The digital transformation of education has entered the next stage, but what does this shift mean for students and teachers?
The recent buzzword 'meta' added a new layer to many markets, including education. The global digital education market was valued at USD 9.35 billion in 2020, with a CAGR of 30.5% from 2021 to 2028. Increasing internet adoption and smart-technology application has been the main driving forces behind the boom in digital education. And 'meta' is taking digital education to a whole new level.
Companies have been jumping into the meta business since Facebook's name change. Well-known educational brands like edX and Coursera are already collaborating with Meta to help educate people about metaverse and its related technologies. Meta is also committing USD 150 million through its Facebook Reality Labs to assist with tech development and AR/VR tools training. The education market now has a massive influx of capital comparing to the past years; but how will newly developed tools and technology impact the sector?
What will education look like in metaverse?
As seen in the movie Ready Player One, metaverse brings endless possibilities to the gaming industry, and it does the same for education. The education sector took a massive hit from the pandemic, with roughly 91% of the world's student population suffering from disrupted education. As a result, the world saw increased adoption of online learning and the need for digital education technologies.
A new market medium tends to retain some features of its predecessor. And meta-education is likely to take a similar approach to education compared to the traditional method. With virtual classrooms and avatars, learning in the metaverse will include most elements of real-world learning. However, metaverse enables a more dynamic curriculum tailored to learners' interests. While most curriculums in schools are set in stone, online education has the flexibility to change courses based on current events.
Online applications like Zoom helped many resume their academic endeavor during the pandemic, but there is a big difference between online and in-person. Despite positive feedback from students and teachers, educators should not overlook the most crucial element of learning, which is hands-on experience. According to a study cited by MIT, 'students can remember only 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear and 50 percent of what they see demonstrated. However, when they do something themselves, such as in a game or virtual world, the retention rates skyrocket to 90 percent.' Whereas students sit in front of a laptop for a whole afternoon, meta-education adds an interactive element that allows access anywhere.
How is metaverse changing education for the better?
Students will benefit from the contextual learning experience that metaverse can offer. Contextualized learning is a proven concept that recognizes the complexity of the learning process. According to many studies in cognitive research, learning occurs when students can process knowledge coherently and logically. In a traditional classroom setting, students may be limited to a learning environment that does not make sense. Education in metaverse allows for far more freedom for students to explore, thus letting students approach the subject that most aligns with their frames of reference. Studies have shown that learning is most effective when it is fun, making the metaverse 'gamified' learning experience suitable for the next stage of education.
Metaverse gives educators practical teaching tools that accelerate students' learning curve. Cutting-edge technologies such as AR and VR play significant roles in the growth of digital education. For example, medical students can now look at the human body with the help of AR technology, seeing parts that are usually impossible to see on a cadaver. On the other hand, VR provides a more immersive experience that promotes interaction. A teacher could bring a battlefield to the classroom to help students better understand the lesson. The education sector has always lagged behind modern technology advancement, but meta-education will take the industry to a new height.
The world needs more teachers and needs them fast as college degrees have become necessary to qualify for most jobs. According to UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the world needs 5.2 million new teachers. The shortage is worsened by Covid-19. A survey conducted by National Education Association showed that 32% of 2,700 teachers left teaching earlier than they expected due to the pandemic. To aggravate the situation, the quality of teachers is declining as well. Education quality is one of the essential components to a good education, and meta-education could potentially draw more professionals into the teaching field. In the metaverse, a teacher is provided with tools that one may not have access to in the real world. In addition, more students will have access to qualified teachers via virtual classrooms and AR-assisted learning.
Accessibility to education is another aspect that metaverse will change for the sector. In an interview EqualOcean conducted with Taylor Shead, Founder and CEO of STEMuli, she said, "In the metaverse world, all rules are off, and you don't have the same accessibility and boundary issues that you see and other places and the other place… you're effectively bringing everyone into the future together versus leaving behind your people of different economic backgrounds." Disruption in education has put the current generation of students at risk of losing USD 17 trillion in lifetime earnings, about 14% of global GDP. Meta-education could pave the way for a future where education will be accessible to anyone, with or without a physical campus.
Although accessibility is one of the metaverse technologies' most prominent features, it is still an issue to those lacking computers and the internet. The revolutionary technologies will have zero impact on the rural, poor, underprivileged areas where cable companies refuse to provide broadband due to slim profit margins. Even with access to the internet, the cost aspect of VR devices still poses a problem. Popular VR HMDs like Oculus Quest 2, Sony PlayStation VR, and Valve Index VR Kit cost USD 299.99, USD 269.99, and USD 999.00.
Metaverse technology also risks addiction, especially among teens. While education through meta-related products is efficient and constructive, virtual reality's ability to blend lines between simulated and real can lead to a severely addictive experience. Educators need to strike a precise balance between digital education and physical activities. A heavy addiction in the metaverse, according to Turkish experts, could lead to a loss of cognitive skills. Spending too much time in the metaverse or online can hinder physical, psychological, and emotional development. Experts have suggested limiting people under 18 not to exceed an hour on metaverse.
The bottom line
The door has opened for meta-education. With more accessible access to high-quality education, advanced tools to aid teachers and students, and an immersive setting to provide otherwise hard to come by hands-on experiences, metaverse is already changing to sector for the better. But what does it mean for the traditional education institutions? In an interview with Winston Ma, Managing Partner at CloudTree and author of The Digital War, he said, "The social experience of going to school is no less valuable than the knowledge learning experience." There is a fundamental difference between in-person and online, which is the ability to have face-to-face interaction. Despite metaverse's capability to allow users to interact with each other through avatars, it won't be the equivalent of having discussions in a physical classroom. However, schools and universities will begin to offer more blended courses with metaverse elements as time goes on. Given meta-education's capacity to sit thousands of people in one class, education institutions will look to change their enrollment system. The benefits of meta-education are worthwhile for institutions to invest in AR and VR devices. And with knowledge now closer to our fingertips than ever, we have entered the next chapter of digital education.