How Immersive Technologyy Can Make Learning More Personal than Ever

Dan Ayoub, GM, Microsoft Education
Dan Ayoub, GM, Microsoft Education

Dan Ayoub, GM, Microsoft Education

With the rise of technology today, many are asking important questions about it’s positive and negative impact on our lives. Some argue technology divides and disconnects us while others believe it has the power to connect us and provide more curated, personal experiences. I am the latter. In today’s classroom, research is clearly showing us the immense potential to personalize and improve the learning experience, something the great writer and Professor Isaac Asimov was among the first to observe:

“In the old days, people used to hire a tutor or pedagogue to teach their children. And, if the tutor knew his job, he could adapt his teaching to the tastes and abilities of the students. But, how many people could afford to hire a pedagogue? The only way we could do it was to have one teacher for a great many students … So, we either have a one-to-one relationship for the very few, or a one-to-many for the many. Now, with technology, it’s possible to have a one-to-one relationship for the many.”

It’s estimated that 77 percent of jobs will be in technology in the next decade, beckoning us to transform our classrooms so our children can develop and nurture a lifelong love of learning and gain the skills they need to become the next generation of creators, leaders, and inventors.

For me, the opportunity in modern education became clear a few years ago. I’d spent more than 20 years in video game development when I began to see new technology like augmented and virtual reality introduced into gaming. While it was certainly an interesting new way to experience gaming, I couldn’t help but imagine how powerful the technology would be in the classrooms. Shortly after, I was fortunate enough to take on a new role at Microsoft, exploring the potential of mixed reality (which includes both AR and VR experiences), AI and 3D in driving more successful learning outcomes.

What I quickly observed is that U.S. classrooms hadn’t changed much since the turn of the century when they were designed to train obedient factory workers. Passive educational experiences  are far from ideal, and I quickly became convinced of the potential for this technology to revolutionize education for learners of all kinds.

The opportunity and the challenge were immense. To avoid falling into the trap of simply being an overzealous and uninformed technologist, I worked with my team to comb through more than 200 peer-reviewed studies on the use of immersive technologies in the classrooms, began visiting with some of the world’s leading educational partners to explore the possibilities, and spoke with a number of teaching professionals. Three things became very clear in the first year of learning and exploring immersive learning:

First, immersive learning technologies are already proving to have a direct, positive impact on students. Numerous research studies in recent years have shown improved learning outcomes, including increased academic achievement scores, retention, abstract and spatial reasoning. What’s more, immersive technology like AR or VR headsets encourage self-directed learning, drive more active participation in the learning process and allow students to step into the shoes of others, building compassion and empathy.

Secondly, mixed reality enables new education scenarios that can drive better outcomes for students. Immersive headsets break the laws of physics, letting students explore virtual worlds in ways that are impossible in the real world. Immersive headsets can take students in rural parts of the world into countries and cultures they might not otherwise experience, and they can transform distance learning, bringing learners of all kinds together.

And finally, my most compelling finding was that despite the immense potential this technology provides for today’s students, many educators—K-12 in particular—remain skeptical about the technology. Educators who are short on time and resources need the reassurance that the technology will be worth the effort before diving right in.

So, if considering bringing mixed reality experiences into their school or library, here are a few helpful guidelines to get you started so you can make the most of the technology and personalize the experience for your users.

1. Start small. You don’t need a 1:1 headset to student ratio to see great results. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it if you are new to the mixed reality space. I’ve seen many overzealous institutions place big orders for mixed reality headsets only to struggle in how to effectively deploy and utilize them at scale. It’s best to start with just a few headsets as a manageable trial run to understand what will work best in your organization or school.

2. MR is best when it’s supplementary to curriculum, not a replacement. No immersive experience can replace the 1:1 interaction between a student and a teacher, but it can give teachers a powerful way to help a student understand existing curriculum. For instance, a lesson on Machu Picchu could be capped off with a virtual tour or 360-degree imagery of the Incan ruins to help bring the lesson to life. At its best, mixed reality moves students from passively receiving lessons to actively engaging in the content, increasing their chance of retention of the subject matter.

3. Immersive Learning is more than just headsets. There are several ways to use technology to drive better engagement, beyond AR and VR headsets. The creation and exploration of 3D and 360-degree imagery can be just as impactful as augmented reality to virtual reality experiences. In fact, AR/VR headsets may not be the best option for students under the age of 13 to avoid eyestrain and potential nausea, and younger students can still experience the benefits of 3D through 2D screens.

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