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Revolution (noun):  A sudden, complete or marked change in something.

The book Ready Player One presents a fantastic future where students learn almost exclusively in virtual reality. An educational shift has already taken place with the introduction and proliferation of distance learning in the past few decades and there are now over 6 million distance education students. This educational transformation will jump into high gear in the next few years as virtual reality classrooms make education more accessible, affordable and effective than any other time in human history.

Many of our core vSpatial users are educators. Our VR connected office is perfectly suited as a virtual reality classroom. With that in mind, we felt like it was important to outline some of the limitations of the current distance education model, as well as the benefits we expect to see among educators that embrace VR classrooms.

Virtual Reality Creates an Immersive Learning Environment

When students attend traditional online classes, the distractions of social media, smart phones and the general commotion around them are pervasive.  In addition, opportunities for interaction with classmates or professors are limited and awkward. Needless to say, distance education is very one sided.

Virtual reality classrooms present a starkly different experience.  For those that have never been in a VR classroom it is difficult to describe.  It is a lot like being in a traditional in-person classroom… but better. In a VR classroom, students are immersed with the other students and the teacher.  Life-sized profile pictures or avatars help students feel like they are together. The immersive nature of VR puts you squarely in a classroom and the real world seems to fade away.  Because students cannot see the world around them they are not distracted by phones, friends or people watching. They are focused entirely on the class during the class time.

Spatial audio gives the class participants a full stereo experience such that if a classmate talks on your left you hear it in your left ear, and vice versa.    The audio is also integrated directly into the headset so you don’t have to deal with all the “Can you hear me now?” questions and technical issues that go along with traditional distance learning solutions.  Students speak and everyone can hear them loud and clear.

VR Classrooms Allow Students to Synthesize Multiple Points of Information

In a traditional distance classroom when participants share information it is limited to one person sharing one thing at a time.  This creates the information bottleneck we have all become accustomed to.  We’ve all heard, “Can you stop sharing so I can share.” What’s more, anything that is shared is difficult to read because you are looking at it on a small screen.  In VR, each and every screen can be supersized. Interacting participants can grab shared screens, move them around, and make them like giant movie screens. There is no more squinting and trying to read the text of a document or the details of a graph.

In a virtual reality classroom, teachers can share multiple screens at once.  They can share an article and reference it, and also share a PowerPoint at the same time. They could even be working on an article and typing it during the class and share all three screens with the students. In addition, every student can take advantage of the unlimited virtual space and share their content with the class.

Learning is not single threaded.  With the world’s information at our fingertips students are processing information from multiple sources at once.  The classrooms that are most effective are those where students are getting to the higher level of Blooms Taxonomy and are analyzing and synthesizing what they are learning.  Current distance learning systems make this very difficult.  As a result, distance educators shy away from that type of collaboration.  VR classrooms turn that logic on its head and make this even easier and more productive than an in-person classroom.

VR Classrooms Make Non-Verbal Feedback Possible

One of the benefits of in-person classrooms is the ability for the teacher to gauge how well the class is responding to a discussion.  With distance learning, educators have to ask if there are questions and wait for students to type or click a button to raise their hands.

In a virtual reality classroom, it is possible for teachers to see head and hand movements just like you would in a traditional classroom.  It is amazing how big of a difference this can make.  As students understand this they pay better attention. Many will unconsciously nod their head and this can come across in virtual reality classrooms.  Students can raise their hands when they have a question.  VR classrooms introduce non-verbal feedback back into remote education.

VR Classrooms Give Us Immersive Searchable Data Rich Recordings of Classes

One of the benefits of a fully immersive learning environment is the ability to record information.  While it has not been released yet, vSpatial is working on a detailed recording of meetings that will allow students to go directly to a part of the class to review what was said as if they were in the classroom.

In a VR classroom, teachers also have the ability to record and gauge the engagement of the students.  It is possible to track how many students have headsets on, for how long, what they were looking at, and even what they were doing while they were in the class.  This can be tremendously helpful for a teacher to review the effectiveness of a lesson (even during the lesson) as well as for training purposes.

VR Classrooms Lower the Technology Cost and Difficulty

Virtual Reality hardware has come a long way in terms of both cost and quality of experience and is poised to make huge strides in the next year.  Most agree that the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are currently the best experience.  Those headsets currently run between $400-$500 and also require a powerful computer to run them.  For some, this represents a barrier to entry to the VR experience, but that barrier is rapidly disappearing.

The Oculus Go is set to release in the next few months at $200/each.  Oculus Go will be a stand-alone VR headset meaning it does not require a computer at all. Later this year (or early next year), Oculus plans to release a higher end standalone VR headset codenamed Santa Cruz – again no high-end computer required. Many predict that these devices, and others like them, will become the computers of the future.  They will be fully integrated computing devices.  Students will just put on their headsets and be ready to learn.

In a typical VR class, we expect that teachers will host the class using a higher end VR headset and students will join the classroom with a stand-alone VR headset like the Oculus Go. In a class with ten students, here is a one-time cost comparison:

Current Distance Education VR Classroom
Teacher Computer $500 Teacher VR Setup $1,500
Student Computers x 10 $5,000 Student VR Setup x 10 $2,000
Total $5,500 Total $3,500

Prices will continue to drop as they always do with technology, but even in this situation a single class would save $2,000 using a VR classroom over a traditional distance education solution and have a superior experience. That is a recipe for disruption.

Multiply that by 10 classes or 100 classes and you begin to see the possibility of bringing more education to more people.

Are You Ready for the VR Classroom Revolution?

vSpatial is looking for educational partners as we start this revolution. There are many that have foreseen the day when this will happen. vSpatial has the expertise and experience to make it happen. What a time to be alive! You can download a free version on the Oculus store right now if you have an Oculus Rift!

If you would like to beta test the educational version with your school please reach out to us on our beta program page. We can have a meeting in VR and talk through all the details.  J (Or just a phone call of course.) We’ll see you in the OASIS soon.