How ‘XR’ could transform learning in a socially-distanced world

Dr. Alex Young, founder of Virti, on pioneering a new approach to learning after COVID-19

Over the last few months, the very fabric of society has been reimagined – from the way we work and learn, to the way we shop and socialise. The process of adaptation is ongoing. Amongst the chaos, the education sector has been subject to some of the biggest changes since lockdown hit. University students are facing months outside of the classroom, with educators grappling to engage effectively. But the world of education also has the most to gain from technological innovation and advancement. Huge potential exists where the two intersect to breathe life into tired teaching practices, create fresh opportunities for interactive learning and support institutions as they get used to the new normal. This is where ‘XR’ comes in.

A new gold standard

‘XR’ or extended reality is an umbrella term encompassing augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies, and it’s setting a new gold standard for the way we learn and train at a distance. Accessible from multiple devices including VR headsets and smartphones, XR simulations enable the kind of on-the-job learning that, until recently, has only been achievable in real-life settings. Unlike in-person lectures, classes or training sessions, XR is making it possible – and affordable – to deploy teaching quickly and at scale to large numbers of students and employees.

Whereas traditional teaching formats can be expensive and slow, requiring readily available professionals to deliver lessons in situ, XR is making experiential learning accessible, repeatable and on-demand at a safe social distance. It couldn’t have a more essential role to play in empowering educators and students with effective learning tools, at a time when the future of traditional classrooms looks uncertain.

The power of immersion

What’s exciting is that we already know just how effective XR-led immersive learning can be. It’s proven to be a far more effective educational tool than traditional lessons and lectures, with a Virti study finding that learning retention rates can be as high as 230% when XR is used to deliver teaching, compared to just 10% for reading or a lecture, and 20% for video delivery. Virti’s tech has also been shown to reduce skill-fade by 52% and improves learner confidence by 77%. The research evidences the extent to which repeatable, interactive and data-led learning enabled by XR can enhance opportunities for students across the board.

Not only is XR effective in terms of retention and confidence, but it can also provide the kind objective feedback that human-led teaching simply cannot deliver. AI generates unique data-driven insights which then provide objective data on employee or student performance, which would usually be subjectively assessed or missed in real-world training settings. This is particularly effective when it comes to testing hard-to-measure soft skills. Characteristics such as empathy or self-expression can be practiced by having students communicate with an AI-powered virtual human. This interaction can then be objectively measured and analysed to generate enhanced feedback and scores, and repeated as often as is needed, to aid improvement and increase emotional connection.

The adoption of XR stands to benefit institutions, too. In the healthcare sector, by the end of training, the average worker will have taken a minimum of six mandatory tests as part of their clinical training, each costing upwards of £500 (with further expense if they fail). With 1.7 million health professionals currently working in the UK, their education is a significant social and financial burden. Similar costs are associated with the travel, time and staffing burden of face-to-face training in other sectors, too. Embracing XR can help educators reduce the time and money spent on teaching, without compromising on quality delivery. Once a simulation or module has been created, it can be used indefinitely, boosting knowledge retention rates whilst standardising teaching across year groups or organisations, and helping educators get the biggest bang for their buck.

Hybrid learning

As organisations look to return to normal, hybrid teaching models will be essential. Blended immersive training combines XR with content delivered over mobile devices and desktop while integrating in-person training to provide learners with access to various teaching methods that can be accessed conveniently and integrated into existing curricula.

Crucially for right now, learning using XR technology can help keep people safe. Easily deployed at scale to large numbers of learners, XR simulations and training modules are easily accessed at a distance, offering a standardised experiential learning experience even for students scattered around the globe. Realistic simulations, interactive testing and enhanced opportunities for practice and feedback mean little substance is lost when learning is taken out of the classroom and into remote settings. In fact, as the data shows, much could be gained. This is of huge significance to universities, medical schools and organisations looking for new, evidence-based ways to deliver teaching, which also protect students and staff.

With social distancing measures set to be in place for the foreseeable future, innovative solutions that maximise learning potential without compromising on safety are going to prove crucial to both educational institutions and organisations looking to deliver quality teaching in the coming months. The evidence base for the effectiveness of XR speaks for itself, with its far-reaching capabilities and unexplored possibilities creating a wholly positive outlook for the future of learning in a socially-distanced world. The sky’s the limit in terms of who, what and where this tech can teach.

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