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Metaverse in education

About this trend

The metaverse can be perceived as a 3D, immersive version of the Internet, a place where people interact through avatars. While the metaverse is not a new concept, it is still largely at the conceptual stage for most people. But, current developments and investment in it make it an interesting trend to look at.

A key feature of the metaverse is the connection between the physical world and the digital world and the fact that the digital world persists and continues even when an individual user goes offline.

Many big technology companies are investing in the metaverse, with the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg being the most obvious example. The metaverse should be viewed alongside several other important trends that are also being heavily invested in – augmented reality, the Internet of Things, AI and gaming. They are all concerned with virtual worlds and connecting digital data to objects and will all evolve in the coming months and years, feeding into how the metaverse also evolves.

The metaverse will undoubtedly prove to be a very interesting, useful space for learning, with learners being able to interact in both real and imagined environments. It will create a new social communication space, enabling people to connect and interact in new ways. The virtual world will be very immersive, with realistic simulations providing all sorts of learning possibilities. And users will have a high degree of freedom, choosing from a wide range of options in terms of actions or scenarios. They will be empowered to act in a way that is difficult or impossible in the real world – altering gravity for example, or testing out their responses in dangerous situations. This makes the metaverse particularly compelling as a learning tool for high stakes industries such as aviation, emergency response and disaster planning.

Currently, despite the ongoing hype, there are relatively few evaluated use cases. The threshold for participating in and developing virtual worlds is still quite high, but could come down quite rapidly with greater investment, when costs reduce and with more use cases.

The expert view

Jane Bozarth, Director of Learning at the Learning Guild and author of All the Things: State of the Metaverse for L&D, 2023 

Jane Bozarth

Right now, what we are calling the metaverse isn’t quite there yet. Zuckerberg has appropriated it to mean something and I don’t think that what we think of it as now and what we will have in the future will be the same. And I think there will be new terms for it sooner or later.

I think the metaverse is all things – it’s augmented realities, virtual realities, social, immersive, collaborative and experiential, all rolled into one. I think immersive sums it up best of all. It’s immersive realities and augmented realities and it won’t just be about walking around with a headset on. We are not going to have a virtual office where we are all pretending to be in the same room. In the future it will be immersive and persistent – we will go in and out of that persistent environment.

I don’t know that the metaverse per se is being used currently. People are doing more with VR experiences, such as training people who will potentially be in dangerous situations – such as working with radioactive materials or being a firefighter, and showing how well they are doing in those situations and adapting. But we don’t all have to be walking on hot lava to use it. It’s good for onboarding and for developing conversational skills and how to handle difficult conversations. The American retail company Walmart developed some immersive simulations for workers for Black Friday to help them deal with the crowds, for example.

Who will lead on it in the corporate world – L&D or learners? Learners almost always lead the way and they will push ahead with it. At the moment there are some issues that haven’t been addressed. Cost is a barrier, there are security issues and identity issues – reconciling policy around who you are in a virtual world and what you are liable for in a world that doesn’t exist. Plus we need to get past the headsets because if you’re wearing a headset you’re isolating yourself from your environment. Once we get past the hardware we will start to see real change.

Top tips:

  • We need to be explorers. Go and borrow a headset, try some stuff out. Get an understanding of how AR works. When you see something new, ask what problem it solves for you – could it inform your onboarding, for example? Translate what you see into a workplace use
  • Be open to what is coming rather than fighting it. So many times I have seen learning practitioners caught unawares and letting change happen to them
  • It is vital to have something in place even if it’s small. For instance, when the pandemic hit it brought an urgent need to provide learning experiences via means other than face-to-face. Companies that already had something virtual or asynchronous in place – even if just a few webinars or standalone tutorials – were able to pivot to technology-based solutions more quickly. They did not have to spend time researching platforms or introducing the concept of online training to management and employees all at once.Be ready, be prepared - to have conversations at the very least. Go to conferences and webinars. Find out as much as you can
  • Some departments will be resistant to the metaverse and learning so approach people with good business reasons. Shore up your credibility through your understanding of it

In the next few years, there will be a big shift and suddenly, everyone will be in the metaverse. What’s fascinating is that we will be able to do things in the physical world that will also happen in the virtual world and vice versa.

Professor Agnes Kukulska-Hulme
Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University


Read the original report behind Trends in Learning

The Innovating Pedagogy report is an annual report co-authored by academics at the OU's Institute of Educational Technology, and this year, together with researchers from the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town.

Read Innovating Pedagogy

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