The metaverse is coming to education: fourteen key talking points
The arrival of this technological innovation opens the door to changes in the way we learn
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)
The metaverse is one of the most keenly debated aspects in the digital world, and the eLinC report provides an in-depth study for understanding the background, the current situation and the possibilities that are opening up as this technological innovation is applied in the field of education.
Background: technological dependence and videogames
The latest initiatives linked to exploring the metaverse by companies including Facebook and Microsoft highlight their interest in controlling this new technological realm, following reports suggesting that it is a technology of the future, and that it can be very appealing to young people. An analysis by The New Consumer in 2021 reported that 45% of individuals who are members of generation Z feel most comfortable in an online environment. Meanwhile, a study by Wunderman Thompson shows that 76% of the respondents believe that their lives and their everyday activities depend on technology.
Companies producing video games – which have become the most significant precedent for the current state of the metaverse – have been crucial in laying the foundations for the present situation. Videogame platforms, where millions of users connect every day, have normalized the use of avatars. The figures for Roblox show how users between the ages of 15 and 25 create more messages on the platform than they send on WhatsApp.
The metaverse and education: 14 insights
This dynamic is now apparent in education technology. Since 2020, investment in educational technology has tripled and, in 2021, it amounted to 20 billion dollars, according to figures from the Brighteye European Edtech Funding Report.
The report lists 14 questions that place the metaverse's potential disruptive influence on education into context.
- Transition of content and environments. The digitalization of the learning process is evolving as the metaverse emerges. The pandemic paved the way for the transition to hybrid educational environments. This new era is a paradigm shift that entails moving from a hybrid or digital in-person process to a fully immersive one.
- Improving the quality of learning: personalization and matching the student's pace. The metaverse will influence the process, as the students themselves will be able to explore immersive environments on their own; the analysis of the information generated in these environments combined with artificial intelligence also has the potential to help redefine the learning process to make it more personalized.
- Leveraging the new, proven possibilities of virtual worlds. More than 200 million unique users a month of videogame platforms such as Roblox show ways of relating and engaging with digital environments. Roblox has built a learning pathway for students under 18 years old, which shows them how to use the internet safely, and teachers are beginning to use it in their own learning pathways.
- From lecturing to gamification. The importance of including gamification as a tool in the educational process increases with the metaverse. Immersive technologies make the user's experience a more profound one.
- Reaching a greater number of students. The larger the potential market, the greater the potential for a business to grow in the field. The metaverse will offer the opportunity to expand within the existing market, generate a new market or create adjacent markets.
- The gap between educational supply and the demand for talent. The metaverse and virtual reality technology are already being applied in training programmes by companies aiming to equip their workers with new skills. Bank of America was one of the first to use it, with about 50,000 employees.
- The access challenge: digital and generational divides. The development of the metaverse requires significant investments in technological infrastructure. Any educational institution that wants to develop its contents and learning methodologies towards the metaverse will have to invest in it if it does not want to make access and use exclusive. The development of the metaverse also entails an understanding of what immersive reality and a virtual world entail. This is a challenge for any educational institution planning to include participants of a certain age.
- Redesigning educational environments. Introducing the metaverse into education means replicating the physical infrastructure in the digital environment. These environments are currently being replicated with the creation of digital graphical representations of physical structures.
- Transforming the role of student and teacher. The metaverse is ushering in changes in the role of the student (who is no longer defined as a recipient of content, but instead plays a leading role) and of the teacher (who will adopt the role of a facilitator).
- Understanding the new ways of capturing attention. In 2003, Stanford University founded the Virtual Human Interaction Lab as a research institution in order to understand the psychological effects of augmented reality use on behaviour. The experience has highlighted issues concerning the factors triggering the participant's attention in a learning process.
- Tackling assessment and monitoring challenges. The metaverse will have a major impact on the participants' assessment and monitoring processes. This means that assessment criteria must be redefined, taking into account that the metaverse affects how the participants' evolution is ascertained and monitored. There are also some doubts about privacy, and finally, it will be necessary to take into account how group work will evolve.
- New partners in education. The metaverse can take two forms in the field of education: an adaptation model, in which the content and methodology of educational models are adapted to metaverse technology, or a transformation model, involving the creation of ecosystems made up of universities and educational institutions, businesses and technology companies.
- Setting standards. Several major technology companies have made a commitment to this technology. It is essential to know whether this commitment is based on uniform standards, or if each company is creating its own standards.
- Interoperability, blockchain and non-fungible tokens. Interoperability is one of the major challenges in the metaverse ecosystem. Ensuring that the digital assets that have been created in one metaverse can be used in another will undoubtedly be one of the key factors in its adoption.
"The potential of the metaverse in the field of education can be considerable, and that's why the eLinC commissioned this initial study," explained Sílvia Sivera, the director of the eLinC at the UOC. "It remains to be seen how this world of alternative virtual reality brings added value to the learning processes of the future, and how it fits in with on-site, blended and fully online educational models like ours," she pointed out.
This report is part of the UOC's commitment to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, Quality Education.
Analyses and insights on the potential impact of the metaverse on the education sector. Marc Cortès. UOC, eLinC (2022): http://hdl.handle.net/10609/141246. Available in English, Spanish and Catalan.
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.
Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).
The University also cultivates online learning innovations at its eLearning Innovation Center (eLinC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer via the Hubbik platform.
The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu #UOC25years
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