VR learning for Generation Z

Let me start with a small story. Three years ago, I went to Walmart and accidentally stumbled upon a huge stack of these Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. I had heard about VR from a friend who recently bought a fancy VR headset for $1000 and here I was looking at a super cheap smartphone version, costing just $15. I bought it just out of curiosity, went home downloaded some VR apps on my phone and I was amazed at the extent of things I could do with it. I could play some super cool games, experience myself sitting in a roller coster and not only that, there was an app where I could watch the inside of a human body. Of course in this toned-down cheap version I could really not do as much as in the $1000 one, but still it was good enough to get a feel of it. What I actually learnt from this experience was that VR was no longer some distant future and it was no longer limited to games or entertainment, but can be used as a great learning tool in this digital age.

According to a a popular model developed by educational theorist Fleming, there are usually four types of learning styles- Visual , Auditory, Reading/Writing and Kinesthetic. But, is this model really applicable for the generation of digital learners? A recent Barnes and Noble College study, conducted on 1300 middle and high school students, shows that today’s students are not big fans of passive learning. They are not interested in showing up to lectures, make notes and then memorize for exams. Instead they want an educational experience that is immersive and engaging. For example, 51% of the surveyed students said that they learn best through active participation while only 12% said that they learn by listening. They also said that with technology and hands on experience, learning is much more fun for them. This survey definitely gives us a hint what future learners expect from their classroom experience and VR can play a big role in making this experience more immersive.

The biggest advantage of VR could be in visualizing and understanding difficult and abstract scientific concepts like magnetism, relativity, human anatomy etc. Students can easily perform the complex chemistry and biological experiments in virtual labs without having to worry about the dangers of using chemicals etc. This TED talk by Michael Bodekaer, the co-founder of Labster shows how virtual labs can revolutionize education. Another technology that is gaining popularity is Augmented Reality (AR). AR adds another dimension to the learning process and teachers can combine traditional approach with innovative practical illustrations of the complex concepts .

While the costs of these high-tech fancy VR sets are undeniably high for now, they will inevitable drop. But for the starters, why not experiment with the super cheap ones like the one I got from Walmart. There are numerous apps available which work with these low-cost ones, for almost every subject including chemistry, physics, zoology, history, grammar and list goes on and on. In the end, it’s upon the educators to understand the need of this Generation Z and make the learning experience for them not only more engaging, but also make them a part of this experience.

33 thoughts on “VR learning for Generation Z”

  1. (You and I might have the same cheapo VR headset!) I think also think creating immersive experiences that are grounded in proper contexts will be a game-changer in education (and more). I also see it like this: Want to learn another language? Personally, I’d like to step up my Spanish game. What if I could walk around the streets of Buenos Aries with a VR guide and have actual conversations within an actual location, all from my classroom, living room, or clinical setting? If I mess up, my guide/teacher can make corrections on the fly and keep the conversation going. I can only imagine it will create a more meaningful learning experience than with flash cards. These ideas are along some lines of research I’m doing with VR/AR. I also believe these technologies will be very powerful tools with a broad range of uses. Whether it’s learn-at-your-own-pace pre-recorded/programmed material or a live-cast socially-interactive feed as mentioned above. It’s probably worth blogging about, maybe to get some feedback from you and others… Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ben. Thanks for your comment. I really believe VR could be a big game changer. Wow, this scenario sounds so cool, sitting in your room and roaming anywhere in the world with a VR guide. It’s really exciting that you are actually doing research on VR. Looking forward to your blog !

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  2. I’m with you Abdhut. With technology, and any experimental investment, start small and grow IF it is worth continuing with the investment. I can relate to your experience. My brother is quite the gadget guy and purchased a nice set of VR recently. He gave me a try and I was instantly impressed with the technology. Since then I have often thought of how to use this technology, and others, in the classroom. My PhD is in building construction. VR definitely could find a place in the classrooms of this applied setting. I just finished reading an article about how traditional lecturing is (and always) has been less than adequate for content retention. Students need to have learning experiences. VR can be a great step in this transition. Thanks again for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Drew. Thanks for your comment. I think VR could find a place in every classroom. Building construction is one field where it is already being used at a large scale at industry level, so finding it’s utility in classroom should not be difficult. I have often thought myself of working on Physics VR modules because there are many concepts in Physics which involve a lot of imagination and VR is just the right tool to visualize such complex concepts. Infact I think VR experience can be helpful to students at all levels from school to college to grad school.

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  3. I totally agree that active learning is more sought after and even more effective that passive learning (lecturing) but the biggest problems are going to be scaling active learning methods(VR) to a class with multiple hundred students, online classes, and getting professors(usually more older professors) to agree to use such technologies.

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    1. Hey Vibhav, I agree with you that there are many challenges for a large scale implementation of technologies like VR. But as I said in my article, its upon the educators whether they are willing to invest time, money and effort for providing the students with such learning experiences. But starting with cheap VR sets like Google Cardboard or other equivalents should not be a big challenge because everyone has smart phones. Even in the K12 schools, usage of VR is increasing every year.

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  4. First off, thank you for pointing out that there are cheap and easily accessible VR options! I think that VR does have a place in the classroom, but as a student who has done virtual labs and wet labs, I have to say, I am skeptical about virtual labs. If a student is going to be going into Chemistry or Biology (and healthcare, as many students taking Chemistry and Biology are Pre-medical students), then they need to have a true hands on experience, rather than a virtual one. For example, in a dissection, organs rarely look how they look in drawings or simulations. If all you saw was idealized VR bodies and went in to do a surgery, that would not be good. And as a chemist, if you don’t learn how to measure properly with finnicky pipettes, you aren’t going to have the precision you need in your job. So, while VR could make labs more accessible and safer for students, it doesn’t give them the experience they need for actual careers in those areas. Perhaps the virtual labs could be for students who don’t need those for their future career, or rather, could be supplement to wet labs, because people do change career goals and you wouldn’t want them to miss out. I know VR and AR will continue to get more advanced and accessible, I just think some things cannot replace the real thing, so have hesitations about widespread application of VR and AR.

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    1. Hey Heather, thanks for bringing a different perspective to this. I totally agree with the points you have made that VR could never replace the real thing. While physical laboratory experience is absolutely necessary for students to develop the practical skills, virtual labs can help enhance this experience by giving them a feel of experiments before actually conducting them, thus serving as a guide, which can further enhance the conceptual understanding and trigger their interest. I am sharing a study conducted by Nature Biotechnology (I found it on Labster’s website though) which shows that students using these virtual simulated labs tend to learn better.
      https://www.nature.com/articles/nbt.2955

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      1. Thanks for sharing the link to that study! The lab simulations they mention are far superior to what was used for my Biology courses in high school and college ahead of wet labs. I especially appreciate the adaptive nature of the lab–the major component of what was lacking in past lab simulations.

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  5. This post and comment thread has been very interesting to read. When I put on my first Google Cardboard headset, I was superbly underwhelmed. The controls were terrible (if they existed at all), and with all three phones I’ve used the room slowly turns around me, which is horribly annoying if you’re sitting in a chair and “on a roller coaster”.

    I do think the potential is there though. For virtual labs, it could allow students to understand the dangers of messing up (acid eating through hands, or explosions) without putting them in any real danger. It could simulate high expense techniques with minimal costs. And it could allow students to take those 3-4 hour lab classes at their leisure. I don’t have a chemistry minor exclusively because I couldn’t take the o-chem lab due to scheduling conflicts with my mandatory classes. Virtual labs could have opened that up for me. I agree with Heather that med students or chemists should have hands-on experience, but the rest of us don’t need it. We’ll be satisfied with a cheaper virtual experience while the future doctors can have fancier cadavers or whatever.

    Again though, we need more development here. I don’t think these tools are ready for mainstream use yet.

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    1. Hey Brad, I completely agree with you that there is a lot of scope of development and improvement before these tools are adopted for mainstream use. But with fast paced improvements, and prices going lower each day, I don’t think it is very far till we see these going mainstream. In fact, according to predictions 2019 is going to be a ‘make of break’ for VR going mainstream (https://venturebeat.com/2018/10/19/superdata-oculus-quest-will-mainstream-vr-in-2019-but-ar-will-lead-by-2021/).

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      1. We will certainly see. I hope 2019 makes VR and doesn’t break it. I’m more hopeful for AR, but I think Google Glass was a pretty good attempt at that…and we all saw how well that went. I think at least being able to take in the surroundings of the player/learner is essential, for both immersion and safety. It is a lot better to turn a footstool into a stump than to “convince” a player to trip on it because they don’t realize it is there.

        In any case, I think we’ll both be waiting with eager eyes to see what the future holds.

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  6. Hey Adbhut, thanks for the insight on VR! I think, with the explanation of benefits and a few proper proposals and fundraising efforts that VR integration in secondary and university classrooms could be implemented relatively quickly and inexpensively. What’s more, it could provide a stopgap solution for several ethical issues in education. Dissecting animal parts in biology rub you the wrong way? Well, how about a VR tour into the part instead?

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    1. Hey Jonathan, that’s another good point about ethical issues and I agree that mainstream adoption of VR will happen pretty fast once some shortcomings are taken care of. Thanks for the comment !

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  7. Hi Adbhut!

    Thanks for sharing your experience of the “cheap” VR glasses with us. I’ve always wondered about them, but never had the chance to hear a testimonial from a user. Do you know if they are cumbersome for people who wear corrective lenses?

    You’re bringing up an interesting idea for the future of active classroom learning. How cool would it be to have even a cheap set of VR/AR glasses for every student in the room? I am excited to see and play around in the future of virtual and augmented reality, especially in education. The comments on this post are really great, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Sara, the one I got first was not lenses friendly. I had to remove my lenses and only then I could use them. But, the experience I shared was from 3 years ago. I got another one last year which was again cheap (around $25), lenses friendly, had a earphone/headphone jack. So there are continuous improvements in this field as per the need of customers. Thanks for the comment.

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  8. I, myself believe that an immersive and engaging form of educational learning is the way to retain more information. As a student that has been through many transitions with teaching styles, I have been able to learn from them all. What I have come to realize is that having an actual learning experience where there are interactive activities, I tend to retain a lot of the information and can refer back to the memory of the experience a lot easier. Even though not all concepts can be taught with virtual reality, a large amount of subjects can benefit from it. It is wonderful to have this technology as another resource for today’s generation.

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    1. Completely agree with you Angelica. Technologies are always good if put to good use and I think the scope of use of VR in education sector is immense.

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  9. Hi Adbhut,

    Thank you for addressing VR/AR as a way to learn. I took a micobiology class in my undergraduate career that utilized a flash game to teach students some of the laboratory techniques such as correctly inoculations and serial dilutions. I have not dabbled too far in the VR/AR as a way of educating other than using it myself for videos games and was very intrigued by the TedTalk you linked by Bodekaer. I think there is much practicality for someone who needs to see the concept or technique done rather than having it explained. Like someone mentioned, this does not replace the real-life version but I think it does a great job in supplementing it.

    Minh

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi! I am new to this VR and AR world. I did not know anything about it before last year. I agree with your point that students are not interested in showing up to lectures, make notes and them memorize for exams. In my experience as a TA, these were the complains that I heard the most! However, I believe we have a huge challenge in front of us! We need a new generation of professors that believe in learning as an immersive and engaging experience. We need to break paradigms of the traditional learning method. Also we need to make sure that the technologies of the new learning era are available to all!

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