Learning in the Virtual Classroom: What Changes Will We See?

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a major cultural shift towards online learning, resulting in a heavy impact on the education sector. In fact, it has reportedly caused the largest disruption of all education systems in modern-day history — with school closures as a result of the pandemic affecting nearly 94% of students across the globe. As online learning quickly became the new normal, access to better and more immersive learning technologies has become more than just a privilege for students — it’s become a right.

Microsoft HoloLens 2
Image credit: Microsoft

Online learning has also posed a list of challenges for both students and educators. Many young learners have cited difficulties with virtual classes — such as lack of in-person interaction with their instructors, difficulty with understanding materials or a hard time staying focused. Likewise, instructors have cited challenges with keeping learners motivated, creating engaging materials or connecting with their students on a more personal level.

To assist students’ learning contexts, more advanced technology has been presented as an alternative to these pain points. While we’ve already covered how VR has started transforming the future of education, the metaverse is sure to show us the next step in how learning materials will be accessed, how institutions will monetise from learners and how instructors will find new ways to engage with students. What might be next and how might we see the metaverse reshape the future of learning? Let’s take a closer look.

A more immersive learning experience

With the help of VR, education in the metaverse will offer a highly immersive and interactive experience. Students will be transported to a myriad of different places, times, universes and spaces where they can collaborate with their peers.

At the start of the pandemic, US-based metaverse company VictoryXR launched its own remote learning services through its ENGAGE platform. Through ENGAGE, young students were able to access interactive science curriculum content and virtual animal dissections through VR headsets. The programme was met with success, with all materials being taught virtually by a range of qualified educators. 

As most are now aware, one of the biggest headlines in late 2021 was Facebook’s great rebranding to Meta. As part of his mission to turn Meta into an “embodied” metaverse platform, CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a video presentation outlining the ways in which the metaverse will revolutionise our lives — with education being a key focus. 

Zuckerberg aims to make immersive education an integral part of Meta, with promises that students will be able to “teleport” to any place, time or environment and bring any type of object with them as part of their learning journey. To achieve this, Meta plans to launch its own Immersive Learning programme. This project is part of Meta’s larger goal to invest $150 million into “developing the next generation of metaverse creators, [funding] high-quality immersive experiences that transform the way we learn, and [increasing] access to learning through technology.”

Learning on digital twin campuses

Digital twin campuses have become one of the key building blocks of the educational metaverse. In this case, a digital twin campus is a highly complex virtual model of a real-life institution — serving as a real-life counterpart of an existing space.

A digital twin campus has the capability to make an institution more bilaterally collaborative — with functions allowing for both virtual instruction and real-time classes. However, unlike a real-life classroom, a digital twin campus can provide virtual resources and objects that allow for greater levels of manipulation or duplication. For instance, consider the possibility that anatomy students will one day get to dissect a human cadaver in the metaverse before getting to hold, observe and even magnify each organ in previously unforeseen detail.

Immersive Healthcare
Photo by © EPStudio20 – Shutterstock.com

VictoryXR has recently announced a partnership with Meta to launch more digital twin campuses across the United States in the following year. These online hubs will serve as replicas of actual existing campuses in fully spatial 3D, allowing students to learn, socialise and compete in activities virtually. In the spring of 2021, VictoryXR worked with Morehouse College to launch the first digital twin “metaversity” — where students were required to check out a VR headset at the start of their school year and then return it at the end.

According to Steve Grubbs, CEO of VictoryXR: “Universities are looking for better ways to deliver labs and learning for remote students. Beyond the capabilities of 2D screens, VR can help enhance the learning experience for students studying biology, chemistry, history and other subjects by offering a more immersive learning environment.”

New ways of monetising

Experts believe that the metaverse will also change how academic work and university education will be monetised. For instance, university lectures are traditionally conducted in real-time, with lecturers only being able to deliver to a limited number of students. Virtual spaces, on the other hand, can be configured to host an unlimited number of people and provide an uncapped number of resources.

We may see a future where instructors are able to teach both real and virtual audiences simultaneously. Both these in-person lectures and virtual seminars would represent two separate commodities — both of which could be sold to increase profits. Offering lectures in multiple formats in the metaverse can also help institutions increase their global outreach and generate more revenue.

By also reducing the need for students to attend a brick-and-mortar institution, the metaverse may also provide students with greater access to global universities. This could make institutions more inclusive, potentially seeing room for them to cut international fees or better serve students from lower-income backgrounds.

Lastly, we may even see instructors find ways to enter the creator’s economy in the metaverse. With reduced requirements to teach inside physical classrooms or lecture halls, the future for university instructors may lie in self-employment — allowing them to break away from centralised platforms or create customised materials.

More enhanced learning via gaming platforms

Various studies have shown that learning experiences are most efficient when they allow students to, well… have fun. For many, this will make gamified learning and the metaverse an ideal place for online classrooms.

Leading platforms such as Minecraft, Fortnite and Second Life have already been used to enhance lectures or allow students to remotely visit online campuses. In an effort to scale its presence in schools, Roblox recently announced a $10 million fund to support its creation of online learning. This effort would allow the company to combine the perks of its special community and user experience with educational materials.

VR Education chemistry
Photo by © Gorodenkoff – Shutterstock.com

Roblox’s head of education, Rebecca Kantar, says that the gaming giant is “ready to find and reward developers and organisations who can figure out how to really lean into [their] great physics, strong immersive 3D capabilities and multiplayer experiences to teach in a deeper way.” 

Someday, Kantar hopes that this opportunity will pave the way for virtual classrooms on the Roblox platform, offering completely new ways for children to read, write and collaborate on real-life projects. In the shorter term, however, the company hopes to use the platform as a computer science education tool, in addition to teaching subjects in more interactive, 3D environments.

Final thoughts

The metaverse is sure to change education in ways that were never before imaginable — offering a future space for unlimited collaboration, community and creativity. To get ready for this new age of learning, schools and institutions should get a head start by incorporating more XR technology into their classrooms and providing more online courses.

We still have a long way to go before things like digital twin campuses, metaverse classrooms and fully collaborative software will become ubiquitous. However, if we consider how quickly we were able to accept technology as a learning tool in the pandemic, we should be able to embrace the improved technologies that will be ushered in by the metaverse.