How AR/VR Technologies Impact eLearning Effectiveness

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Originally published at onix-systems.com.

Electronic learning, popularly known as eLearning, uses an electronic medium, preferably connected to the internet, to enhance the learning experience. With the massive invasion of smartphones, it has become a part of everyone’s lives in some way or the other. The COVID-19 outbreak, which has forced millions of people to learn remotely, has given another push to educational technology (EdTech) and online education.

Simultaneously, growing computing power, technology, and accessibility of the necessary headgear propel the advent of augmented and virtual reality in eLearning. Both technologies can empower schoolchildren, college students, professionals, corporate employees, and others to learn and train like never before.

Are you looking for ideas for an eLearning product? Do you feel that augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) technology might enrich your application or online courses? Do you wonder whether VR or AR e-Learning software is a worthwhile investment? This post will hopefully provide the answers.

First, let’s find out how AR/VR technologies impact eLearning.

The Benefits of Employing Augmented and Virtual Reality in Education

VR completely immerses the user in a replicated or imagined world. Users typically wear an opaque headset or visor taking up their whole field of view; they interact with the virtual world via controllers, gloves, distance sensors, or other accessories. The headgear eliminates any external distractions and helps concentrate on the virtual learning activity. A user’s smartphone can be an alternative to an expensive headset. In this case, the software is developed for and can be downloaded from Android or iOS app marketplaces. For more advanced headsets, the apps are typically released on the headset makers’ app stores.

AR adds digital elements or imagery to a live view that users can see through the clear lenses of their smartphones or smart-glasses. Recognition-based or image recognition AR uses ‘markers’ in the real-world surroundings that the camera recognizes to overlay with digital objects. Marker-less technology scans surfaces relative to which objects are positioned. Applications with AR geo-positioning use a combination of marker-less technology and geospatial data. The overwhelming majority of AR apps are available on Google Play or App Store.

Despite these differences, the AR/VR technology’s role in education is the same: to support immersive learning. This method places learners in an interactive environment and provides an all-around realistic experience of a concept or skill. Some of its benefits include:

Visualization of complex topics, objects, locations, etc.

Many things are extremely difficult to explain in a classroom or visualize in a textbook, e.g., molecular structures, anatomical concepts, space phenomena, or complex abstract topics. It’s hard for students to understand and remember how they might look and function.

The AR medium makes it much easier to achieve, creating a rich, interactive experience that combines real and virtual worlds. VR that provides information through vivid realistic 3D models is also better at presenting concepts or skills.

The existing educational system often focuses more on theory than practical approach, so people tend to forget rotely learned concepts soon. By contrast, AR and VR applications promote an active learning process, allowing students to interact with content and practice in real-time conditions. Such hands-on experience leads to better understanding, enhances knowledge recall, strengthens retention, stimulates the learners’ motivation, and increases their engagement level. One lesson in the virtual world may successfully replace dozens of standard ones.

Primary subjects to benefit from VR include science, social studies, and history. For instance, in 2020, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society launched a free online classroom to support the Canadian teachers, students, and parents isolated at home amidst the pandemic.

It started off with The Anthropocene Education program for students in grades 4–12. They need only a smartphone or tablet to consume multimedia resources online or can download them to a VR headset. The vivid photos, 360-degree cinematography, and AR installations explain how the Anthropocene epoch has been affecting Earth. The dynamic resources that educate and entertain at the same time help develop the student’s understanding of the most pressing environmental challenges and inspire positive change.

VR can help students or anyone interested learn more about history or geography by transporting them to locations that are remote or no longer exist. For example, Timescope developed by Onix allows users to see countries, cities, events, and people as they would do it a hundred years ago.

In socially conservative countries, this technology may promote sex education at schools. A project named “Danger-Free” was launched in Myanmar in 2019. A series of books in both paper and AR formats, comics, and games can help teach students about everything from sex organs to pregnancy. The topic can be embarrassing, even for many teachers, but the project founder hopes that AR, which is fun, can help to overcome this.

For college students, professionals, and employees, the content may be more sophisticated. For example, Nanome, a company that works with top pharmaceutical research facilities and academic research institutions, promotes global real-time collaboration on structure-based design through VR. Their Minecraft-like app enables students and professionals in the pharmaceutical industry, medicine, organic chemistry, biology, etc., to explore the nanoscale and experience a more intuitive way to interact with visualized molecules and protein structures. Freed from imagining and describing complex concepts, they can focus on collaboration and creativity.

More interesting and engaging eLearning

Most people prefer to watch rather than read or write for learning purposes. Modern students find it harder to pay attention to textbooks, blackboards, and paper handouts. They are easily distracted and may spend up to 20% of their classroom time absorbed in their mobile devices.

Outside a classroom setting, such as during the recent lockdowns, inadequate student participation and attendance were cited by educators as major obstacles to remote learning. Students may be connecting with their teachers via videoconferencing and online collaboration tools, but may still struggle to connect with new material, especially STEM-related.

The use of augmented and virtual reality in education mitigates the problem by making the process more enjoyable for learners. Students fully engaged with VR gadgets won’t be staring at their smartphones. When a teacher is doing something innovative in class, kids want to be a part of it, especially if they can use the gadgets they like so much. Active participation ensures 100% attention.

Immersive technologies enable learners to experience situations that would not be possible otherwise and take action instead of merely observing things. For example, instead of reading about foreign countries, students can see them using the Google Expeditions mobile app and a mobile headset.

In 2019, Forest Park Magnet School in Texas introduced AR and VR technology for classrooms using zSpace. They had a monitor set up at the front of classrooms; students needed to wear one of two types of glasses. The glasses of one type connect with a stylus and can move what is on the screen. The other type enables multiple students to watch the screen in 3D simultaneously.

In eighth-grade social studies class, the students used the AR technology to examine a document with a first-hand account of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and see its routes on the globe. Finally, students could view every detail of a slave ship. The kids had one word to describe zSpace: “cool.”

High student engagement can be maintained through immersive learning experiences that students will access online at home.

STEM and even computer science lessons may also be more stimulating with VR. For instance, Lenovo and Veative Labs offer modules specifically for remote learning for grades 4+ in science, math, and career technical education pathways for health sciences. They can be accessed on a web browser and enable teachers to track student progress.

It’s not only exciting to try new technologies and learn in a new setting. It’s equally clear to educational institutions and companies that:

  • Since absorbing and retaining complex information becomes easier and more efficient with AR and VR, learners are more eager to do it.
  • Gamification makes the learning process feel less laborious.
  • A positive learning environment promotes better achievements.
  • Engaged and authentic learning results in increasing learner satisfaction and potentially higher retention and completion rates.
  • Immersive technology integrated into learning experiences also helps spark the students’ curiosity and creativity.

The benefits of immersive learning apply to all forms of learning. It’s convenient to read or view pictures from the phone’s screen or paper, but they will never allow viewing museum exhibits as VR/AR technologies can do. They not only enable users to visit a science museum or art gallery without leaving the classroom or home but add a new, emotional layer even to real-life tours.

For instance, at the Holocaust Memorial Exhibition in Spokane, Washington, people used AR to explore what happened in the town of Eisiskes, Lithuania. By holding a smartphone over each exhibited photograph, they can learn what happened to the person.

Facilitating equal opportunities

Augmented and virtual reality learning experiences don’t require learners to drive for hours or even walk to get to their class. Thus, people who are ill, disabled, or have to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic can put on a simple headset like Google Cardboard and access

interactive visualizations of their curriculum or even have a workout with a virtual fitness coach.

Steven King, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, has already provided his students with a virtual classroom. Based on his real-world lab, it enables the students to continue their classes remotely and safely interact with each other. Amusing avatars added fun to the experience.

Besides classes, the educational process includes various events, e.g., presentations, workshops, conferences, and even graduation ceremonies. “What really makes a school is a sense of place. That’s missing in most online-learning programs,” according to Brian Miller, the dean of Davenport University, a private non-profit college headquartered in Grand Rapids with campuses across Michigan.

Davenport University has been running a pilot program enabling online classes, speeches, and events in virtual reality. During this pandemic, they decided to create an even more effective classroom experience for professors and students. Thus, they created a digital representation of the campus and classes that students and teachers can visit and interact with each other.

The Anne Frank House virtual tour was initially designed for people with limited mobility who would have difficulty climbing up to the actual museum’s second floor. Now it is available free of charge in the Oculus Store, and organizations worldwide use it for educational purposes. Force Field Entertainment studio took great pains recreating the tiniest details from Anne Frank’s diary to replicate her hiding place in virtual reality. Now everyone can experience and hear Anne’s story in seven languages.

VR that enables built-in translations removes more obstacles between students and their educational goals.

AR applications, such as augmented reality language learning programs, also can be available remotely and accessible to all.

Ability to practice skills without risks and cost

Hands-on training is the best way to learn a skill. VR offers an opportunity to learn by performing tasks, albeit in virtual environments. Life-like scenarios and simulations can facilitate both soft skills and technical training. VR apps can also provide analytics on the time taken to complete tasks in the virtual world or flag mistakes directly to the trainee.

The practical aspect of education often requires special equipment or conditions for learning. For example, students may need to mix volatile chemicals to see the reaction they study. Medical students need a test dummy or actual physical models to practice on. This puts additional financial strain on schools and colleges.

Immersive learning provides a safe environment, both mentally and physically, to learn and master skills while saving costs. Ideal virtual learning environments eliminate risks and the need to travel or invest in equipment. Virtual labs may cut costs and increase accessibility. Virtual models enable medical students to explore, make mistakes, learn from them, and repeat various procedures multiple times without endangering patients.

The adoption of AR for practice is growing too. For instance, at Yale’s Center for Creative Arts and Media, an AR-powered application lets multiple students experience the same simulation of an injury (or its variations) without the physical models’ limitations. The first prototype uses QR codes. When a phone or tablet scans one, it renders a photo of an injury, and the student has to run through a series of questions to prioritize, diagnose, and treat the patient

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The second prototype requires students to put on a HoloLens headset that projects a virtual 3D model over a mannequin. A simulation created in Unity may reveal a wound that is gushing blood. The student has to choose between three treatment options, and if they choose the right one, the bleeding stops. Otherwise, the app instructs them about the correct treatment.

One of the medical VR training apps developed by Onix allows users to choose a training set and then immerses them in a thematic story. At the designated points, they will be asked about their further actions, and each answer will determine the future scenario. Video and audio hints were integrated.

Accurate virtual models facilitate the education and training of specialists in aviation, engineering, technical maintenance, military training, and more. Corporations can train employees in environments that would be too costly to recreate in the real world and avoid paying for their travel to real work sites. Interactive experiences ranging from 360-degree virtual tours of the manufacturing facilities to emergency situation scenarios can develop both hard and soft skills. Learners can practice as much as they feel necessary.

These are only a few examples of how AR/VR technologies impact eLearning. Additionally, we need to mention that

  • VR can help develop communication and team-work skills via collaborative experiences. For instance, it’s possible to hold meetings with friends or colleagues in virtual reality, organize team calls, and speak and share your desktop screen with everyone.
  • VR technologies foster the use of branching scenarios and online simulations to enhance performance evaluation. The software allows recording learners’ sessions and tracking the results. Once done, they may be able to replay, see what they did wrong and how to do it correctly, and retake the assessment later. Detailed learning analytics and insights help creators enhance learning experiences to meet the learners’ expectations and achieve better ROI.
  • AR and VR applications can also make teaching more comfortable and effective. For example, one realistic animated 3D representation of the human heart saves a teacher a hundred questions and answers.
  • Immersive learning can expose users to experiences that induce various emotions, such as fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, etc. This opens opportunities for training stress coping mechanisms, overcoming phobias and fears, developing empathy, and more.
  • Technology like Tilt Brush nurtures the students’ creativity.

The Traits of Excellent VR/AR e-Learning Courses

Interactivity

A traditional eLearning course proceeds one screen at a time. In an immersive learning course, the learner should be able to travel through the virtual environment and along the way explore, experiment, learn, and engage. They should listen, read, watch, manipulate objects, and take actions almost simultaneously.

Realistic imagery and situations

Learners should be able to explore and manipulate 3D objects and view minute details. Text remains important, but it’s the visual power that presents the bulk of information. Interaction, communication, and observation can be developed only in environments that induce realistic responses.

Course developers and graphic or 3D artists need to pay special attention to the quality of visualization. Rendering with a high frame rate is necessary for the user to feel comfortable in a VR environment. By underplaying the environment, the creators can focus the user on the core learning models, whereas graphics stylization makes users realize the ‘artifice.’ Therefore, VR developers should try to balance between realism and performance.

Focus on quality content

The learning objectives and the narrative aspect should dictate technological solutions, not vice versa. Also, there has to be a proven teaching methodology behind your product. The supervision of an experienced educator is desirable both at the content creation stage and when you measure your solution’s effectiveness.

Learner-centric approach

One size does not fit all. Developers of immersive training products should aim for personalization and customization. Enable self-paced learning activities. Provide customization options based on the user’s needs, skill level, psychological traits, etc.

Top Use Cases for Augmented and Virtual Reality in eLearning

The addition of AR and VR can make your eLearning courses more effective, popular with the audiences, and give a competitive edge. With just a smartphone and an affordable headset, the barrier to entry can be low.

Here are a few tips on where you might apply the technologies to the best effect:

Job instructional training

Both AR and VR can be used for education and training as a variation of ‘try before you buy.’ For instance, home improvement retailer Lowe’s conducted VR projects to help customers learn new skills or test new power-tools and found that they helped the customers’ product confidence increase significantly. Reassured by this result, they decided to use VR to train employees, particularly, in handling the in-store blind cutting machines that can be intimidating to use and cause damage. After VR training, the employees reported a 24% increase in satisfaction and 127% in confidence as compared to traditional employee training

The technologies can enrich the actual and virtual walkthroughs of a workplace, interactive product demos, and more. VR can also help crane operators, mechanics, and construction workers develop better spatial intelligence, a sense of balance, and control over the fear of heights.

AR can redefine training in areas like engineering, medical, paramedical, police work, firefighting, or ER scenarios that require as much experiential learning as possible. AR offers all the opportunities of real-life, hands-on training without any risks. For the users, it means simpler procedures with elements of gamification. For companies, it’s more cost-effective. For example, there is no need to disassemble specific equipment when it is presented in a virtual way. Safety classes, a mandatory but usually extremely boring activity, can become more engaging and effective.

Compliance

AR and VR can be used for compliance safety training simulations to prevent workplace accidents and injuries. VR can put people into environments that may be high-risk in real life, run compliance safety scenarios, and monitor the results. Such safety training would be especially useful for industrial and aviation workers. For instance, Onix built a simulator of skyscraper construction sites for VR/MR platforms. It has a game-like look and feel, but can be used to train construction workers and test their knowledge of the safety fundamentals.

Soft skills development

For example, the award-winning VirtualSpeech combines eLearning with VR to provide realistic immersive scenarios for improving the users’ public speaking, presentation, job interview, and networking skills. TeachLivE enables educators to practice lessons and hone their skills without setting foot in the classroom. During the simulated lessons, student avatars act as if they were actually in a classroom.

Similarly, VR can simulate a noisy, hectic, and stressful environment at a stock exchange so that new traders can prepare for it. Medical staff can be given a chance to experience the emotional and psychological challenges of dealing with disturbing sights, death, worried relatives, terminally ill patients, and more.

Digital classrooms, labs, and field trips

In addition to virtual rooms and whole campuses like Davenport University’s, VR can also help educational institutions recreate real classroom sessions. Some teachers are already recording lessons through 360-degree cameras. If a student misses a class, they can use these VR recordings to learn as if they attended.

Science laboratories can also be digitized to provide hundreds of experiments that will be affordable even for low-income communities.

Student field trips are often limited by cost, distance, and accessibility. AR and VR eliminate these barriers and offer endless opportunities.

The Challenges and Restrictions for Developing eLearning Projects with VR/AR technology

Entrepreneurs and startups considering a VR or AR e-Learning product need to be aware of the following factors:

1. The cost of development

A course with AR or VR features will take longer and cost more to design and build than a typical online course. Interactive content can be designed to run both on AR/VR devices and on the screen of a tablet, phone, or laptop. Be ready to plan a budget for a VR or AR app development.

2. High cost for the users

Funding is the primary barrier for massive adoption of extended reality solutions within educational systems, due to the limited financial resources in many schools. Head-mounted gear and accessories provide the most immersive experience possible but are the most expensive when it comes to price and implementation. Mobile device-based solutions are a more cost-efficient option, but fully immersive experiences can hardly be possible.

There is also the price of the content, i.e., the software you are going to build. It’s vital to conduct research and find out whether potential customers will be able to afford your product or will be interested enough to pay a high price.

3. Inconvenience

AR and VR come with the restriction of mobility. Most VR headsets available today are relatively heavy and connected to desktops or laptops with long cables or wires. Even with wireless headsets like Oculus Quest, users can’t move too far. However, the makers are making progress, and within a year or two, we shall see more headsets without cables and external tracking cameras.

4. Health-related restrictions for VR

Users often complain about headaches, vertigo, nausea, eyestrain, and discomfort caused by VR headsets, especially those using smartphones. The amount of time spent in virtual reality should be limited, and it’s recommended that children under 13 should not use VR devices at all.

5. Software and privacy issues

There are many interoperability issues that still need to be resolved. Many AR and VR developers have also confirmed the privacy and data security issues that are persistent in apps, putting the customers’ data at stake.

6. Effectiveness evaluation

It is crucial to track the learners’ performance with and without the use of your product. Once a prototype is ready, conduct rigorous A/B testing to make sure the project will pay off.

It’s also worth noting that, however effective and exciting the tools may seem, they should not be used on their own. A blend of immersive and traditional teaching methods greatly improves the impact of both.

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The Future of eLearning with VR and AR

Traditional education is becoming a thing of the past. In the USA alone, over 6 million people had adopted distance education as of 2017; that enrollment had been growing even while overall higher education enrollments declined. Before the pandemic, the online learning market was predicted to reach US$350 Billion by 2025, but the numbers may need to be updated in light of corona’s growth impacts.

Learning is becoming increasingly digitized and driven by technology innovations. More and more schools, universities, and other educational institutions are working to integrate new technologies into the learning process. The EdTech industry is expected to reach US$680.1 billion by 2027, growing at an annual rate of 17.9%.

In an ongoing quest to maintain students’ attention, new visualization and interaction tools are a natural fit. Eventually, VR can cover the education ecosystem from middle school through postgraduate research, and AR as early as kindergarten. Add to this the flexibility of digital editable and customizable content in a curriculum. If the gadget prices keep lowering and content creation grows, AR and VR are set up to have a massive impact on the future of eLearning.

A growing number of colleges and universities are currently experimenting with and deploying AR technology to support the delivery of their curriculum. Recent developments include creative and imaginative use cases in various fields.

Currently, not all schools can afford proper VR headsets, but even without them users can wear a Google Cardboard and watch 360-degree YouTube videos. Apps like Google Expeditions are transforming learning for teachers and students forever, and their use is expected to increase dramatically over the next five years.

The number of learning experiences for VR is growing, but there seem to be no fully compiled courses that can walk learners from A to Z in the virtual world. In the coming years, AR and VR educational content will definitely continue to expand, covering numerous topics and addressing the learning needs of all age groups.

Extended reality is expected to be a significant feature of fact-based learning, technical education, skills and competency-based learning, and apprenticeship.

The adoption of AR and VR by the education sector is as inevitable as the transition to electronic textbooks. According to ABI Research, a market foresight advisory firm, by 2023, the total value of AR in education will be approximately $5.3 billion. The total revenues from VR head-mounted displays used in education are expected to grow beyond $640 million. Those companies that jump on the bandwagon first will gain the most.

Conclusion

AR and VR are powerful tools supporting immersive training. They provide interactive and engaging content, enjoyable experiences, hands-on-training through life-like simulations, plus flexibility and independence. This can significantly enhance the learning process and outcomes for learners of all ages and in all fields. Authentic learning in real-time is much more effective than sitting in a classroom or standing in a museum hall trying to imagine something you can’t see. Students can stay engaged and build experiential knowledge even from the comfort and safety of home.

Immersive learning may still be in its infancy, but AR/VR technology’s role in education will be growing. As the technology evolves, the number of applications and their use is going to increase over the next few years.

This post touches only the surface of the technologies’ potential impact on the future of eLearning. Due to restrictions like expensive and inconvenient equipment, AR and VR are likely to remain relatively niche for some time but clearly deserve the attention of app developers, educational establishments, startups, and investors. Those who come up with innovative ideas may see big profits.

Onix’s extended reality department specializes in building high-quality applications for different platforms. Our seasoned developers work with AR, VR, MR, web, games, and 2D/3D design, and know-how to develop engaging content. Onix can become your reliable development partner and deliver cost-effective and efficient solutions generating a competitive advantage and ROI.

Whatever your idea or choice of the platform for your eLearning project, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Onix.

Many thanks to Serhii Vitukhin and Vlad Ukraintsev from Onix VR/AR for their assistance in writing this post!

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Onix-Systems provides IT services in website, mobile app and emerging technologies software development. Check our blog -> https://onix-systems.com/blog

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