Where is VR/AR and Education Now?
In March 2014 Facebook bought Oculus and the current wave of interest in VR and AR was reborn. While the public largely scoffed at the awkward goggles, industry pundits proclaimed VR/AR would one day replace our 2D screens, and highlighted education as one of the top applications in the years to come. Some analysts projected that education would be the 4th largest sector for VR/AR investment.
So three years and several months later, halfway to 2020, how has adoption of VR/AR in education progressed?
Here’s a brief overview of the current state in VR/AR education.
#1 VR/AR is proving to be an effective learning tool
In both corporate training and K-12, companies and schools are reporting positive results about the impact of VR/AR on retention, engagement, and efficiency. Upskill, an augmented reality software training company, has cited seeing on average a 32% improvement in the workforce of their clients. They work with clients including GE, Boeing and others. A public speaking application by Virtual Speech boasts that 92% of users said they felt more confident after practicing soft skills in the experience. Research studies conducted by North Carolina State University show “significant improvement” in children’s (sixth to eighth grade) learning after using zSpace’s VR platform.
#2 — The number of interactive teaching tools for K-12 teachers has exploded
Of the 25+ venture-backed VR/AR education companies that launched since 2014, over ten cater to K-12 teachers, providing interactive tools, learning software, augmented books, and lesson plans aligned to Common Core standards. Several companies including MergeVR, Curiscope, zSpace, Google Expeditions, QuiverVision and others couple these teacher resources with physical hardware or tactile tools to further engage learning.
#3 — Corporate training with VR/AR has expanded to more industries
VR/AR has been used to train employees in manufacturing, engineering, defense and aerospace industries for quite some time. In the last three years, the number of startups and companies catering to the corporate training market has continued to grow with use cases now expanding to training teachers(Mursion), sales representatives, customer service, football players (Strivr) and more.
#4 — VR/AR edtech startups are starting to raise large financing rounds
Companies including zSpace, Nearpod and Upskill were all founded before 2014, but began receiving much larger venture funding in recent years. zSpace and Nearpod, which both provide VR software solutions for K-12 teachers, raised impressive amounts of $56mm in 2015 and $30mm in 2016/2017, respectively. Upskill raised $28.6mm prior to raising its undisclosed Series B round in 2017. These financing rounds all push or hover right around median financing roundsfor the broader tech industry, showing VR/AR investment in education is being taken seriously.
#5 Teacher adoption still lags
Despite the impressive leap in learning results, funding, solutions, and use cases since 2014, adoption amongst teachers still lags. Reports cite that just 6.7% of teachers are using VR/AR in their classroom, despite widespread access to inexpensive devices such as the Google Cardboard. 88 million cardboard devices were sold in 2016, yet even those require a smartphone and content to use. Google Expedition Kits, a complete set including chargers, phones, viewers and content are still quite expensive, retailing at $3,999 for 10 students.
The supply side of the VR/AR education market is bursting with meaningful and effective solutions. The challenge over the next few years will be to increase adoption amongst educators. This will require greater awareness at the institutional / district / corporate level, lower hardware prices, and ultimately something VR alone cannot solve — additional teacher time and capacity to learn new technologies.