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Creating a Sense of Belonging with Virtual Worlds

With zoom fatigue and limited social interactions having plagued students around the world, a virtual solution that helps create a sense of belonging is key for the future of eLearning. The metaverse, a simulated digital environment, is one option that can allow for meaningful social interactions to take place within a virtual world. In addition, these virtual worlds also have the potential to boost accessibility, deliver greater freedom of expression, and encourage students with social anxieties.

Keep reading to learn more about how the metaverse can create an immersive virtual world that students can thrive in, and how UNIVERSE by ViewSonic can empower both students and educators, offering ownership over learning and teaching. 

The metaverse, as a concept, focuses on the idea that virtual or digital worlds can replicate existing forms of social interaction or create new ones. Because of this idea, companies all over the world are investing in the metaverse either as a form of social media, eCommerce, and even an educational platform. Ideally, any metaverse for learning solution needs to have the potential to offer a real sense of belonging and freedom of expression. With that being said, for many people, the metaverse can still feel somewhat abstract and difficult to understand because of the many different applications from social media to gaming that may have different purposes and experiences. 

Solutions like UNIVERSE by ViewSonic are helping to bring metaverse education to life, and there is real potential in providing students and educators with a greater degree of ownership over the ways they learn and teach. At the same time, the metaverse can help to overcome accessibility obstacles, increase student engagement, and break down boundaries within education, especially when it comes to information sharing and collaboration. 

In this article, we will explore the concept of the metaverse in more detail, explain how it can assist with eLearning efforts within schools, and demonstrate how having a digital identity can help students learn more effectively. 

Defining and Understanding the Metaverse 

First, it is worth taking the time to define what the metaverse is clearly, as it can be difficult to pinpoint. Although it is not an entirely new concept, there are still some significant knowledge and research gaps.  

An article published by XR Today provides a useful starting point, defining the metaverse as: “a simulated digital environment” that uses technology, like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), blockchain technology, and social media concepts, in order to “create spaces for rich user interaction, mimicking the real world.” 

In some ways, it can be helpful to think of the metaverse in relation to social media. Like social media, it allows for connections to be formed and relationships to be maintained online. It is no coincidence that Facebook rebranded to Meta with the intention of investing heavily in the metaverse concept. However, it takes social media concepts a step further by creating a virtual setting or ‘world’ in which those interactions occur.  

For this reason, the metaverse can also be understood as something akin to gaming. Many interpretations of the metaverse allow users to create and utilize a digital avatar similar to a game character. They can then use this avatar to move around the virtual environment and interact with other avatars controlled by other real people. This also explains why some popular games, such as Minecraft, have also started to experiment with metaverse concepts. 

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Understanding Metaverse for Education 

The metaverse can feel difficult to truly pin down because different people have different expectations, while metaverse companies are approaching the technology in significantly different ways too. The same is true when you zoom in and focus on the topic of metaverse education, where there are a number of competing ideas floating around. 

For example, one approach is to use virtual reality and augmented reality for what is known as ‘extended reality’ learning. Another idea is to use metaverse technology to boost gamification in education and to make learning more fun. A third approach involves the use of mirror worlds, which are digital worlds that function similarly to the real world in many ways. Think of a more child-friendly version of Second Life, which has been used by some colleges and universities for educational purposes, or a more education-focused version of a game like The Sims. 

This can help students and educators to understand the potential for metaverse education. For example, imagine if instead of using an avatar to attend a virtual concert and interact with other concert-goers, students used their avatars to attend a virtual science lesson, complete with virtual science experiments, or to attend a geography class where the places or land features being discussed were visible and able to be explored. 

Such a digital experience can help to introduce a greater sense of fun within lessons and assist in increasing overall engagement with the learning materials. Yet, the potential for metaverse education goes far further because it can break down important barriers and level the playing field for students in several key ways. 

Virtual Worlds and a Sense of Belonging 

Many children today are what can be described as ‘digital natives’ — born in the digital age, they have grown up using technology like tablets and computers, and are often more technologically literate than many adults, including teachers. In many ways, it makes sense to meet these students where they are, and the metaverse provides a world that has the means to do this. Beyond this, however, it also has the potential to offer a sense of belonging and acceptance. 

When using a metaverse platform, students may be asked to create their own avatar, which they will control, and which will represent them in the digital world they will occupy. This avatar can allow them to express themselves in ways they can’t in real life, but it can also greatly help with the concept of digital accessibility as well. 

Put simply — digital accessibility is about ensuring that all students are able to perceive, use and operate digital media and digital devices, regardless of their individual circumstances. For example, an academic institution that prioritizes digital accessibility will look for ways to include students with disabilities, impairments, sensory issues, or other types of neurodivergence when using digital media in the classroom or during extracurricular activities. 

So how can the metaverse and building a virtual world help with this? First of all, imagine a student who struggles with something as simple as eye contact. Through the use of an avatar and a digital environment, this issue can be eradicated entirely. The student will interact with other avatars and can focus on the lessons being taught rather than overcoming their discomfort. Alternatively, think about the ways text on a screen may be easier to process for a student with impaired hearing. 

It is also worth stressing that the metaverse can go beyond this, assisting with community building and helping students — whoever they are and whatever their circumstances — to feel like an equal part of that community. Embracing differences and overcoming obstacles can be important for achieving equity in learning. 

What does UNIVERSE by ViewSonic offer teachers?

Introducing UNIVERSE by ViewSonic 

UNIVERSE by ViewSonic is a next-gen metaverse offering for education, which places a strong focus on social-emotional engagement. The core aim of the platform is to provide students and educators with a shared, immersive educational environment where they can take ownership of their learning journey. 

UNIVERSE by ViewSonic provides a virtual setting that becomes familiar to users, who then engage in learning activities within an environment they are accustomed to. 

It is not always easy to bring an entire class of students together online and maintain interest levels over time. But UNIVERSE by ViewSonic can boost engagement. By providing an engaging virtual setting and encouraging students to create their own avatars, they can become more stimulated by the learning environment and maintain focus for longer. This can then boost knowledge retention and learning outcomes. 

Using this metaverse platform, it also becomes easier to maintain a hybrid learning approach, and the accessibility can even exceed that offered by real-world environments. There is also a wide range of built-in tools to assist educators, including options for lecture mode and breakout rooms; support for content sharing through screen sharing, casting, and digital whiteboarding; and quick access to student lists and class schedules. 

Teachers can also monitor engagement and understanding levels through quizzes, which can allow them to know how well the class is following the lesson. From there, lessons can be adapted to fit the needs of the group. The platform is completely secure, and lessons are only accessible to the students and teachers who are registered for the class. 

The Virtual World: The Key Benefits 

With a basic understanding of what UNIVERSE by ViewSonic is and how it relates to wider metaverse technology, it is important to examine some of the specific benefits associated with using the platform: 

1. A Sense of Belonging 

As we become more aware of concepts like social-emotional learning and student-centered learning, the idea of providing students with a sense of belonging has become more important. DeLeon Gray, Ph.D., explains in an ‘ask the expert’ feature published by NC State University that students who feel included, accepted, respected, and supported will more likely be energized by their studies and want to be in that learning environment. 

By allowing students to create their own avatars and by enabling them to engage in environments that are more personalized and more interesting than a traditional classroom, the ‘belongingness’ they seek can easily be found. This can then improve overall learning outcomes as they participate more keenly in a class. 

The use of a customizable avatar can also have some surprising benefits within this context, like eliminating many anxieties students may face in the classroom. The avatar can also allow for the creation of an online persona of sorts, which encourages creativity, experimentation, and self-discovery while offering a sense of worth to students who lack confidence. 

2. Boundary-Free Peer Collaboration 

Another major benefit associated with a well-built virtual world is the opportunity for boundary-free peer collaboration. One of the reasons this type of learning can be so advantageous is that learning happens via a simple, easy-to-use online tool that is accessible from many different devices. If there is an internet connection and a compatible device, these virtual worlds can be used from home, within a school, at a library, or in any other setting.  

It is important for educators to understand that some students are less easily able to identify ideal peer groups. With metaverse technology, there are options for students to have open discussions and huddle groups while also providing tools to share resources. This can eliminate much of the learning anxiety that could be experienced in traditional, classroom-based group activities. Groups can even be created depending on the students’ skills and understanding, or some groups can contain students grouped by their different learning styles and abilities. 

The high-quality learning environment provided in UNIVERSE by ViewSonic can potentially allow students to engage in open learning, meet other students from outside their schools, and help them to capitalize on tutoring opportunities. It also opens up opportunities for them to participate in classrooms that may not be available to them in the real world for any number of reasons, which boosts inclusion and provides a greater sense of control over the learning journey. 


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3. Build Relevant Engagement 

One of the single biggest trends driving education right now is eLearning, and this is not only restricted to the metaverse but other areas, too. It is important for educators to fully grasp the significance of this trend because it highlights the shift in learning styles that modern students are experiencing in real-time and provides clues to the direction education will take in the years ahead. 

As education continues to shift around the world, there is a greater emphasis on student-centered learning and on the need to ensure learning is as personalized as possible. The metaverse can help with this by providing educators with the tools they need to check student progress in real-time and adapt lessons accordingly. This is one of the main keys to building engagement within a class, as it ensures every student’s needs are catered for. 

The digitization of learning provides a generation of tech-savvy students with the experiences they need. However, while gamification elements can boost engagement, the long-term success of metaverse technology in education requires immersive learning and emotional stimulation too, which is why these ideas are central to UNIVERSE by ViewSonic. 

What are the benefits of learning in a virtual world?

The Current State of the Metaverse 

At present, the metaverse remains an emerging concept, with new ideas being touted all the time. As an ever-growing concept, new virtual environments are always emerging, and this means that educators and schools will potentially have a wide range of options to choose from. It is important to try to be as specific as possible about the tools you decide to use to help students and to have a clear idea of why you have chosen those options. 

Some metaverse platforms are great for teaching a specific subject, while others are more geared toward the social-emotional needs of students and can assist them with a broader range of learning goals. 

An area that is likely to see significant growth in the years ahead is the provision of opportunities for cross-campus collaboration. This can allow students from different schools, colleges, or universities to work together more easily, share information and ideas, or learn from teachers who specialize in a particular field or area of study. It also potentially means more students around the world will have access to the very highest standards of teaching. 

Overall, when exploring metaverse offerings, you need to focus on acquiring a tool that clearly appeals to students, which allows for the customization of avatars, encourages freedom of expression, and facilitates community building. At the same time, your chosen solution should be fit for current and future generations of digitally-native students who lean towards the trends associated with eLearning, and who expect their digital accessibility needs to be met. 

Final Thoughts 

It is important to understand that eLearning is a dominant education trend, and this is unlikely to change. However, for educators, there are real challenges surrounding bringing classes together in an online space and maintaining high levels of engagement with lessons. This is starting to change as metaverse technology becomes mainstream and helps to redefine these eLearning experiences. 

In particular, metaverse spaces have the potential to provide a real sense of acceptance and belonging, with digital worlds and customizable avatars helping to improve accessibility while alleviating areas of anxiety. UNIVERSE by ViewSonic is an example of a metaverse platform that is specifically geared towards education, and it can be used to facilitate immersive learning, meaningful community building, and boundary-free collaboration. 

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