The term metaverse dates back to 1992, but the realized potential of the metaverse is relatively recent with metaverse education still in its infancy. Naturally, this means educators will have questions about where this technology is heading and what comes next for virtual learning. After all, while education in the metaverse is already delivering benefits, the biggest impact is yet to come.
Keep reading to find out more about the use of the metaverse for education or go ahead and discover UNIVERSE by ViewSonic — a metaverse built for education.
The metaverse is an emerging technological revolution, but the concept itself is nothing new. In fact, the origins of the word metaverse can be traced back to Snow Crash, a 1992 science fiction novel written by Neal Stephenson. The idea has risen in prominence for several reasons in recent times, though. It’s becoming increasingly important for educators and academic institutions to get to grips with the various uses of the metaverse as student needs shift.
The metaverse itself can be described as a virtual setting that users are able to occupy synchronously, which facilitates meaningful social interactions. Most commonly, it’s associated with virtual reality (VR) technology, augmented reality (AR) technology, social media-like features, blockchain technology, and the use of controllable avatars. This allows for an immersive, real-world-like environment where communication is simple yet effective.
One of the biggest factors driving recent interest in the metaverse has been Facebook’s decision to invest heavily in this area and re-branding of the platform as ‘Meta.’ The company saw the metaverse as the future of online social interactions and as the evolution of existing social media. However, in relation to education, the biggest driver of interest is the emergence of possible virtual learning opportunities delivered through the metaverse.
Understanding Metaverse Education
The use of the metaverse for education can, in many ways, be considered another component of the established ideas of virtual learning, or eLearning. After all, these concepts focus on providing learning opportunities in a virtual space – the metaverse education platforms are designed to deliver such opportunities.
In general, education in the metaverse relies on the use of avatars, digital representations of users, which students can use to interact with one another. Educators can also interact within these digital learning spaces using their own avatars, resulting in a classroom situation within a virtual learning environment. The learning potential goes much further, as the surrounding virtual space can easily be changed to suit the lessons being taught.
Some people may already be familiar with the ways in which games like Roblox and Minecraft have been used for education. These types of virtual platforms are part of what is known as the gamification of learning, which is the use of gaming elements to improve student engagement and overall enjoyment. In many ways, it makes sense to relate to the popularity of video games and to students’ familiarity with gaming, especially when used on a whiteboard.
Not all virtual or metaverse platforms are focused on gamification, though. While some of these platforms may still include gamification elements, such as the use of a controllable avatar to explore the virtual environment, the aspect of social interactions should not be overlooked.
Students benefit from the opportunity to learn in an environment that feels game-like, as that familiarity breaks down barriers that could cause social anxieties. This makes the metaverse an accessible tool that many students may benefit from, both educationally and socially.
Metaverse Education: Opportunities
Gaining a deeper understanding of educational opportunities in the metaverse helps to fully explore all the benefits it offers. Some areas, such as online shopping or events like concerts are already impacted by the emergence of metaverse platforms, while other areas, such as these listed below, are yet to see an impact:
1) Improved Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)
The ability to provide DE&I benefits is a huge reason why so much money is being invested in metaverse education solutions. In general, the concept of virtual learning has long been touted as a solution for accessibility. But the metaverse takes it a step further, ensuring that all students can feel included within immersive lessons. These platforms can also assist with equity by providing a similar experience for all users, regardless of their personal circumstances.
Equity is key here — in traditional in-person classes, educators are encouraged to place greater focus on personalized opportunities. However, teachers have been struggling to provide whole-child approaches to education due to a lack of resources and support. Tools, like the metaverse, can appeal to students who require extra attention in ways that are less resource-intensive while still appealing to individual hobbies and interests. In turn, this can help level the playing field for many students.
Aside from helping those with impairments or disabilities, the metaverse can deliver a sense of belonging and a reduction in anxiety-inducing behaviors or societal pressures. For instance, some students struggle with making eye contact or speaking out in group situations, and the metaverse can assist with this by putting them in control of an avatar. They are then empowered to use a variety of communication options depending on personal preferences.
DE&I efforts can also be aided by the fact that the metaverse allows students to meet other students with their own various preferences, capabilities and challenges to overcome. Students can participate in classes that would otherwise be physically out of reach. Furthermore, metaverse platforms can adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines’ POUR principles, which ensure content is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all.
2) Relatable to Modern Students (Digital Natives)
Many metaverse education solutions place a strong emphasis on the gamification of learning in order to make learning more enjoyable. This is understandable because many students love playing video games, using technology in creative ways, interacting with one another on social media, and taking part in other forms of modern digital entertainment.
Many of these students are extremely tech-savvy as they have grown up around digital technology. In fact, many have never experienced a time without technology. They are what some academics call digital natives, as they are often more tech-savvy than their parents and teachers. It has been argued by some that the continuous stimulation digital natives have received growing up means that it is unlikely that one information source and simple teacher-to-student lectures will engage them as much as previous generations. While this remains a somewhat contentious area in terms of research, it’s clear that in-class games, eLearning, mobile learning, and other new ways of teaching are gaining traction all over the world, and this momentum shows little sign of slowing down.
Metaverse education is another subset of this trend that attempts to appeal to these same students in ways that will keep them engaged with various learning materials, and allow them to learn in an environment that they are comfortable with. The use of metaverse environments has the potential to cater to all three student engagement types — behavioral, emotional and cognitive.
3) Can be Combined with Mirror Worlds for Immersive Learning
The ability to immerse students within a learning environment is one of the core benefits of the metaverse as it offers an accessible way into a mirror world. A mirror world is just what it sounds like, a mirror of the real world. The concept of mirror worlds, which are one-to-one digital maps focused on recreating the real world as accurately as possible, is great for building platforms for interaction.
Exploring these environments in the metaverse can be extremely advantageous for immersive learning efforts. In the future, it’s expected that mirror worlds may be so accurate that they can barely be distinguished from the real world. This also makes it easier to apply metaverse lessons to the real world, too.
For example, imagine a class about the importance of well-balanced ecosystems for sustainable habitats. Some of this learning may take place in the metaverse, such as lessons about the symbiotic relationships between trees, flowers, and insects. Afterward, the students can go on an experiential learning field trip and plant flowers in their local community.
This also has the potential for great reach because the lesson can include students from multiple locations or even multiple countries, and the follow-up ‘real world’ lesson can deliver great benefits for many local communities.
Gaps in Metaverse Understanding
Just like with other technological novelties, the use of metaverse for digital learning spaces sparks debate. Much discussion revolves around special education, where some of the practical applications of the metaverse may be limited. It’s expected, however, that this will help to increase demand for an extended reality approach either powered by AR and VR technology or within a virtual learning space.
By the same token, the metaverse could provide real opportunities to actually expand accessibility. While students with certain impairments or disabilities may be unable to experience certain activities like field trips, they could potentially experience similar excursions in the metaverse. This can also be a place for students with different needs to meet in a more inclusive environment.
The Future of Metaverse Education
It’s essential for educators to understand that metaverse education is still in its relative infancy, and as technology becomes more widely used and as investments increase, there are many potential benefits that will be realized in time. UNIVERSE by ViewSonic is one option that is currently exploring the advantages of immersing students in learning, boosting accessibility, and building on and improving mirror worlds and avatars.
It remains to be seen how different companies will implement their own metaverse platforms and how these different metaverses will be able to interact with one another. There are also some significant research gaps, which we hope will be closed in the future. When this is achieved, it should provide greater certainty for educators, with clearer guidance on how to get the most from this technology.
UNIVERSE by ViewSonic Platform
UNIVERSE by ViewSonic platform is an example of a metaverse offering gamification elements, such as the use of customizable avatars, without making gamification its focus. Instead, UNIVERSE by ViewSonic aims to build a more realistic classroom setting within a virtual world.
By providing students and teachers with a virtual learning environment in which to operate, the platform can deliver the benefits of conventional learning while expanding access by making this available through digital devices. The platform can be accessed using a computer, tablet or smartphone, so this means that these benefits can still be achieved in situations where distance learning is required or when all the members of a class cannot be present in the same location at the same time.
The 3D environment itself can be altered based on the lessons being taught and the topics being covered. Discussion and communication features are built-in, and teachers can use included quiz tools to test understanding and make real-time lesson alterations based on the specific needs of students.
Users can walk or run around the virtual environment, and they can also switch views. Screen sharing and webcam casting features are included, as are digital whiteboard options. All these allow for quick and simple information-sharing and collaborative learning. Moreover, students’ needs can be met using breakout rooms, as well as the option to switch between different modes based on the teacher’s requirements.
Metaverse education is one of the most exciting virtual learning developments, and although gaps in research remain, it’s already clear that the technology has the potential to deliver significant benefits for students and teachers alike. Education in the metaverse is an effective way to meet a generation of new students where they are and allow them to learn in an engaging environment that feels familiar.
There are also clear benefits to be seen in terms of delivering accessibility, which can be essential for schools looking to live up to DE&I obligations.
These platforms also offer greater ownership of learning experiences which fit the current generational needs of learning. The ability to attend classes via an online platform can help, and this also opens the possibility of learning from teachers and experts who are not physically located in the same place as the classroom full of students is. In the future, it’s likely that many schools will turn to the metaverse to achieve greater equity within their classrooms, and we can see world-wide collaborations that allow students to create solutions for their future.