Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, which in the past were used mainly in the gaming and entertainment industry, will soon revolutionise the world of education. Forbes recently noted that training and teaching techniques using VR and AR, are an increasing trend in 2019.
Two types of reality
VR as we know it, has existed for decades. It first came about as a gaming platform in shopping malls, then it was developed into portable VR glasses, like Oculus. AR on the other hand, is a more recent technology that was only fully developed into its current application and use over the last couple of years.
VR, as its name suggests, is a device that generates a virtual reality and where a user interacts with virtual objects. AR however, does not create a virtual world, but instead mixes real surroundings with virtual objects, and takes furniture, walls, and items on the floor into consideration and then combine them with that of a virtual reality. HoloLens is perhaps the most famous example of AR technology used in this way.
VR and AR technology in education
“The future of education is digital and we're starting to see the changes in the way people learn,” – Az Balabanian, a cinematographer and photogrammetry artist specialising in VR/AR, told ISB.
Education and learning have changed significantly over the past decade. Digital technology and access to teaching materials on the Internet have markedly changed the dynamic of education. Every new technology has had an impact on education in one way or another. On this topic, Az Balabanian added:
“Where VR and AR fit in this concept [of education] has to do with procedural learning, spatial learning, attention and engagement tracking, and perhaps more enjoyable VR learning modules, instead of textbooks. Training people to do specific actions, whether it's a medical procedure or automotive, the training and learning potential by repeating procedural tasks in VR/AR cannot be understated. I see a steady rise of training applications across professional domains which we're starting to see being deployed across companies.”
VR and AR in educational institutions
Improvements in technology have made virtual reality more readily available, and educational institutions have found ways to implement VR/AR into their curriculum. Universities such as Oxford, New Heaven University and Virginia’s Shenandoah University, have not only used VR during isolated courses, but have also offered related programmes, such as Bachelor of Arts in AR/VR design.
Apart from uses within the field of education, VR/AR systems have extensively been used for training of police and firefighters. Moreover, large companies have started to include VR into the training of personnel. For example, Walmart adopted VR in 2017 for its training programs for staff.
Technology for medical institutions
HoloLens, a pioneer in the field of AR, has been implemented extensively into the field of medical training. Seeing that the user can work with an existing environment, it makes medical training more convenient. For example, Case Western University in Cleveland is planning to replace the use of cadavers with an AR platform later this year.
“When students learn about human anatomy using a cadaver, they do not get the experience of looking at the living colours or textures, or seeing how organs function, or learning how blood actually flows,” – says Sue Workman, Vice President for University Technology/CIO at Case Western University.
There is also ample use of VR technologies in medicine. A number of companies are working with Oculus to create devices for medical training. 'Body VR' is one of them.
The platform, running on Oculus, provides learning and understanding healthcare and anatomy through virtual reality. Body VR is used both in the medical industry and for educational purposes. With the help of 'Body VR' students can see inside a body, identify bacteria and even cells, and interact with the processes they would normally only read about on paper. This makes the learning process more interactive and engaging.
Obstacles for the technology
The VR and AR markets have so far exceeded expectations, and hold a current standing beyond what was ever predicted. Yet, no matter how far this technology has developed, accessibility of public and educational institutions still remains a major issue.
“The biggest obstacles for VR training being implemented in jobs and schools are the cost/expertise of software development, cost of hardware, comfort and ergonomics, as well as successful examples to copy from,” - Az Balabanian states when providign this opinion on the matter.
Each form of training software is custom, and requires both the expertise in the domain as well as the development skills to build a VR/AR app. The hardware you'd want to develop still requires a 1000$ PC + a 300-400$ VR headset, all of which can be a pain to maintain. The comfort and ergonomics have to be lighter, softer, wearable all-day, and need development to fully accommodate the physiology of the Human vision.
The future of the technology
While scientist work on improving technology, predictions for the future still seem positive. It has been projected that the VR and AR markets will reach $1.3 trillion by 2035. At such a rapidly growing rate, they will soon be one of the major trends in the world of tech. In sharing his vision for the future with ISB, Az Balabanian adds that:
We're still years away from any sort of major consumer adoption that's comparable to gaming consoles, let alone smartphones. Head-Mounted Displays are an extremely challenging form of display technology, and it requires an incredible amount of investment into hardware innovation, as well as software content. Both take years to iterate and develop, so judging by how successful VR/AR has been in its nascent stage in both the professional and consumer world, I'd say we're on a good path.
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