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WEF wants kids to learn in the metaverse to curb climate change

Pushing for virtual life. By Didi Rankovic

Experiential learning and VR will reshape the future of education

  • Methods of education have not kept pace with advances in technology but the imperative of change is becoming more apparent.

  • Virtual reality (VR) is being adopted more readily as the gains of experiential learning is being realised.

  • VR is making education less conventional and advancing K-12, higher education and vocational training.

“Disconnecting” children from the physical world and “plugging them” into a virtual one is the way to go when it comes to the future of education, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

This is one of the “gems” that have come out of this year’s gathering in Davos, with a post on WEF’s website arguing that this direction is necessary, among other things, to combat climate change – rather, pressure to do so will drive the digitisation of education. Other reasons would be better quality, accessibility, and affordability of education.

Children, now overly “reliant” on items like textbooks, notebooks, and pencils as learning tools, should in the future become immersed in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality environments, writes Dr. Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Dhaheri.

The pandemic is cited as a good example of how digital tools can be used for online education, but, according to the author, they are not enough, because students were merely being transferred knowledge instead of having practical and “in person” experience.

The post laments that while technological advancements are being widely used to transform administrative and services sectors, this is currently not enough to disrupt education.

“These advancements’ infiltration of education systems has become an increasing imperative,” says Al Dhaheri, who thinks VR will be a crucial element in future “experiential learning” that lets students see, hear, touch, and act in a virtual world.

VR and metaverse combined will be where students and teachers will be immersed in communication and sharing, “overcoming space and time limitations.”

The writeup pays lip service to risks and concerns regarding the removal of children from human interaction in the education process and increasing their isolation, by acknowledging that VR “somewhat” does that, but only if it is not properly monitored, and if its introduction lacks “a guided system.”

Nevertheless, Al Dhaheri believes that the benefits here outweigh the risk and that students will find the virtual environment more appealing while developing “much stronger skillsets.”

The article urges leaders, educators, and regulators to promote this agenda proactively, and mentions that this push is already beginning to happen in countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

VR is a leading example and arguably a game-changer for the next generation of students, graduates and vocational learners and enables experiential learning.

While research has shown that VR positively influences students' learning outcomes, it can also improve student-teacher interactions through practical hybrid implementation, whether in or out of the classroom. With VR as a classroom tool, teachers can motivate students and create a more collaborative and interactive studying environment. VR can be integrated into traditional teaching to create a unique experience adapted to each student's ability, style, pace and drive to learn, ensuring their readiness to advance through robust assessment.

Maximising VR's impact for experiential learning

VR supports more powerful visualisation, improves educational interaction, enhances collaboration, strengthens students' practical understanding, and delivers globally. Research and development must coincide with unlocking the maximum output and fully utilizing its benefits, as with any new technology.

It should be noted that VR does somewhat limit human interaction if not appropriately monitored and introduced with a guided programme and can cause isolation in younger generations. Still, with the proper research, developments and safeguards, the benefits of VR outweigh the risks. VR is a technology that can transform graduates' skillsets immediately recognized through practical applications. Learning through play, first-hand experiences and applied knowledge creates a more appealing environment for students and results in much stronger skillsets.

Whether through VR or other experiential learning tools, educational technology is at a turning point for leaders, educators, regulators and other stakeholders to take a proactive approach to invest in future generations and ride the wave of change. We have started to see these plans pan out in national transformation plans, even in emerging economies such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The UAE simulates the future through its recently inaugurated The Museum of the Future in Dubai, an architectural wonder.

The museum showcases an epic display of "Tomorrow Today" through augmented and virtual reality, visually demonstrating how technology reshapes our future and how our "Future Heroes" can learn through play and develop new skillsets.

As governments worldwide compete to be more resourceful and invest in social infrastructure, technologies such as VR are changing the status quo making education less conventional and advancing K-12, higher education and even vocational training. They are driven to improve outcomes and develop a more robust, better qualified and experienced workforce. These are the forces of change and we believe now is the time to act.

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