Building a Brighter Future: Better Educational Outcomes through Virtual Reality

The Intersection of Education and the Economy

Career technical education (CTE) has been in the national spotlight this year. The Obama Administration has made investment in CTE a priority, arguing that such investment is necessary to bring the economic recovery to a broader portion of the population and to maintain a well-trained and competitive workforce. In January “America’s College Promise” was announced, which prioritized making community colleges accessible to all Americans. Now the focus is shifting to increasing funding for “career academies,” or CTE programs aimed at helping high school students learn skills necessary to succeed on the job market (see program overview). These career academies will strive to create innovative solutions to preparing students for the labor market, including experimenting with “employer engagement, work-based learning opportunities, and flexible scheduling” (ACTE). In order for these promising programs to achieve their potential, innovative teaching must be promoted at all levels of the educational spectrum and emerging technologies must be explored and evaluated for their effectiveness. As I’ve written previously, the commercialization of virtual reality stands at the forefront of new technology-based revolutions primed to impact education broadly, but especially in the CTE space.

The VR opportunity in CTE Education

CTE includes many career pathways that require advanced training and high skills, yet don’t necessarily demand a four year bachelor’s degree. Career paths include IT, nursing, public safety, construction, and manufacturing, among many more. Most of these industries have specific certifications with results-oriented training programs, and, in addition, CTE programs at high schools and community colleges are often closely integrated into the local business community, creating opportunity for investment into new training methods. Specific, measurable outcomes for training programs will allow the impact of VR based programs to be definitively established, and could ultimately spur the adoption of VR across the educational spectrum.

Backing it up with higher ed research

In order to understand its efficacy for training and learning purposes, virtual reality has been the subject of and a tool for researchers at major universities across the country. Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab’s research into changing behavior through virtual environment found in a recent study that behavior is more likely to change when immersed in a virtual environment and when using physical motions within the virtual simulation. This is a powerful conclusion for the future of education. The premise is clear- if students can see and be immersed in virtual environments, they will more quickly master the skills being taught. Similarly, VR simulations can be used to recreate real world situations, allowing researchers to answer questions they previously could not explore. For example, the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work is using VR “to recreate the real-world environment exactly” in order to study addiction and pioneer immersive strategies for patient treatment.

Role of Digital Technologies for Deeper Learning

Inevitably, skeptics will argue that “despite rapid technological advances, across the board improvements in teaching remain elusive,” and, rightfully so- the burden must rest on proponents of VR to prove that it’s impact will be different from the failed promises of past technological innovations. However, VR is well on the way toward gaining established credibility for its role in improving learning outcomes. A Jobs for the Future report titled “Role of Digital Technologies for Deeper Learning” found that “two technology-based instructional strategies… have been found to be particularly effective: using digital teaching platforms and teaching with immersive authentic simulations.”

Early pilots conducted by Alchemy VR at 10 schools are already showing the impact of virtual reality on students. The technology elicits enthusiasm for and engagement with the content in a way that teachers rarely see, as 100% of piloting teachers reported “significant” or “very high” engagement from their traditionally lower performing students. Alchemy VR pilots have been administered across a range of age groups, from elementary schools to high schools, such as Green Street Academy, a Baltimore area CTE charter school (see further info here). It is becoming apparent that VR (or immersive authentic simulations) has the power to create new realities and imbed learners within them- the possibilities are truly endless.

Conclusion

Neither career technical education nor virtual reality are new phenomenon, but the recent consumerization of virtual reality has brought these two domains together as price points on powerful immersive technologies precipitously drop. As such, CTE, which has long played an important educational and economical role, must rapidly evolve to keep up with technological change in the workplace.

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Alchemy Learning, the leader in integrating virtual reality into online learning, is creating Alchemy VR, a mobile-ready solution for disseminating immersive and interactive virtual reality learning experiences. Alchemy Learning partners with leading organizations to bring their content and expertise to learners through highly innovative and impactful VR technologies. If your organization is interested in learning more about Alchemy VR or partnering with Alchemy Learning contact us at info@alchemylearning.com or at 410–429–0084.


Originally published at alchemylearning.com on August 17, 2015.