In the 21st century, technology is taking over education — be it skill-building programmes in universities, real-world technical training and learning of abstract concepts in schools. The shift from conventional means to experiential methods of transacting learning has seen new-age technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality — a combination of AR/VR — have been playing a key role in driving learning and edtech engagement.
Educators around the globe today have realised that AR/VR are big breakthroughs when it comes to learning — for a method as well as outcomes. As Ankur Aggarwal, founder of VR-based edtech startup Veative told us the enduring objective of edtech is to improve the yearning to learn and AR/VR helps implement it in a spectacular manner.
“AR/VR has great potential in democratising the educational process and making it a personalised learning experience for learners of all stripes. AR/VR is not a gimmick when deployed correctly. They allow learners to explore abstract concepts in a distraction-free environment and allow them to connect with the concept,” Aggarwal added.
And that is not a lone opinion. Vivek Goyal, cofounder of AR edtech startup Playshifu, emphasises that learning today means much more than just remembering the facts. Anumukonda Ramesh, country manager for the Indian subcontinent, Unity Technologies, one of the biggest gaming engines in the world, also ascertains that the Indian education system needs to leverage new technologies in order to stay relevant in an ever-changing world.
What Is The Difference Between AR And VR?
While both are visual technologies that rely on non-traditional interactions, AR and VR are fundamentally different. When used together, it is often referred to as mixed reality. Reliance Jio is looking to make mixed reality mainstream in India with the acquisition of deeptech startup Tesseract which has made an MR product called Holoboard.
Simply put, augmented reality or AR is a multi-sensory interactive experience that involves real-world elements in a virtual environment. It is known to offer perceptually-enriched experiences to users by using real-world elements and adding a layer of information or visual aid on top of it in a natural manner.
The most common examples of AR technology is seen in animated emojis these days on smartphones such as Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxy series and more. In the industrial context, AR applications can help with on-the-go learning for maintenance and troubleshooting, systems maintenance work and other computer-aided learning and training.
On the other hand, virtual reality is a simulated experience that can either offer a very realistic virtual experience that mimics the real world or fantastically new visual experiences that transcend the boundaries of reality and surrealism. Currently, standard virtual reality systems either use VR headsets or multi-projected environments to generate images, sounds and other sensations. VR applications have found use in healthtech, edtech and consumer services sectors.
What Future Does AR/VR Have In Edtech?
As PlayShifu’s Goyal explains, we can broadly divide formal education into three segments — early, secondary and tertiary learning (higher education). For early learners, playing is the way to learn and AR/VR can make a significant impact as it enhances any play experience 10x. Learning about core fundamental skills like alphabets, numbers, logical reasoning can be made so much more fun and engaging with AR-enabled gameplay.
“For more advanced ages, we are already seeing a lot of hardware development being done in terms of AR glasses. These will enable grasping and practicing concepts more profoundly with the help of life-size 3D animated content that students can manipulate and observe in their learning space,” Goyal added.
Here are the primary reasons why AR/VR are believed to be the future of learning and education.
- Boosts Learning Retention
- Personalised Learning Experiences
- Increases Possibilities Of Experimentation
- Reduces Reliance On Learning By Rote
- Empowering Educators And Learners
- Encouraging Active Learning
The founders we spoke to believe that AR and VR technology can have an impact not just for young ages but also for reskilling, corporate learning, industrial applications and more.
AR/VR Boosts Learning Retention
Veative’s Aggarwal adds example of the ‘Cone of Learning’, created in 1969 by US educator Edgar Dale. Aggarwal explained that after two weeks, the human brain tends to remember just 10% of what it has read, 20% of what it hears, 30% of what it sees and up to 90% of the actions performed or simulated.
This means immersive and innovative digital tools will facilitate experiential learning in more effective ways. This will enhance the learning process and help learners connect multiple concepts, work at their own pace and according to their level of proficiency.
Highly Personalised Learning Experiences
This brings us to personalised learning. Interactivity is the key reason why AR/VR is so attractive for education purposes and this purpose get more value when AI is introduced with this technology. This will provide highly personalised learning experiences based on learning patterns and behaviour. The seamless integration of AR and VR in the education landscape will help to personalise learning and upskill learners.
Other entrepreneurs such as Simulanis founder Raman Talwar and Skillveri founder Sabarinath Nair also agreed with this. “We are witnessing a transgression from one-size-fits-all learning methodology to a personalised and experiential one, where learners’ learn by doing,” Talwar told us.
Increases Possibilities Of Experimentation
Unity’s Ramesh added that AR/VR provide safe sandboxes for complex learning exercises, like giving children their own virtual chemistry lab to kindle experimentation.
To cite an example, Apple’s ARKit platform is an incredible leap towards immersive learning. It helps teachers create AR experiences in which students explore 3D models of the human body. With its advanced detection feature, they can see a computer-generated, detailed simulation of the male and female anatomy. And what’s more, they can manually trigger motions between the different parts of the human body in the virtual space.
“Not only does this enable learners to visualise and design different scenarios, but it also improves their manual dexterity. Thus, it ensures a higher level of motivation and engagement,” added Next Education’s CEO and cofounder Beas Dev Ralhan.
Reducing Reliance On Learning By Rote
Next Education’s Ralhan further adds that the biggest advantage of using AR in the classroom environment is that it offers visually-impressive experiences. AR/VR-based immersive and experiential learning environment creates chances for focus and attention on a topic or idea, which should positively affect retention rates of the subject matter.
“An open and enthusiastic mind, in a distraction-free environment, means that there is a far greater chance to get to higher-order thinking skills, which are always more difficult to learn and to teach,” added Veative’s Aggarwal.
Empowering Educators And Learners
Educators too have a lot to benefit from leveraging AR/VR techniques for teaching, paired with the right content. Regardless of the medium, content is king, and always will be, edtech startups told us. Just like textbooks, without the right content, VR headsets will only gather dust on a shelf.
With virtual labs, social media learning, and gamification, learning can be made more engaging for learners and students. We will see AR/VR could open a wide range of simulations. Books in the future could be digital, infused with AR technology and educators can place helpful milestones in the real world for students to stumble upon for practical and hands-on learning. Subjects and digital counterparts of real-world objects will make delivery of lessons simpler. New games with AR-enabled assistants and immersive VR experiences can revolutionise the learning and coaching experience for students.
Encouraging Active Learning
The AR/VR is a uniquely personal experience and should be used as such. If providing a distraction-free environment which promoted focused concentration on a subject was the only benefit to VR, then that alone might be enough to justify using this tool.
Veative’s Aggarwal added that learners have a natural curiosity about VR. “We never have a problem getting them interested in using the VR. This very simple fact means that a young learner is coming into the device with an open and curious mind, which is the best starting point for learning to happen.
What Is The Market Opportunity For AR/VR In Edtech Space?
The education sector is forecast to spend more than $6 Bn annually on augmented and virtual reality technologies by 2023, said Simulanis’ Talwar. “Funding for the technologies remains a major hurdle to adoption, but price points for equipment are dropping rapidly, according to a new market forecast from ABI Research,” he added.
Another report, “Augmented and Virtual Reality in Education,” added that the market for augmented reality in education will hit $5.3 Bn in 2023, with the market for virtual reality head-mounted displays trailing at $640 Mn.
Further, as Playshifu’s Goyal highlighted, anything that comes at a relatively low cost is a big win for the schools. “As AR/VR hardware and experiences hit sub-$300 price point in the next five years, we anticipate a wave of mass adoption,” he said.
Ralhan also indicates towards the role AR/VR will be playing in building future workforce. The government plans on building the first augmented-reality based skill training center in IIT (Banaras Hindu University) in Varanasi. Furthermore, since AR applications can work on most modern smartphones, students do not have to spend extra money on devices.
“Such initiatives call for more active participation from AR solution providers in India such as Simulanis, Hedgehog Lab, IndiaNIC Infotech Limited, Hyperlink InfoSystem, Chetu, Plutomen, and Intellify,” added Ralhan.
AR/VR Trends, According To Edtech Startups
Classrooms in the future will not look like they do today. Founders believe that AR will see a prominent push in the next 3 to 5 years in India, and most schools will have dedicated tools. Higher education will see faster adoption for AR and VR tools, given that the technology is already present in such institutions.
India being the second-largest consumer of mobile phones (nearly 800 million) AR/VR offers students the flexibility to access educational content seamlessly across devices. It could also open an opportunity for social collaboration and spatial communication in a room-scale environment, where teachers can teach students remotely, and students can collaborate on various interactive and immersive experiences.
As the saturation point for regular school content is reached, more companies would start focussing on the vocational training using AR/VR content and simulations, in addition to the regular K-12. While these applications are at a nascent stage currently, the central government is working on promoting digital learning and improving teaching standards.
The Existing Gaps In AR/VR Adoption In Education?
Skillveri’s Nair highlighted a crucial challenge for AR/VR startups here. “These technologies have to be seen as a means to an end, instead of an end in itself. A framework is to be used to decide if a particular content or concept will be better delivered through AR/VR, instead of mindlessly applying the technology for everything,” he told Inc42.
The biggest barrier is the lack of knowledge about AR/VR across the education ecosystem. Additionally, the existing curriculum has a proven record of its efficacy, whereas AR/VR, being a new technology, still needs approval by the school management hierarchy involving teachers, and principals.
“The decision-making process should be streamlined in such a way that relevant information about new tools are collected, experimented and finally deployed to provide unprecedented learning opportunities to the students,” said Talwar.
Here are some other existing challenges in the sector, according to entrepreneurs:
Cultural Diversity: For a country as diverse as India — in terms of social, economic, linguistic, and cultural conditions—like India, making a uniform and standardised AR-enabled school curriculum is difficult. Unless private firms bring the costs down and make content more region-specific, state governments will not give adequate subsidy in the purchase and distribution of learning material, or bring AR support to schools.
Learning Capacity Variance: Despite the fact that AR is made to be self-learning with comprehensive guidelines for first-time learners, not all students have the same learning capacity or grasping potential. Therefore, adequate educator training is also very important in AR.
Financial Constraints: State-run schools far outnumber private schools in India. The majority of these schools have severe financial constraints, so public-private partnerships can help these schools to re-establish themselves to become part of the new revolution in the teaching-learning process.
Lack Of Technical Know-How: AR/VR isn’t simple or intuitive for first timers. There are regions in India where computer skills are missing among teachers and students. So VR developers should keep in mind about tech illiterate population for VR to truly shine in education circle.
Shallow or Inadequate Learning Content: While VR content developers have more recently gained prominence, most learning content is not deep enough to have an impact or borders on the cartoonish or childish. It’s hard to create the diversity of content required for all kinds of learners. And most founders believe it will take a long time to bring relevant VR content for all use-cases.
The Evolution Of Edtech Innovation
India is on the brink of an evolution in its education ecosystem. This is perhaps the most exciting and disruptive stage of this sector and innovators are ready to redesign the future of learning.
2020 is expected to be the start of a new era in online learning, with edtech creating big waves. Learning and schools will incorporate concepts of global collaboration, personalised learning, simulations, AI, real-world learning systems, mobile classrooms and immersive learning experiences.
As Ajit K. Chauhan, chairman, Amity University Online and Amity Future Academy told us with an influx of educational technologies it is very likely that the future years will see further integration of blockchain, cloud computing, AR/VR, collaborative learning and edge computing.
“Artificial intelligence is emerging as an integral part of the eLearning ecosystem. We see several AI educational solutions coming to the fore. It is predicted that AI can fill the need-gaps in learning and teaching. It is expected to broaden the purview of schools and teachers.”