The face of the digital landscape is constantly changing. And with augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology becoming more accessible, it’s becoming increasingly immersive, too. In the future, tech experts are predicting that both real and virtual life will become more interactive due to the presence of the metaverse, an augmented world with a digital overlay.
If you’re thinking this sounds like something out of a film, you’re not alone. In this article, we will demystify the concept of the metaverse and explain how it can be used to transform learning in the education sector.
What is the metaverse?
The Greek prefix “meta” means “beyond” – and in this case we’re referring to a whole universe of possibilities beyond what modern technology is currently capable of producing. Tech experts use the term “metaverse” to talk about what comes after the internet, visualizing a world in which physical and digital realities are combined.
Other phrases describe this concept, such as “mirror world”, “spatial internet”, and “AR cloud”. Metaverse is currently the most popular term, however. CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, made headlines in October 2021 when he rebranded the social media platform as ‘Meta’ in preparation for building the metaverse.
Speaking at the launch last year, Zuckerberg said, “This may sound like science fiction –” and, indeed, the word metaverse was coined by the science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson, in1992 “– but we’re starting to see a lot of these technologies come together.”
The metaverse does not actually exist yet. But Zuckerberg’s prediction is that an integrated physical and digital reality like the one the metaverse proposes “is going to be mainstream” within the next decade. Then, through VR headsets, people will have access to alternate digital realities where they can learn, play, and socialize.
Listen to his entire speech here.
How would the metaverse work?
Theoretically, logging on to the metaverse would be like logging on to the internet. Except, instead of viewing content on a screen, you’d use a headset (and a motion tracker to pick up objects).
In order to create an integrated universe, no one company would be able to own the concept of the metaverse. But just as a handful of tech companies control the internet as it is now, we might find the same players trying to control areas of the metaverse.
Denise White, founder of Blank XR, which designs immersive technologies, says: “There will be power players for sure. Once you’re able to put on your new AR glasses and you suddenly see these holograms walking around in the world, then you’ll know, you’re now inside of the metaverse.”
But no one knows exactly how it’s going to work, or even if it will be possible. One theory is that companies will build their platforms to be compatible and inclusive, allowing users to jump between them in the same way as moving from one tab to the next in a browser.
The race for the metaverse
There are several key players competing to make the metaverse a (virtual) reality.
- Facebook – When Facebook bought Oculus, a producer of VR headsets, back in 2014, it was because they were already “getting ready for the platforms of tomorrow”. Since then, the company has launched a new product group to create a 3D social space and bring their various services together.
- Microsoft – In May 2021, Microsoft announced that they were working to create an “enterprise metaverse”.
- Snapchat – Snapchat has been combining physical and augmented reality for years with their custom avatars, filters, and stickers, adding a digital dimension to the real world. What will they do next?
How the metaverse can be used in education
According to Unicef, the education of 91% of students worldwide was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Since early 2020, both students and teachers have had to adapt to a new, remote style of learning. Technology has been crucial to the continuation of learning throughout the global lockdowns.
And now tech experts and educators alike are wondering the same thing: if the internet is beneficial to learning in its current state, what kinds of things could we do with the metaverse?
1. Brings curricula up to date.
The world is constantly changing, with new technologies and schools of thought emerging all the time. It’s easy for curricula to lag a step behind, but the metaverse has the potential to make the whole world a classroom, with data bites embedded all over the real world. Similar to the game Pokemon Go, but for learning!
Following on from the first point, one of the greatest potential benefits of the metaverse in education is how it could “gamify” learning. The virtual world, with its emphasis on collaboration and completing tasks, could make school feel like a video game, with lessons structured like quests, motivating students to finish their work.
3. Promotes interdisciplinary learning and encourages practical application of theory.
VR-based teaching has the capability to break down the barriers between subjects, helping to demonstrate how different theories can be applied to real-life situations. Furthermore, practical tasks such as wiring a plug, installing a drain, and even advanced medical skills like surgery could be taught using VR in the future, consolidating learning without the worry of real-world consequences.
4. Improves test results.
Studies from China show that the use of VR in classrooms has a positive effect on exam results. Students who typically averaged a C grade outperformed A grade students in tests after using VR technology to help them study.
The metaverse has many potential applications across multiple areas of our lives – an enhanced world awaits!