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.