement the book learning that students are required to do helps solidify important information without taking away the work and effort that so many people put into them.
6. Virtual reality can help improve communication and collaboration skills. Because virtual reality is so much more exciting than regular school work, students are excited to put on the headset and get their work done. This means, as a standard rule, no more students (or far less) put in half the work to get all the credit. Each student would come into a group assignment willing to put in the effort.
7. The final, and possibly most, beneficial thing virtual reality does for the classroom is to create new opportunities for learning by creating a more accessible learning environment. Virtual reality creates a universal learning method that enables each student to learn in the way that benefits them. Rather than only being able to focus on certain learning methods, virtual reality creates equity in the classroom and helps eliminate learning barriers.
How to Optimize a Virtual Classroom
Virtual classrooms are no longer an outlying scenario. Since 2020, educators have been making the switch to online learning. Colleges have had virtual classrooms for a decade now and stand to learn a thing or two from the implementation of virtual reality. In order to optimize the benefits of virtual reality in classrooms (and home settings), it's important to establish certain boundaries. These boundaries are for teachers, parents, and students and will help everybody get the most out of the learning environment. Some will be specifically for the adoption of virtual reality in the classroom, and others will be for creating a virtual or distance learning environment.
The first boundary is to create a time for educational use. This time grouping helps the student with awareness of the constraints they're under and gets them to focus on the task at hand. Giving a limited amount of time to work on assignments also helps with the possible negative aspects of virtual reality, like nausea and headaches.
The next boundary is to create a physical space specifically for learning. Having an environment meant for education helps the student get into the right mental space for information consumption. It takes a mental shift to go from one task to another, so having an area devoted to education helps their minds make that shift easier. Creating a space specifically for the use of VR gives students a quiet place to better utilize the immersive aspects of virtual reality.
The easiest (and hardest- it's a fine line) way to optimize a virtual learning environment is to minimize distractions. While virtual reality is more immersive than regular learning, there are still ways to get distracted in a virtual environment. In physical classrooms, there will already be steps in place to minimize both external and internal distractions. Steps like setting up physical working space (external) and creating a virtual environment void of games, or other non-educational items (internal). At home, in a truly virtual classroom, it is much more difficult. For college or homeschooled students, it can mean treating the space as an actual work space, complete with breaks for meals and brain rests. Eliminating distractions from family members means being intentional and respecting your own time, showing others how seriously you take the education.
Virtual reality as a main method of education is on the rise. While there have been situations of virtual learning practically since the internet went mainstream, virtual reality creates a much more interactive and immersive environment in which to learn. There are major benefits to modernizing the classroom using virtual reality, and those who have adopted it in their own classrooms are leading the way for others to create better learning environments for their students. While we have barely begun to scratch the surface, we may eventually see the day where virtual reality is the only method of education.