The Metaverse in Education

When we talk about the Metaverse, images of VR headsets generating vibrant avatars often come to mind. It’s a world that uses augmented reality solutions and decentralised technology to drive connection and interaction for its users. The Metaverse incorporates the immersive benefits of online technology to achieve a digital approach to social learning. Its futuristic qualities appeal to those enthusiastic about learning development – so, how will this affect education?

The education and Learning & Development (L&D) community alike are constantly looking to apply platforms such as the Metaverse to current learning tactics. When it comes to education and training, arguably there is more need for innovation. This is because schools and universities do more than training; they actively shape young people for the future, which goes beyond the workplace. The Metaverse has many uses in the digital age, but when it comes to education specifically, everyone is curious to play a part in what will happen next. The consensus regarding the future of education is that change needs to happen faster – and the digital age has arrived, brimming with ideas.

Into the Eduverse

The term ‘metaverse’ was coined by sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, Snow Crash. Stephenson created the word to describe a 3D virtual space part of a dystopian narrative, and now the term is used more widely. Snow Crash was published just three years after Tim Berners-Lee famously created the world wide web, meaning the notion of a ‘metaverse’ has been around since the digital dawn age. In 2003, Second Life was invented by Philip Rosedale. Its value for students and teachers was clear from the start, with best practices discussed globally by experts at leading events in the sector, including Online Educa Berlin. Now the Metaverse is a well-known entity driving inspiration across the web, with everyone relishing in its innovative elements for learning. Among the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were the drastic changes in the workplace and schools; people tuned into Teams meetings instead of socialising in classrooms and offices. The Metaverse has the tools to host a destination that works both virtually and socially, with pre-pandemic lacking virtual innovation and the pandemic limiting social interaction.

Inside the Metaverse, ‘sub-verses’ are being born. Globally inclusive learning platform k-20 Educators is developing a virtual world called the Eduverse, based in the realm of web3, aiming to bring learners together as avatars. The wonders of web3 are strongly promoted by technology industry leaders in the market, but also celebrated by education and L&D communities. A prominent benefit is web3’s equitable goal to make development opportunities available to all humans, the first major step in its journey to generating equality in education and learning.

Correcting the accreditation

Students have long been accredited for their work learnt in the classroom, which a lot of the time requires them to spend a certain length of time present in that facility. For some, it’s difficult to travel to the school or university in question, and life can conflict with the institution’s set timetable. The Metaverse wants to implement the idea of ‘transparent accreditation’ – one that reports competency, not hours or location. This is a more effective way of looking at students’ learning techniques, skillsets and individual needs. Transparent accreditation recognises that all students learn differently and thus have different concentration spans. The classic classroom environment doesn’t work for everyone, and with increased usage of technology, people are particularly finding it less engaging. After spending hours interacting with each other in digital spaces who would want to settle for less in an online classroom? The Metaverse has the advantage here; it possesses the same technological qualities that draw us to gaming, TV and other means of entertainment.

So, how will the Metaverse help to achieve this? It all starts with looking at why we need to change the education system and what sparked this need for change. The Covid-19 pandemic is undeniably the biggest reason for the decline in socialisation in learning. As for why we need to improve the social elements of learning? Countless reports display students of all ages lacking certain skills because of the lacking socialisation – skills often needed outside the place of learning. There’s a great focus on the importance of these soft/transversal skills and how they can be taught. The Metaverse can generate high levels of socialisation in learning even with the restrictions that lockdowns and isolation periods bring. It can be a space where we not only learn practical, applicable skills but can learn to apply these to a social environment. The Metaverse thrives on the use of digital tools, online technology and creates worlds through virtual reality. Its immersivity will appeal to and engage with many learners of all ages, especially those in higher education who financially invest more into their learning experience.

Rebecca Koenig is an editor at EdSurge, an education journalism initiative that focuses on higher education. Rebecca talks about how EdTech entrepreneurs ‘…envision an ecosystem where learners buy access to courses without enrolling in colleges…’ with the help of web3. The key that binds web3 with the Metaverse is decentralised technology. Decentralisation is the next big step for the world wide web, aiming to achieve what many people want – their data given back from big tech firms. VR headsets are an iconic feature of the Metaverse, and EdSurge discussed the idea of schools and universities using them, but at the moment it’s simply not affordable for many. On the other hand, the workplace may see more investment in the Metaverse, which has already been happening. In April 2021, Epic Games announced their round funding of $1billion to elevate their move into the Metaverse. While this is product-based, it does suggest that companies have the capacity for more Metaverse-driven job training for their workforce. Implementing socialisation into remote learning is in demand following the pandemic but using the Metaverse to achieve this will not be a quick process. It took two years for places of learning to adapt during the pandemic, so adapting to Metaverse teaching will also take time.

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Written for OEB 2022 by Chloë Sibley

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