XR in Learning
Contrary to what one might think... immersive technologies aren’t just there to entertain! Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality all have many different uses.
Education is one of the multiple fields in which XR can come in particularly handy. It can do it all: transport, simulate, show, and most of all, concretize. Used in an academic context, it has the potential to deeply enrich learning and teaching experiences.
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In the Heat of the Action
Augmented Reality provides an additional layer of information on top of the real world, while Virtual Reality carries us in an entirely digital environment. It recreates sights, sounds and sensations, giving us the impression that we are in a real, tangible situation. “It feels like it is happening in front of your eyes,” says Mohamed Awaiskhan Pathan, an Electrical Technology student at Ontario’s Mohawk College.1 Instead of reading an abstract notion in a book, the student can see it appear right in front of his eyes… and experience it! According to educational theorist John Dewey, effective learning is experiential2 ; and that’s exactly what XR provides. A student can move, take action, solve problems, and think critically, all within a controlled environment. Inevitably, the student becomes more engaged, and their concentration as well as information retention improve.
Accessible, Forgiving… Fitted
Lecturing, the usual teaching method, requires students to all learn the same content, in the same way, at the same pace. Immersive technologies allow for adaptive learning, which counteracts this preconception by tailoring itself to one’s learning curve. Algorithms can track the evolution and achievements of the user, allowing them to progress at their own pace and start over as many times as needed. The digital nature of modules also makes them available from anywhere, at any time; an access to the classroom, without leaving the comfort of home! Furthermore, team projects are facilitated; students can be given a problem to solve, and the immersive environment provides them with the necessary tools to work together towards building original solutions, as well as validate feasibility.3
Make the Impossible Possible
By its very nature, the simulated environment makes possible what could not be replicated in real life. For example, a student could shrink themself to the size of an ant and crawl inside a machine to observe how it works. A whole world of possibilities opens up! However, from an academic standpoint, can a simple 3D model be equivalent to a real object? James Rout, Associate Vice-President of Education Support and Innovation at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology), performed a test to investigate the learning experience of a group of students who had access to a physical helicopter rotor, in contrast to another group who only had access to a virtual rotor. In the end, Rout found no major academic differences between the two groups. In fact, the subjects studying the virtual rotor preferred their virtual experience since they were able to witness phenomena that were otherwise impossible to observe on a real helicopter.4
Another advantage of Virtual Reality is that it allows students to train in delicate situations in a stress-free environment that is forgiving enough to allow for mistakes to be made. As such, the students can get familiar with specific equipment before using it in a real-life context, and provides them with immediate feedback without real-world repercussions. “It is so real and lifelike, with faults built into the system, that if students were to improperly follow the sequence, they would see the consequences,” says Angelo Cosco, Associate Dean at Mohawk’s Marshall School of Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship.5 It is a wonderful learning experience… without the risk of injury or the potential for disaster.
XR works wonders when it comes to student engagement, which is currently a major issue in education. The interactive nature of immersive technologies makes a boring lecture seem fun; learning becomes a game and, instantly, motivation soars.
XR allows educational staff to monitor their students closely, to record their performances, and to collect data. A wielding teacher could analyze his student’s travel speed, work angle, and weld angle just by looking at a screen, without having to wear full equipment and be physically next to the student in the work area. XR is not meant to replace educational staff, but rather to provide them with complementary tools to the strategies already in place.
XR is especially useful for employers, with candidates coming to them more prepared, more experienced, and more confident, overall. The necessary training hours required to allow for an employee to hit the ground running is decreased, and less resources need to be mobilized; which is more than welcome considering the current labor shortage! Not to mention, the expansion of the overall pool of qualiﬁed apprentices, since some courses could be made available totally remotely.
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One thing is clear: immersive technologies can bring real value to our education system. It’s not all smoke and mirrors! As these technologies evolve and become more and more accessible, they will undoubtedly carve themselves a special place in the curriculum of several establishments. Many students are already familiar with this type of technology, and the necessary equipment has become more than affordable. It’s about taking a leap of faith!
1, 4, 5. Lewington, J. (2020). Augmented and virtual reality are helping colleges up their tech game, Macleans. URL: https://www.macleans.ca/education/college/augmented-virtual-reality-colleges-technology-learning/
2, 3. Gaulin, F. (2017). Réalité virtuelle en formation : quand les casques s’alignent, Université de Sherbrooke. URL: https://www.usherbrooke.ca/ssf/veille/perspectives-ssf/numeros-precedents/octobre-2017/le-ssf-veille/realite-virtuelle-en-formation-quand-les-casques-salignent/
Scanlan, C. (2017). Immersive Tech in Education: How xR Plays a Role in Education Today, EDTech Times.
Julian, A. (2019). Hey XR, don’t forget about education!, Medium. URL: https://medium.com/teachers-on-fire/hey-xr-dont-forget-about-education-dff497b963f8
Reynard, R. (2017). The Impact of Virtual Reality on Learning, Campus Technology. URL: https://campustechnology.com/articles/2017/04/26/the-impact-of-virtual-reality-on-learning.aspx
Bates, T. (2017). Virtual Reality and education: some thoughts, Tony Bates Blog. URL: https://www.tonybates.ca/2017/07/27/virtual-reality-and-education-some-thoughts/