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In 1992, Neal Stephenson, a sci-fi writer, introduced the metaverse concept in his novel, Snow Crash. The characters in the novel become avatars and work in a 3D virtual reality, called the metaverse. Subsequently, after this concept appeared, efforts and research were carried out to turn this metaverse into reality.
The applications of the metaverse are already being seen in several fields such as the gaming sector, entertainment, socialising, work, commerce, the healthcare system, and many more. The global value of the education sector is expected to be over $10trillion by 2030 and the EdTech market size alone is thought to be likely worth $318billion by 2030. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that those developing the metaverse are exploring a manner of ways in which it can be used in the education sector as a new way to teach people on a global basis.
Global education and training sector
What is the metaverse?
A more comprehensive description considers the metaverse as the next generation mobile-computing platform which will take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and an ever-increasing connectivity to create online environments which are more immersive, experiential and interactive than what currently exists.
The metaverse as an educational tool
When it comes to education, learning and training, there is more need for innovation. Schools and education centres do more than simply training; they actively shape and prepare young people for the future - something which goes beyond the workplace, lecture theatres, classrooms, and colleges. The metaverse has many established uses in the digital age but when it comes to education, there are speculations as to how the metaverse will significantly improve the sector, offering a new more immersive way of teaching and sharing knowledge using a wide range of one’s senses in a more memorable manner.
How can the metaverse change education?
Among the 4 existing types of metaverse - augmented reality, lifelogging, mirror world and virtual reality - virtual reality is the most diverse and actively used technology for educational purposes. Regardless of their real-life geographic locations, teachers and students can meet up in a virtual space through a virtual reality headset. Using the metaverse in this manner presents endless possibilities and a remarkable potential impact on education - for example, a group of students scattered around the world (but with a common interest in learning history) and a teacher based in Nigeria who travels the world looking at and researching historical places. Although this sounds like an impossible classroom, with metaverse the teacher could ‘virtually’ meet with the students - irrespective of the different locations - and show them around ruins and castles. A more interesting feature of the metaverse is its ability to create a highly immersive 3D environment. This exciting feature helps not only in teaching but it improves assimilation, since it provides a serene and virtual academic environment creating the impression as if you were actually in a different place.
Although teaching and learning via the metaverse seem like an impracticable concept, it is already in use. Roblox is a Singapore-based firm using the metaverse to help make education global, interactive and memorable. It allows people to build and share their virtual worlds akin to Minecraft and Fortnite. This concept was originally for creation purposes for the firm’s 40 million users; however, the feature has been expanded upon to include Roblox classrooms (the classrooms may be virtual or not). The Roblox virtual classrooms allow students and teachers to log-in from wherever they are in the world. The lessons may be based on different things - for example, physics simulation to teach the student about the subject in a safe virtual environment, or role-playing simulation of historical events. Asides from eliminating the geographic barriers to learning, more than Roblox, the metaverse creates a therapeutic, immersive form of learning environment which improves both concentration and assimilation. A further example is STEMuli, which uses the metaverse to create the first hybrid school and lessons in Dallas in the US. Meanwhile, the metaverse is already being used by firms such as Accenture, as the publication, Forbes, has described: “Accenture built a corporate metaverse, the Nth Floor, so employees and new hires could have a new way to connect and collaborate.”
Benefits of using the metaverse as an educational tool
Unlike Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite, which have cartoonish visual aspects and can distract students from learning, a metaverse environment can be designed to look realistic, and captivate students. The metaverse environment also can replicate real-life locations. In the real world, more often than not teachers are unable oversee everything happening in a classroom. However, a metaverse educator has complete control over students' interactions and can even limit bullying or, by changing some permissions in the virtual space, separate students for disciplinary purposes. On the 14th April, 2014, 276 schoolgirls were abducted in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria. Since the 15th of April 2022, a total of over 1500 pupils have been kidnapped in Nigeria. Certainly keeping children in their homes rather than grouped in one area together with learning via a digital environment could have prevented disastrous incidents such as this, as well as school shootings.
Disadvantages of using the metaverse as an educational tool
The metaverse can present us with an entirely different learning experience from traditional schooling. A disabled child with a speech, hearing or visual impairment may indeed need bespoke support since it might not be understood or realised that the child needs help when interacting. Also, logging dozens of hours per week in a digital world for education and entertainment might result in the child neglecting his life in the real world and impair his real-life relationships, or even health and well-being. As yet, we do not know what the long-term effects of hours in the metaverse could result in. For anyone ever having worn a VRT headset, you may have experienced the initial disorientation of wearing it, or even the dizziness when you take the headset off. When it comes to virtual reality, there is also a case of accessibility and affordability. It will be difficult to adopt a means of education that currently is not widely available and cannot be afforded by the majority.
However, the rise of the metaverse has brought infinite possibilities and shown its potential to revolutionise sectors and occupations, such as entertainment, gaming, socialising, work and commerce. The education sector is certainly not excluded since the metaverse has the potential to upgrade many aspects of learning. Going forward, this new concept is undoubtedly expected to contribute to improving teaching, learning, and comprehension.