4 ways the metaverse will change education
It's not just science fiction anymore! This post breaks down what the metaverse is and how can it help you on your learning journey.
Jun 08, 2023 • 8 Minute Read
There’s always money in the metaverse! Years ago, that money was mostly limited to realms of science-fiction film, tv, and books, but science fiction is fiction no more. Metaverse work? Metaverse school? What can we expect?
Well, with talk about the metaverse becoming an $800B industry by 2024, there’s no time like the present to verse yourself in what this emerging technology is, and what it can mean for us and future generations on the frontier of this digital space.
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So, what’s the metaverse? Explain it to me like I’m 5
Well, there’s more than one definition because the idea itself is still developing, but here’s our favorite: it’s a virtual world that you can play, work, and learn in.
Here’s where it gets complicated. So far we’ve broadly used the internet to communicate or publish content – think your social media feeds or messenger apps – in a way that’s been an extended (and much fancier) version of traditional media. So, you might read the news online, or send a friend a meme instead of a card for their birthday. Your socials have replaced the humblebrag family newsletter or holiday photo album. Perhaps you use the internet to buy a cool new pair of sneakers you wear on your amazing holiday then post about on Instagram.
In the metaverse, the boundary between the physical word and virtual world might not be so clear. Favorite band playing on the other side of the country? You might go to the virtual version, wearing your equally virtual band t-shirt. You might take a VR tour when you’re picking your holiday destination, use AR for a tour of historic sites while you’re there, and meet friends in a virtual cooking school when you get back.
The metaverse might include virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR), but you could also access it with your phone or games console. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) will feature heavily, which are in turn powered by the blockchain.
Are we there yet?
There are already virtual worlds in the metaverse. Decentraland is a virtual world powered by its cryptocurrency MANA, built on blockchain technology and is governed by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). In it, you can buy a plot of land, build stuff as in Minecraft, and kit out your avatar in fancy sneakers.
The Sandbox is an Ethereum metabase game-world where you can buy virtual land in the form of an NFT and use it to create your own gaming experience. It’s set up to be more fun than Decentraland - more of a game and experience mash up. You can join for free, but to really get much out of it you’ll need to have a wallet full of SAND, the local currency. It’s viewable on screen, but your experience will be better with VR goggles.
That’s nice, but is it just about games and selling me stuff?
Worlds like the Sandbox may invoke the blockiness of Minecraft and Lego designs, but they shouldn’t be dismissed as just fun and games - there’s far more potential behind it all. With a lot of possibilities for building or design, they could be the place to exhibit your school’s artwork, create interactive building designs, or hold virtual training sessions.
Harnessing the metaverse as a tool for project-based learning, an eighth-grade class applied STEM skills to create scaled building maps, modeling them out entirely within the metaverse, and later inviting their community to visit at the completion of their project.
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So, you’re saying metaverse has more potential, potentially
It’s not just the younger generation embracing metaverse’s potential. Big name companies, from tech to retail and beyond are directing some serious investment into this metaverse land.
In late 2021, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella announced a digital space for colleagues to connect and collaborate using avatars in immersive spaces – Mesh for Microsoft Teams – their refined alternative to appearing as a cat on Zoom. Also worth noting, the announcement of their $69B purchase of Activision Blizzard in 2022 really emphasized their commitment to developing metaverse platforms further. You could say they really are invested in the potential of the metaverse (I’ll see myself out).
Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has continued to show their interest in the space beyond just their on-the-nose rebrand. The company launched their metaverse space, Horizon Worlds, in 2020. They are continuing to put real money where their digital ambition is with the announcement of a $10M “creators fund”, encouraging users to build new Horizon Worlds experiences.
But it’s not just Big Tech, retail giants are preparing themselves too. Walmart and Nike have filed multiple trademarks in preparation for the metaverse. Walmart indicated their interest in dipping their toes in the cryptocurrency world, and Nike has gone a few steps further, lodging their intent to make and sell virtual branded sneakers and apparel, in addition to their patent pending for a new NFT, while also posting job listings for virtual designer roles.
Even the sporting world is rolling out the digital carpet. English soccer team Manchester City began laying out digital foundations for its home ground, Etihad Stadium, within the metaverse, so fans can support them outside of geographical limitations.
Is metaverse all rainbows and butterflies?
The forays into the metaverse so far have proven that there is great potential behind it all - the sense of community that the metaverse can provide shines with utopian possibilities. But with any emerging technology, that utopian ideal should be taken with a grain of salt.
There are things we should take into consideration as we move forward like:
- How can we keep the metaverse experience meaningful and avoid overpopulating it with advertising?
- Different metaverses are already developing, so how do we make the experience seamless and ensure cooperation from one version to another (basically, how do we avoid ending up in another imperial vs metric measurement situation)?
- We can see the positive impact metaverse can have on education, but how can we keep it a safe space? How will we address bullying and child protection while also maintaining its decentralized, free ideals?
So, can I go to school in the metaverse? Should I?
We might not quite be at the point where you can roll out of bed, pop on your Oculus, and start your classes for the day at OASIS Public School #1873, but we’re not too far off it either. There are many ways in which we can already see the metaverse changing education for the better.
1. It will provide analytics for educators to help them tailor students’ learning
Educators can use data about students’ learning from metaverse education to tailor instruction for students and identify where students might need extra help. Teachers have long been doing this using data from online/self-marking assessment, both for in-class learners and online learners such as with Pearson Virtual Schools.
Flipped classrooms - where students learn new material at home and come together in the classroom to discuss what they’re learnt - are already in use, and educators are finding new ways to create content that engages students. Dallas Hybrid Prep opened in the 2021/22 school year, and is teaching using a hybrid in-class and metaverse model.
2. Students will be active, immersed learners rather than passive consumers of information
Who doesn’t love a field trip? Well, the teachers who have to organize and chaperone up to 30 children to go on said field trip, probably. But, what if we could give students the field trip they want, the education benefits they deserve, without any of the complicated logistics of a physical excursion? A recent study showed that students learning about climate change on a virtual trip to Greenland were more engaged when they used VR than when they watched a traditional 2D video.
3. XR will enhance classroom learning
Extended reality or XR (any combination of virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality) is likely to transform learning. Students could see an AR overlay during science pracs, or use an Oculus VR headset to explore historical sites or parts of the body. Ms. Frizzle’s classes aren’t just a work of science fiction anymore!
4. Virtual reality will take students into historical worlds or STEM experiments
Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction lab has a database of VR apps, from a self-guided, interactive tour of a Roman forum to a virtual Mars surface recreated from data by NASA’s Curiosity Rover. STEM, accessible to all.
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This is just the tip when it comes to emerging technologies, though. If you’re interested in digging deeper, check out our posts on virtual reality (VR) or even Web3 to find out what they are, and if they’re worth the fuss. If you’re after something a little higher-level in order to wrap your head around these terms, check out the crash course Extended Reality (XR) and the Metaverse: Executive Briefing on Pluralsight.