The future of digital learning is here. Can your classrooms keep up?

By Steve Johnson, regional sales director at Ruckus Networks

Pop quiz: When you want to learn how to do something, where’s the first place you look? I’d bet for most people reading this, it’s a video on YouTube. That’s because video is an extremely effective way to learn, and the reason most digital learning is now video-based. According to surveys of teachers using digital curriculum, 90% spend most of their digital learning time using video.

Unless you’re a fan of constant buffering, stuttering and restarts of your video stream, you should know that high-performance video requires high bandwidth, low latency and assure quality of service from your entire network. From your WAN to your LAN to your Wi-Fi. Even if most teachers aren’t yet using video heavily, analysts expect more than half of primary education curriculum to be digital learning within three years – and that means more video!

If you’ve adopted a wait-and-see approach on digital learning – and on updating your wired ethernet and wifi to support it – it’s time to take the next step. Because if you think HD video-based curriculum places heavy demands on classroom networks, that’s nothing in comparison to what’s coming next: virtual reality.

No longer science fiction

A few years ago, the notion of VR curriculum in schools was an exciting idea but nobody was putting it into practice. Fast forward to the present and the biggest names in tech and education, like Scholastic, Google, Lenovo and Microsoft now offer a huge and growing portfolio of VR headsets and curriculum to fuel digital learning. Compounding this, dozens of smaller companies are now joining the fray.

If you think HD video-based curriculum places heavy demands on classroom networks, that’s nothing in comparison to what’s coming next: virtual reality.

So, VR digital learning content is very much available. And the funding is often available too. The biggest remaining hurdle to widespread use of digital technologies in the classroom? Aging networks with APs and switches that just can’t handle the demands of the medium make teachers wary of using the technology, if it fails too often it will simply be cast aside. A strong network can invisibly give the teachers the confidence they need to succeed.

Growing requirements for classroom networking

Many classroom networks struggle to deliver plain old HD video without delays and dropped streams. Combine immersive, 360-degree video experiences with the additional layer of data transmission needed for real-time interactivity and the demands on your network are even greater. Multiply that by numerous students using VR at once – plus the teacher, who tracks every students’ headset views on a tablet to guide them through the content – and the networking equation looks about as easy as memorising pi to a hundred decimal places.

Issues caused by networks with poor latency or insufficient capacity (stuttering, buffering, video stream dropouts) can cause disruption in the classroom. In an immersive VR digital learning experience, delays between a students’ movements and what they see on screen can even cause nausea and headaches. In the worst cases, inadequate networks can render the VR digital learning experience completely unusable, and your curriculum investment a waste.

Issues caused by networks with poor latency or insufficient capacity can cause disruption in the classroom.

Some companies are approaching the VR experience slightly differently and supplying their headsets with pre-loaded content, so each of the students is not in fact live-streaming simultaneously. In this set-up, the only live connection is between the teacher’s tablet and the headsets. This is much more likely to work properly, and less intimidating to IT because it can work over the top of existing networks.

Preparing for the VR future

Fortunately, even if you’re not using these kinds of headsets, it’s not hard to get your classroom networks ready for VR-based digital learning. You need an infrastructure that delivers two key things, and works well under stress:

  • Low latency, so there’s no appreciable delay between when the VR system transmits data (like a student’s position and movement) and the digital VR experience responds.
  • High capacity, so the connection between VR headsets and the wifi network is fast enough that video streams don’t pause, drop or have to constantly buffer.

If you think about how VR-based digital learning works – streaming immersive HD video to multiple students simultaneously, while transmitting positional data and more in the background – you need networking technology that can automatically prioritise latency-sensitive media traffic to make sure students get a smooth, uninterrupted digital learning experience – and don’t throw up.

Get started

VR opens the door to a world of immersive digital learning experiences for your students, from exploring the solar system to walking along the Grand Canyon. Just make sure you get the most from your digital learning investment with high-performance networks that can truly take your students wherever they want to go. Deploying multigigabit to the edge to enable digital learning that is heavily reliant on video, such as VR-based learning, will be the only way to continue driving innovation in the classroom.