Virtual reality is reshaping the face of online learning!

Mark Talmage-Rostron
May 13, 2022 · 6 min read

Virtual reality (VR) has potential to take learning beyond the traditional online learning experience, delivering enhanced engagement, improved retention, and experiential learning

Fairly recently, yes even before COVID-19, higher education institutions were beginning to tinker with the idea of using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to revolutionize the online learning experience. Using this futuristic technology, online educators soon found that it enabled them to take educational instruction to far-flung regions of the world where disadvantaged communities were – due to geography and economic hardship – unable to access quality higher education.

Since a great many global educational institutions converted to online learning just over two years ago to reach more learners and continue to be competitive, Forbes has denoted that these latest and greatest innovative ways to teach and learn is here to stay. In fact, many educators that resisted change have embraced emerging technologies such as VR and AR as they have witnessed first-hand how these technical tools are supporting unique approaches to online education.

In addition, doubters have furthermore been won over as they are discovering that these tools are creating new avenues to taking online educational and career opportunities to students from under-resourced communities in emerging economies.

Eyes on the prize

The significance of discovering new and innovative ways to work with and motivate students to continue to take up and continue with online learning became clear during the pandemic. A June 2020 McKinsey report, looking at data from Curriculum Associates, discovered that learner engagement rates at schools in low-income populations fell a great deal below those in more privileged areas. The data revealed that 60% of lower-income learners were regularly taking advantage of more available online instruction, compared to 90% of high-income students.

In Africa alone, a continent full of underprivileged communities, access to higher learning, much less online learning can be as rare as hen’s teeth. VR technology, although in the initial stages of adoption in higher education, has the propensity to tackle head-on key issues faced in education per se as well as other pressing issues. Instead of learners traveling vast distances daily and at inflated costs to find a backward and traditional classroom setup to learn in, VR as an add on to online learning for secondary and higher learning students looking to procure a BBA and MBA now has the power to augment the process of bringing the global classroom to them and more to life.

To make online classes more interactive, universities are increasingly turning to VR and even holograms. The pilots have been so successful at making learning more engaging that progressive universities are incorporating these immersive technologies into their full-time MBAs. Imagine via green screen technology watching a case study come to life, or learners actively engaging in BBA or MBA programs either alone or with other learners from the same university? Because flexibility is a key selling point of online MBAs, asynchronous content must now be engaging and readily accessible, or universities face being thrown onto the scrap heap of also-rans.

Research reports that immersive technology is a powerful educational tool across emerging economies and low-income communities. According to PwC, people who are taught using virtual reality tech are 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content, four times more focused than their e-learning peers, and 275% more confident about applying the skills they learn after being instructed through a virtual headset.

All it needs is a strong internet connection and a healthy imagination. Today, 4.95 billion people around the world use the internet – that is over 60% of the global population. Of this number, approximately 93% go online using mobile devices, which is no surprise, as smartphone subscriptions number around six billion. That considered it is not too difficult to see how and why online learning is empowering more remote communities globally daily.

As online universities like Nexford that were born online and structure their programs around competency-based learning as opposed to straight theory, it is even more pleasing that competencies generated for students from VR in online education include: spatial visualization, innovative thinking, problem-solving, critical thinking, and empathy.

The benefits of experiential learning with VR 

Besides the fact that VR can be used in online classrooms across the globe with an internet connection, there are of course a handful of incredible and revolutionary benefits to this technology as well.

Accelerates learning: It takes quite a few bites of the cherry for information to permeate and be retained by the human brain. Via its repetitive delivery, that does not bear the cost of a lecturer having to do it, VR can improve cognitive online learning using problem-solving, powerful visualization, and decision making.

Provides a safe learning environment: Unlike Nigeria where crime, kidnappings, and banditry are having a negative effect on higher learning, VR simulations in online learning lets people learn in a safe controlled environment.

Bridges the gap between theory and practice: The traditional university experience has not changed in decades with students being force-fed theory and made to regurgitate facts in physical exams. Experiencing things like bona fide business case studies in an interactive 3D environment gives students a more memorable learning experience that they can take directly into the work environment.

Increases engagement levels: The virtual online learning world can easily and instantly bring learners from all over the globe into the same virtual room so that they can collaborate and learn from each other.

Makes complex learning easier: VR can simulate a range of complex topics, from open-heart surgery to best business practices in global companies, bringing the learning process to life.

Amazingly, large global companies are getting behind this use of technology in the online classroom as more are using VR as a standalone learning experience and combining VR with traditional online learning courses.

Looking to the future 

What is not being suggested is that people abandon the latest online learning methodology in favor of just VR. What is being suggested by creators of the technology and experts that have done surveys on its efficacy is that traditional online courses should be augmented with VR for an enhanced learning experience.

This just shows examples of how online degrees might look like with virtual reality integrated into them.

Online discussion forums – Learners will easily be able to ask questions and find answers about problems they are struggling to solve. Online video tutorials – The bulk of the learning content would be available in the usual online formats. VR study groups – When learners are assigned group projects, teams could meet in the virtual world to discuss ideas and develop solutions.

Virtual and augmented (VAR) technology is in the initial stages of being adopted as a teaching platform in higher education, but, as VR improves, whole curriculums and degrees could be built within virtual environments, while retaining the collaborative learning experience with other students.

It would appear though that we have only just touched the tip of the iceberg, as according to the ​​Global EdTech Market Outlook & Forecast Report 2022, the edtech industry is valued at $254.8 billion today, with it set to reach $605.4 billion by 2027. Bearing those figures in mind, there can be no doubt that online universities can’t ignore this technology forever.

Ready to take the next step? Download our brochure or book a call with our Nexford Advisors!

About the author
Mark Talmage-Rostron
Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

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