Five Reasons 2018 is the Year Virtual Reality Wins the Classroom

Let’s face it, we need to try something different with American education. I’m sure the same can be said of many other countries, but I am intimately familiar with the education system in the United States and we could use some change.

One of those solutions is virtual reality. It’s not a gimmick and it’s not ‘like 3D TV.’ If you read on, I’ll tell you why 2018 is the year that VR education takes hold; but first let’s look briefly at what is not the problem.

I formerly served as the Chair of the Education Committee in the Iowa Legislature. That was a while ago, but the issues haven’t changed much. We passed the largest technology funding bill up to that point to try and solve problems. It got schools connected to the Internet, but that alone was not enough.

Despite what news headlines tell you, the amount of money spent on education is not the problem. Even after adjusting for inflation, more is spent on schools than ever. Some Republicans would like to blame unions and some Democrats would like to blame funding, but the reality is, students who want to learn, figure out how to succeed. This is something almost every teacher will agree with (and my father was a public school teacher for 30 years).

It’s likely there are many solutions but here are five reasons why virtual reality is the breakout solution in the 2018-19 school year:

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING IS SUPERIOR: A ‘study of studies’ by the American Association of Colleges and Universities came to the conclusion most of us already know: students who experience what they learn, develop deep critical thinking and an increased ability to engage in lifelong learning. Imagine if a chef tried to learn from reading a recipe book rather than experiencing what it means to cook. Yet most learning in schools comes from reading because it’s more affordable than traveling the world to learn first-hand. Yet virtual reality provides this opportunity. Students can learn about engineering design in a desk or by virtually standing on The Great Wall of China while hearing about the history of invasions and the need to develop a solution. It’s clear which one is more interesting, engaging and memorable.

VIRTUAL REALITY LEARNING LEADS TO DRAMATICALLY GREATER RETENTION: A 2016 test in China reinforced virtual reality’s effectiveness as a supplemental teaching aide and learning tool. In the study, the passing rate for the groups that engaged with the subject matter in VR were 90 percent while the pass rate for the non-VR group – studying the same material – was only 40 percent. Even more, In 2006, a study published in the Journal of Cases on Information Technology showed that students using virtual reality as a learning tool increased their mean test scores by 14 percent.That same year, a study by the Queensland University of Technology states that “using VR technology is…an effective method of delivering knowledge in the classroom” and that the “integration of VR technology not only enhances learning, but it also provides participants with real life experience that they can relate to.”

THE COST PER STUDENT IS PLUMMETING THIS YEAR: Companies like Oculus, Google, HTC and Pico have all announced standalone, untethered virtual reality headsets that do not require the insertion of a phone. Many of these devices will be sold for less than $500 each, and the Oculus Go has been announced at $200. These less expensive devices are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip which is generally used for mobile devices. Having tried the Google Lenovo headset, I can tell you these devices are robust considering their more limited graphics capabilities. They won’t have the same power and ability to create amazing advanced VR worlds like those using the Nvidia and Intel chips powered through PC’s, but they will provide a strong entry level device for 1 to 1 classroom use.

AMAZING CONTENT IS BEING ROLLED OUT BY STARTUPS SPECIFICALLY FOR USE IN CLASSROOMS:Companies like ours, VictoryVR, and Lifelique, have had the time to develop professional content for use in the classroom by teachers, tutoring companies and homeschool parents. The content goes beyond anything ever created. Lifelique has models that students can examine, manipulate, take a part and learn about in a very detailed way. It is the ultimate in experiential learning. Our content at VictoryVR combines virtual field trips, lessons by Wendy the Science Teacher, games, comic books, movies and 3D models to teach science-based lessons. Just ask yourself, would you rather learn about photosynthesis reading a paragraph in a book, or standing in a Redwood Forest looking up at the largest living organisms on earth.

THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE CHANGED DRIVING, HEALTH CARE, SHOPPING AND COMMUNICATIONS ARE READY TO DO THE SAME FOR EDUCATION: If you were fortunate enough to be at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas) this year, you saw that the biggest tech players in the world showed their commitment to virtual reality. Microsoft, Oculus/Facebook, Google, HTC, Acer, Intel and many others either rolled out new hardware, gave speeches or engaged in the advancement of virtual reality. Some specifically addressed education, while others rolled out affordable hardware. But the bottom line is pretty simple, these companies -along with their vast resources – are committed to bringing virtual reality to the masses. Last September, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, committed to getting 1 billion people into virtual reality.

I get the challenges. I recall my father coming home bemoaning some new theory of teaching the school was rolling out. Sometimes new is bad, but sometimes new is good. The best evidence of that is not the studies, or the big companies or people like me saying it.

The best evidence is the sheer joy, wonderment and fascination that kids have when they get to put on a virtual reality headset and learn science. Yes, I said they love to learn science. I have given demos to kids all over the United States and around the world. Sure, teachers are fascinated, but students are carried away from their school and immersed into a world of learning that gives them a special joy.

How do we solve the problems we have in education? It really comes down to what we already know: when we love something, we engage with it. Love fishing? Cooking Fixing cars? Gaming? When kids love learning, they will learn. It’s that simple.

Steve Grubbs is the founder and CEO of VictoryVR, a virtual reality curriculum company focused on bringing standards-based learning to schools around the world. You may reach him at steve@victoryvr.biz.

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