The post-1990’s generation, Gen Z, doesn’t remember a world without digital technology. In fact, the children of millennials, born after 2010, are sometimes described as Generation Alpha. They are poised to be the most tech-savvy demographic to date, with a pathway to success that is largely shaped by video, e-books, podcasts, voice command, and the advent of virtual reality (VR) headsets and augmented reality (AR).

As our business and personal lives increasingly merge with the digital environment, the progression to a more technologically focused model in the classroom is gaining momentum. This trend is reflected in the growing demand for VR and AR applications as equipment becomes cheaper and easier to use while proving its value as an educational tool.

Even though technology has allowed knowledge to be more easily attained for more people, there are roadblocks to learning that must be surmounted. Traditional teaching methods too often focus on providing facts and delivering large amounts of information. The result? A bored, disengaged room of students who are not sure about what they are learning and why.

Technology and creativity can work in tandem to make students more engaged with the educational content.

Education is most effective when students show curiosity, interest, and passion in their studies. This is where VR, AR, and immersive technology are becoming a powerful educational tool. Let’s consider some examples.

A class without borders
From the perspective of cultural understanding and global awareness, teachers are starting to use VR and other forms of immersive technology to bring their lessons to life. Immersive technology allows students to expand their physical world with virtual or simulated features that can, for example, transport them to a different time and place. Teachers can then create a much deeper and enhanced learning experience.

Imagine a curriculum based on the exploration of the moon and a VR experience that would allow your students to walk in the shoes, or boots rather, of Neil Armstrong. Or how about a World War I history lesson that gives students a realistic look into the experience of a soldier? A company doing this well is Trench Experience VR, a free application. More VR apps are entering the market every day.

Textbooks brought to life
The beauty of VR/AR in an educational setting is that the technology allows what were once abstract textbook concepts to be fully explained. The Body VR, for example, is what many would call The Magic School Bus brought to life. The program provides a free VR experience that takes students inside the human body. Within this STEM lesson students travel into the bloodstream to discover how blood cells work to spread oxygen. The program also allows them to enter a living cell to learn how organelles work together to fight deadly viruses.

zSpace applications include a wide range of learning objectives for different careers and industries. If science isn’t your thing, zSpace has an app that provides a realistic experience with mechanics as students explore and repair engines. Not only is the experience educational, the VR platform avoids physical risk and reduces consumption of supplies and other materials.

The impact of gamification
Many instructors would be hard pressed to find a student who has little to no interest in video games. Imagine being able to combine a student’s hobby with educational objectives? Priceless.

Gamification, a key component in many educational VR apps, has been shown to help students struggling with a particular subject. Game-based techniques can heighten engagement, provide immediate feedback, encourage new ways of thinking, and accelerate the learning process.

What about cost?
When talking through the benefits of immersive technology in the classroom, one cannot leave out the factor of costs. The costs usually begin with a smartphone and a head-mounted display or tablet that can handle the videos and graphics that support the VR/AR experience. While this is no minor hurdle, smartphones and tablets are nearly ubiquitous. The average American child has a smartphone by the age of 10, according to one study.

Most visualization tools work best with headsets such as Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s VIVE Pro and Focus. These headsets, plus optional gloves and other accessories, can be costly, creating another challenge for parents or school systems.

Fortunately, Google and other companies provide free or low-cost immersive content and even offer budget-friendly VR options such as Google Expeditions; the Oculus Go all-in-one headset starts at $200.

While there might be some financial barriers to adoption, prices will continue to fall as the technology advances and I’m sure we’ll see the VR/AR educational value continue to rise.

A look ahead
Technavio predicts that the educational AR market in the U.S. alone will reach nearly $3 billion by 2021 with a compounded annual growth rate of more than 82 percent globally. The company expects educational use of VR to grow by 55 percent on the same annualized basis.

The reasons are not hard to discern. Immersive technology is already showing its promise in student engagement and by other benchmarks of educational effectiveness. Whether you’re a student or an educator, immersive technology increasingly is likely to be a part of your future homework assignments or your lesson plans.

About the Author:

Cathy Hackl is a leading voice in augmented reality and virtual reality. She is a futurist, a well-known speaker globally, and the co-author of Marketing New Realities, the only book on AR/VR for marketing. Hackl joined Atlanta-based You Are Here Labs in 2018, where she leads agencies, brands, and companies in applying futuristic technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality for marketing and training. Hackl is currently advising Lethbridge College in Canada on their VR/AR curriculum development.