Digital technologies have transformed education over the last two decades. I’m only in my 50s, but when I went to school the most technologically advanced thing in class was a pocket calculator. Now, iPads and other tablets are commonplace. Museums and galleries the world over have integrated touch screens and interactive elements to their exhibits. Apps like Duolingo have brought language learning to smartphones. The fact these things have become normalized so quickly is a testament to the rapid way we’ve all seamlessly integrated new technologies into our lives.
But there are limits to 2D technologies. While remote learning tools kept the wheels of education turning during the pandemic, anyone with teenage kids can attest to the fact that it was often a frustrating experience. It was hard to keep them engaged for lengthy periods interacting with a flat screen. They lacked that vital sense of presence — interacting with their classmates and teachers in a shared space.
The metaverse is the next evolution of the internet — and it’s this sense of presence that sets it apart. It spans a range of technologies, including virtual reality (VR) headsets that transport you to whole new environments; augmented reality (AR) glasses that will one day project computer-generated images onto the world around you; and mixed reality (MR) experiences that blend physical and virtual environments.
Presence matters. For most of us, learning is social — we learn from and with others, and from each other’s experiences. It’s about interaction and discussion as much as it is about absorbing facts. Academic studies have found that VR can positively improve comprehension, knowledge retention, student engagement, attention span and motivation. I think that’s something we all intuitively understand. It is so much easier to remember doing something than being told something.