Virtual Reality (VR) Today
Virtual reality (VR) and, to some extent, augmented reality (AR) have been a science fiction dream for many years, possibly going back as far as the 1950s; However, over the past ten to twenty years, these conceptual ideas have made their way into reality and are slowly starting to integrate into society and daily life, also known as “emerging technologies”.
According to Reede and Bailiff (2016), VR startups have raised more than $1.46 billion in venture capital since 2012, with the overall industry estimated to be worth around $15.9 billion in 2019 and the overall market for hardware and software to reach around $200 billion by 2020 (Reede and Bailiff, 2016). VR and AR have a lot of potential to disrupt current industries and potentially create future ones, and one of the industries where these technologies can be seen disrupting is education.
While so far, VR and AR have proven their success in the entertainment sector, they have the potential to impact other sectors as well. From military and aviation, to surgeon rooms in hospitals, and therapy, these technologies are starting to become valued as useful tools to aid professionals and improve the quality and accuracy of work done. In the education sector, VR and AR have the potential to create new virtual and global classrooms, with students from every geographic and economic background, to learn and engage with each other, without borders in between. While online learning is already a standard, with the advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and online degrees, VR and AR have the means to take this to the next level of immersion where a student can experience the content being learned rather than just reading it on a screen or board.
An example of experiential learning can be, according to Reede and Bailiff (2016), using these tools to create or recreate live models of locations to explore while learning about the history of the location, which can provide students a more engaging lesson and create an atmosphere for the place and time rather than just reading about it in a textbook, or even have a curator guide thousands through a virtual museum, as well as having a professor lead a virtual masterclass for thousands of students in real time from all over the world, bridging cultures and removing boundaries, in addition to inciting a new age of real-time collaboration (Reede and Bailiff, 2016).
As these technologies continue to mature, more content is created and, most importantly, the cost of entry goes down, making it more widely available to more groups of people and more school systems. According to Reede and Bailiff (2016), devices can range from as low as $20 (Google Cardboard) and go to $100 (Samsung Gear VR) and rise to prices as high as $600 for higher end models (Oculus Rift) (Reede and Bailiff, 2016).
One of the main differences between VR and AR is the hardware needed. For VR, one would need to invest in separate hardware in addition to content, which will incur an overall higher cost of entry; However, with AR, the only hardware that is needed is the smart device that billions of people already own, and all they must do is download an app, with most modern smart devices already having the capabilities of AR. According to Cariker (2018), AR is software that uses the camera of a smart device to overlay digital aspects into the physical world (Cariker, 2018). A relevant example of this would be the AR game that took the world by storm in 2016, Pokémon Go. The popularity of this AR game highlights the massive potential of AR to be applicable to the mainstream and will give developers the drive to further use this technology for other types of entertainment, with other industries following suit.
A good quality to have in today’s world is empathy. According to Carolan (2018), the first major empathy technology was Gutenberg’s printing press invented in 1440, which allowed the widespread production of books, which in turn developed higher literacy rates and devised the concept of seeing through the perspective of another’s mind. While before a person living in a remote village would not have contact or gain ideas from anyone outside of said village, books allowed one to transcend this physical boundary and acquire ideas from people whom one would never interact with. In our more modern age, inventions such as television, and now VR and AR, have built on older technologies to further heighten and engage more of the sense to deepen the “simulated” human experience (Carolan, 2018). According to Carolan (2018), these technologies can help expand the diverse amount of content available, create opportunities for understanding and collaboration that crosses all types of backgrounds and boundaries, therefore, building new types of skills, with empathy being a key trait to both leadership and working well with others (Carolan, 2018).
When it comes to anything new and emerging, it’s never smooth sailing, and despite all the recent successes VR and AR have had lately, there are always growing pains, and another perspective to take on this subject is that it is all “hype” and adds nothing of value to what we have already. According to Silagadze (2018), despite the massive investment and higher usage of this technology, with Gartner predicting around sixty percent of college institutions in America making use of VR in classrooms by 2021, this technology can be seen as less of a disruptor and more of a solution looking for a problem (Silagadze, 2018). Silagadze argues that despite this technology being impressive, it doesn’t inherently solve some of the fundamental problems of higher education in this country, such as reduced funding, ballooning costs, and declining enrollments. The potential value provided by this technology can be difficult to predict for now, while the on-campus presence and interaction with the real world, rather than a virtual one, still has value in the overall “college experience”.
Despite the pros and cons of VR and AR, and the different perspectives provided, it is still rather new and growing, so only time will tell what the impact and true value added will be when it comes to this emerging technology. Despite being able to accurately value its contributions today, all signs point towards this technology having a bright future, as costs go down and general accessibility increases. According to Steinbach (2018), while entertainment is still the primary use for this technology, there is starting to be heavy investment in other areas, with a predicted investment of $700 million in VR/AR educational software by 2025, and a global VR market of $26.89 billion by 2022 (Steinbach, 2018).
This technology is only going to be more ever present going forward as investment increases, so in time, there will be an accurate way to measure this technology’s value in society and education, and in other sectors beyond entertainment. All trends point to this technology playing a vital role in the future of learning and training, so it’s best to prepare and adapt for this inevitable future and only time will tell its future impact on human society.