How breakthroughs in AR, VR, and MR can engage the next generation.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dave Adams

Students today have extremely high expectations when it comes to technology and media. The rhythm of their daily lives beats with a constant, ubiquitous digital pulse, and they regularly consume content from games and other sources with production values once reserved for major theatrical releases. Given these extreme expectations, how can edtech compete for the attention of these students?

New breakthroughs in reality technology—augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR)—have the potential to engage students at levels never before realized. For those new to the technology, here’s a quick, simple way to think about AR, VR, and MR:

Augmented Reality brings any digital object into the user’s environment, usually through a live view from the camera of a smartphone or tablet device—think Pokémon GO.

Virtual Reality immerses the user into a different environment, real or imagined, usually using a headset device like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Google Cardboard.

Mixed Reality is a hybrid of real and virtual worlds where physical and digital objects can interact, usually using devices like Microsoft HoloLens.

AR, VR, and MR have the potential to immerse students in multidimensional, responsive environments that capture the imagination and transport learners. Reality technology has the capacity for stunning visual effects layered with audio, text, interactive media, and a vast world of information.

While reality technology is still in the early stages of adoption, it is evolving and spreading incredibly fast, with significant breakthroughs offering new opportunities in education. On June 4, at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, announced the ARKit 2.0, which introduces a brand-new multi-person mode. This new mode allows users to share data and digital objects in a virtual environment. How can this apply to a classroom? Just imagine students in the future collaborating in AR to build virtual projects.

At the Facebook Developers Conference this past May, CTO Mike Schroepfer proclaimed the mission “to get billions of people into VR by dramatically reducing the cost and complexity.” Schroepfer also demonstrated Facebook’s latest social VR technology that enables users around the world to connect and interact with each other via realistic avatars and high-definition renders of real environments. Imagine the hundreds of thousands of students taking virtual courses each year collaborating with their peers through social VR.

In a 2018 survey of AR and VR insiders, 59% of respondents believe that gaming will attract the most investment, followed by education (26%) and healthcare (26%). Two-thirds of survey respondents expect AR revenue to surpass VR, with 51% expecting it to happen within the next three years.

This technology will soon be simple and inexpensive enough for every student to have access. Remember that, just a few years ago, 3D printers and robotics were out of reach for the average school budget, but they are commonly used in classrooms across the country today.

Here are a few examples of how AR, VR, and MR can help educators engage students:

Access, Equity, and Inclusion

For hundreds of years, societies have preserved great works of art, science, and history in museums throughout the world for future generations. Yet, students living in urban poverty or in isolated, rural American communities have limited or no access to these treasures. Reality technology can bring the content from the greatest museums in the world to all students through immersive experiences layered with knowledge that was previously inaccessible.

Experiences Never Imagined

With reality technology, students can travel across the world or be transported to the past and experience events, cultures, and history in ways never before possible. Traditional text, pictures, and videos can tell and show students about the Parthenon, but reality technology can place a student in the Parthenon, immersed in the sights, sounds, culture, and events of ancient Greece.

Creating New Worlds

Some recent breakthroughs in reality technology now allow students who live worlds apart to come together and interact with three-dimensional objects, share knowledge and ideas, complete tasks, solve complex problems, and create new realities of their own design.

The challenge of engaging today’s tech-savvy learner is greater than ever before. But, the potential to provide deep, immersive learning experiences that truly capture the mind and engage the heart of every student through the power of AR, VR, and MR is available to educators now. And, new, groundbreaking features and content are being developed every day.

Dave Adams is Chief Academic Officer at Edmentuma global leader in digital curriculum, assessment and education consulting and the original pioneer in online teaching and learning programs.