The arrival of this technological innovation opens the door to changing the way we learn.
The metaverse is one of the most keenly debated aspects of the digital world. To provide clues on the ways it will affect education, the eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC) at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in Spain, commissioned a report prepared by digital transformation analyst Marc Cortés. The in-depth study presents the possibilities that are emerging as this technological innovation is applied to education.
Recent initiatives linked to metaverse exploration by companies like Facebook and Microsoft highlight their interest in controlling the new technological realm, especially given its appeal among young people. A study in 2021 by The New Consumer revealed that 45 percent of individuals in Gen Z feel most comfortable in an online environment.
Companies that produce video games – the most significant precedent for the current state of the metaverse – have been crucial in laying the foundation, and the dynamic has become apparent in educational technology. To show its potential disruption – and to put its influence on education into context – the eLinC report offers the following list.
1. Transition of content and environments
The digitalization of the learning process is evolving as the metaverse emerges. The pandemic paved the way for the transition to hybrid educational environments. This new era is a paradigm shift that entails moving from a hybrid or digital in-person process to a fully immersive one.
2. Improving the quality of learning: personalization and matching the student’s pace
The metaverse will influence the process because the students themselves will be able to explore immersive environments on their own. The analysis of the information generated in these environments, combined with artificial intelligence, has the potential to help redefine the learning process to make it more personalized.
3. Leveraging the new proven possibilities of virtual worlds
More than 200 million unique monthly users of videogame platforms such as Roblox relate and engage with digital environments. Roblox, a popular metaverse gaming platform, has built a learning pathway for students under age 18 that shows them how to use the internet safely. Teachers are beginning to use it in their own learning pathways.
“Welcome to the metaverse, a place where our digital and physical lives converge; creativity is limitless; and location-defying worlds bring people together,” writes Emma Chiu, global director, Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, as she introduced the 2021 report from the global marketing agency entitled “Into the Metaverse.”
At the time, interest in the metaverse was climbing – the number of searches for the word increased more than tenfold from 2020 to 2021, according to Google Analytics. “Media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian have all published extensive articles probing its implications,” Emma reports.
Why the sudden attention? “In 2020, one thing became very obvious, very quickly, as COVID-19 began to spread around the world: we leapfrogged five to seven years in the digital revolution,” noted Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, during his keynote at CES 2021.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease, the acceleration of tech and its prominence in many lives will continue, Emma said. And, as “Into the Metaverse” revealed,
• 93 percent of global consumers agree that technology is our future;
• 76 percent say their everyday lives and activities depend on tech; and
• Over half say their happiness depends on it.
4. From lecturing to gamification
Gamification as a tool in the educational process increases with the metaverse. Immersive technologies make the user’s experience more profound.
5. Reaching a greater number of students
The larger the potential market, the greater the potential for a business to grow in the field. The metaverse will offer the opportunity to expand within the existing market, generate a new market, or create adjacent markets.
6. The gap between educational supply and the demand for talent.
The metaverse and virtual reality technology are already being applied in training programs by companies that want to equip their workers with new skills. Bank of America, with about 50,000 employees, was one of the first to use it.
7. The access challenge: digital and generational divides
The development of the metaverse requires significant investments in technological infrastructure. It also entails an understanding of immersive reality and a virtual world – a challenge for any educational institution planning to include participants of a certain age.
8. Redesigning educational environments
Introducing the metaverse into education means replicating the physical infrastructure in the digital environment. Currently, they’re being replicated with digital graphics of physical structures.
Is the metaverse here yet?
It’s still evolving, explains the Wunderman Thompson research. The study defers to Matthew Ball, a venture capitalist and essayist, who suggests that the metaverse the next iteration of the internet – “a successor state to the mobile internet.” In Matthew’s nine-part primer on the metaverse, he explains that instead of a “before metaverse” and “after metaverse,” it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services and capabilities integrate and meld together. Indications that it is emerging already include accelerated innovation in VR and AR technologies, the proliferation of gaming platforms as social and cultural destinations; and the race for companies to stake a claim on their corner of the metaverse.
9. Transforming the role of student and teacher
The role of students will no longer be defined as recipients of content. They instead will play a leading role in the digital environment. Teachers will adopt the role of facilitator.
10. Understanding new ways to capture attention
In 2003, Stanford University founded the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which studies the psychological effects of augmented-reality use on behavior. Since then, it has discovered and highlighted factors that trigger a participant’s attention in the learning process.
11. Assessment and monitoring challenges
The metaverse will have a major impact here as it redefines assessment criteria and the ways a participant’s learning evolution can be measured and monitored. Other considerations include issues of privacy, and how to measure the progress of group work.
12. New partners in education
Within the field of education, the metaverse can take two forms:
• an adaptation model, in which the content and methodology of educational models are adapted to metaverse technology, or
• a transformation model, involving the creation of ecosystems made up of universities and educational institutions, businesses and technology companies.
13. Setting standards
Several major technology companies have made a commitment to metaverse technology. It is essential to know whether their commitment is based on uniform standards or if each company is creating its own standards.
14. Interoperability, blockchain and non-fungible tokens
Ensuring that the digital assets created in one metaverse can be used in another will undoubtedly be one of the key factors in its adoption.
“Today’s children carry the world in their pockets and enjoy instant access to all types of content,” wrote children’s media professional David Kleeman. In the article “Kids have Kickstarted the Metaverse” for Techonomy Media Inc. last June he noted, “They don’t just choose among channels, they think in terms of what exactly they want to do right now – a game, video or app? Alone or with friends? Consuming or creating?
“Could any development disrupt such vast choices?” David Baszucki, CEO of Roblox, says ‘yes.’ He believes the metaverse is ‘arguably as big a shift in online communications as was the telephone or the internet.’”
Roblox is an online platform and storefront where users go to play games. It is not a game, but a place where people play games by other developers (thus the nickname, the “YouTube of gaming”). Its growth exploded during the pandemic when so many kids were at home full time. In the first quarter of 2021, they invested 9.7 billion hours on the platform. “Children and teens respond well to the metaverse, with its boundless but coherent space for active engagement with brands, stories and characters,” David notes.
“The metaverse makes complete sense to kids,” he adds. “Content discovery for them otherwise is incredibly challenging now. I work at Dubit, a research and strategy consultancy and digital studio, focused on young people. In Dubit’s Trends studies, upwards of 60 percent of 2- to 15-year-olds say they have trouble finding their next ‘favorite thing.’”
Among U.S. children, a stunning 56 percent play on Roblox at least weekly.
“The potential of the metaverse in the field of education is considerable,” points out Sílvia Sivera, director of eLinC at UOC. “That’s why the eLinC commissioned this initial study. It remains to be seen how this world of alternative virtual reality brings added value to the learning processes of the future, and how it fits in with on-site, blended and fully online educational models.”
Dallas Hybrid Prep, which opened at the start of the 2021-’22 school year, is one of the first schools in the U.S. to implement a metaverse platform, reports EdTech magazine. Students access the STEMuli metaverse – a learning management system that builds asynchronous work within an enhanced virtual learning environment – on their tablets or computers. “Our model is not for everyone,” said Olga Romero, founding principal, “but it does work for students who need a more personalized instructional experience.”
The UOC was created in Barcelona in 1994 – the first university in the world to run exclusively online. The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC’s teaching, research and innovation. By studying interactions between technology and human and social sciences – with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health – the UOC is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century. More than 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the university’s seven faculties and two research centers.