Higher Education Needs to Lead in Immersive Learning

Following article was published initially in VRinSight Green Paper



We need immersive technologies now more than ever

We need immersive technologies now more than ever, but we must work together to create a thriving, leading immersive learning ecosystem in Europe. Technology is ready to be implemented but now HEI’s should be the strong force of change that leaps forward and accelerates the immersive learning revolution.

During the last couple of months, the covid-19 virus has shown us how much we actually need technologies that enable learning and doing in a remote fashion. Schools in Finland have adapted extremely quickly to this new situation and most of the teaching is already done using virtual technologies. However, the big shift is still waiting. Our learning methods and technology are still founded on listening and writing, instead of true experiencing and experimenting.

Even if we are going to have major short to medium term economic impacts due to the virus, we will need to look forward. Digitalisation is only going to accelerate. We need better technology to enable better productivity. Continuous learning and the technologies to make this possible are going to be deciding factors in the future competitiveness of our region.

Finland has the best education system in the world. This is a fact that has been demonstrated numerous times in worldwide studies. From the frontlines we see that the age of immersive digital education is coming but is should also be accelerated, like what Tesla is doing for the electric car ecosystem.

Best way to learn is by doing. Virtual reality enables doing things in ways that would otherwise be impossible, expensive or dangerous. We can actually experience history. We can actually visit a high security nuclear powerplant and learn to maintain it without any danger. We can create, test and modify machines before they ever become physical. It is clear why virtual reality offers superior possibilities in comparison to other learning technologies.

So why is it not ubiquitous already? It comes down to usability, content and price. I must admit that it’s not one time that I’ve struggled technically with a PC VR setup. Wires have been inconvenient. Content stores have been empty and finally, it’s been quite expensive to purchase a powerful PC plus a VR headset. Luckily, the situation has changed quite dramatically as Oculus launched their Quest headset.

Standalone VR headsets with 6DOF have qualities that make them the perfect entry-level devices for the education sector. Reasonable price points, greatly improved usability, no wires and improving channels to consume content give us the first platform to really move forward with immersive education.

Even though language, writing, books and the printing press have been tremendous inventions, immersive learning will be about experiences and 3D content. It is true that major investments will be required to develop technology and capabilities in many levels. It is still day one for the content creators and we are only seeing glimpses of what is actually possible when we start to create truly immersive learning experiences. However, now is the time to leap forward and start to build the required capabilities and ecosystems in the European level.

Higher education institutions should take charge and move in the frontlines. They should be driven to find the best ways to utilise and explore this potential so that the whole society can benefit. They should not wait for some private sector company to create immersive teaching material but start to experiment and create it and the required capabilities themselves. Integrating the technology to teaching should be done in an iterative fashion, listening, learning and improving. It is time.