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How the Metaverse Can Transform Education

How the Metaverse Can Transform Education

Digital technologies have transformed education over the last two decades. I’m only in my 50s, but the most technologically advanced thing in class was a pocket calculator when I went to school. Now, iPads and other tablets are commonplace. Museums and galleries worldwide have integrated touch screens and interactive elements into their exhibits. Apps like Duolingo have brought language learning to smartphones. The fact these things have become normalized so quickly is a testament to how we’ve all seamlessly integrated new technologies into our lives.

But there are limits to 2D technologies. While remote learning tools kept the wheels of education turning during the pandemic, anyone with teenage kids can attest that it was often a frustrating experience. It was hard to keep them engaged for lengthy periods interacting with a flat-screen. They lacked that vital sense of presence — interacting with their classmates and teachers in a shared space.

The metaverse is the next evolution of the internet — and it’s this sense of presence that sets it apart. It spans a range of technologies, including virtual reality (VR) headsets that transport you to whole new environments; augmented reality (AR) glasses that will one day project computer-generated images onto the world around you; and mixed reality (MR) experiences that blend physical and virtual environments.

Presence matters. For most of us, learning is social — we learn from and with others and from each other’s experiences. It’s about interaction and discussion as much as about absorbing facts. Academic studies have found that VR can improve comprehension, knowledge retention, student engagement, attention span, and motivation positively. I think that’s something we all intuitively understand. It is so much easier to remember doing something than being told something.

That’s what makes the possibilities for learning in the metaverse so exciting. Instead of telling students what the dinosaurs were like, they can walk among them. Entire science laboratories can be built and filled with equipment that most schools would never be able to afford. Medical students can practice complex surgery without risk to patients or themselves.

This isn’t science fiction or wishful thinking — it is happening right now. At Japan’s N and S high schools, the largest online high schools in the country, more than 6,000 students learn in VR using Meta Quest 2 headsets. Their teachers report that this enhances the learning experience and enables students to nurture social skills even when they are physically far away.

One example that came up at a roundtable event I chaired with educators, academics, and others in London last week is a school that has built a digital version of the Globe Theater — the circular Elizabethan theater where Shakespeare’s plays were performed — and is putting on their end-of-term show on its famous stage, completely virtually. Young people won’t be in the same physical space as their classmates, and they won’t be traveling to London, but they will still be able to collaborate and learn how Shakespeare’s plays were created for this unique space.

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April 12, 2023

By Nick Clegg, President, Global Affairs