Here’s Five Reasons Why Education is Ready to Embrace the Metaverse
The morning bell rings, and the teacher walks into the classroom. After a warm greeting for the students, she asks the students to “gear up”, and initiate the first chapter, Solar Systems. As the lecture begins, she begins to guide the students through planet Mars, its various landscapes, and encourages them to try touching the rocks on the planet. Through the entire immersive experience, the teacher explains the planet’s orbital period, surface geology, and climate using interactive graphs and modules. When the lesson ends, the students step out of the classroom, and jump into the school “playground”, at the click of a button, where they proceed to play racquet sports and engage in martial arts.
This is what education in the metaverse may look like. And while it is a significant work in progress, we might not be too far from it.
What is the Metaverse?
A virtual environment where one meets with people in digital spaces, the Metaverse is an environment inside the internet, in contrast to looking at it on a mobile device.
From a technology POV, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and virtual spaces (such as Roblox, Fortnite, Decentraland) are the primary components that make up the metaverse. So in essence, you could be someone in Decentraland (aka, your planet) and attend events or engage in experiences which are enhanced by VR and AR (dancing, for example).
On the other hand, it is also a digital economy, where people can buy, sell, and trade goods and assets. These assets could include virtual land, cars, clothing, and what not. And while this may sound a bit absurd, i.e. the idea of buying virtual land, the smallest parcel of land on Decentraland (Link) costs 4.2 Ethereum (which translates to almost $11K).
Decentraland, the metaverse quoted above multiple times, runs on a Ethereum backed blockchain platform, and has its own currency called MANA. It is truly running an economy, where people are engaing in trade, and goods have value due to scarcity of resources.
So, what’s in it for education?
The COVID-19 pandemic created a global shift in education. Online learning started taking more visible shape, and we saw emergence of several e-learning models, which are here to stay. Schools have come online, with players such as 21K school running a formal schooling programs for more than 3,000 students across 35+ countries.
The metaverse will add an immersive component to this education, creating an environment where students can learn in person, online, or in the virtual world, aka the metaverse.
Here are five reasons why we think the metaverse can become an important factor in education:
1. Immersive Education
When students are taught about the wonders of the world today, they are generally shown pictures of The Taj Mahal, the tomb, the decorations, and the outlying buildings. But what if you could be a citizen of Agra in the year 1640, and be the apprentice to the head foreman overseeing the construction of the Taj Mahal? You could explore the city of Agra, interact with other citizens, and solve problems to learn more about the Taj Mahal and the Mughal Empire?
Oculus has an immersive learning experience called “Wonders of the World” (Link) that provides just that (and it was launched in 2018!).
Immersive learning provides realistic settings in which students can participate in situations and simulations. Immersive environments are created with artificial stimuli such as sounds and images that make users feel physically present in the virtual world.
2. Enhanced STEM Education
VR / AR simulations are also applicable in the STEM space, especially in areas such as medicine, healthcare, architecture, and construction.
For example, students can practically execute surgical skills and procedures in a learning environment, without the requirement of actual bodies/samples, for starters.
The Human Anatomy VR Experience by Oculus is a wonderful example for such a use case. (Link)
3. Interactive Fitness and Sports
One of the largest perceived drawbacks of virtual education is that students could be engaging in limited physical activity, with regards to their fitness.
And while the Metaverse has not particularly solved for problems around team sports such as Basketball/Football, the space has created amazing games which encourage casual and structured physical activity.
BeatSaber is a great example of a casual VR rhythm game where the goal is to slash the beats (represented by small cubes) as they are coming at the player.
On the other hand, BoxVR is a structured boxing workout game, where players jab, weave, and uppercut through workouts in time to pumping music.
Naturally, there are endless possibilities to how gamified learning can be introduced in the Metaverse through such games with extended applications which are aligned with curriculum frameworks. But more on that, later.
4. Life-Like Classrooms
The Metaverse presents potential to make online classrooms feel as real as possible. Instructors can build life-like objects for students to engage with and learn.
It is also perceived today that Metaverse avatars look funny and extremely “cartoon-like”. However, as the tech progresses, we expect that we will be able to build ultra-realistic avatars, which will enhance the learning experience inside the Metaverse.
You could also have study rooms for students to meet, and conference rooms for faculty to come together.
And this has already begun. For example, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) plans to build a virtual campus in Kenya. With plans to build a Metaverse, classes will be run using immersive learning experiences on campus with VR,AR, Image Recognition and Eye-Tracking tech.
Virbela, a US-based startup, provides universities a Metaverse service which allows the HEI to create customizable campuses with enterprise-grade security.
5. The Social
Interaction is the most important element of the Metaverse. The convergence of the real world and the virtual world allows everyone to see a different side of their friends and themselves.
Imagine being able to attend a concert or attend a party with people from all corners of the world. Here is where the ultra-realistic avatars will also come into play of course. Your social circle could look very different in the Metaverse.
Also, since the Metaverse is its own digital economy, there will be standard communication with other folks when it comes the day-to-day transactional nature of the Metaverse (buying clothing for yourself or supplies for your virtual house, for example).
While many people look at the Metaverse and say that meeting people digitally poses for limitations and problems, we think that the Metaverse transcends borders and cultures, and holds endless possibilities for what the world could look like.
But, what’s the catch?
- Accessibility: As with many technological interventions, inclusion is the biggest problem right off the bat. The more advanced the technology, the higher its cost. Today, the Oculus Quest 2, costs INR 37K (~$500) on Amazon, which is beyond expensive for most Indian families. And while the Metaverse is not all about AR/VR tech, even operating in Metaverses such as Decentraland or Sandbox require smooth handheld devices or laptops. The education use-case could lead to inequitable distribution, with only students from high-income groups having access to the Metaverse. There has always been a disparity in technology usage among learners, particularly in less developed regions of the world.
When the world shut down during the (ongoing) pandemic, students from lower-income families struggled to access a laptop. The Metaverse just adds an additional financial burden.
Maybe the answer to this lies in the possibility of a Moore’s Law like graph for Metaverse Technology. As the tech becomes more and more powerful, we could have the tech resources become cheaper, hopefully in par with the prices of headsets or standard mobile devices. (Sounds insane, but we would not be surprised)
- Tech Know-How: Let’s say that we hypothetically cross the financial bridge. The next challenge becomes distributing the knowledge to operate the various tools that encompass the Metaverse. Maybe, the first-step here is to create an ecosystem of “teachers”, who hold significant knowledge about the Metaverse themselves, and eventually become technology experts who help governments, universities, and schools in implementation of such learning modules. (A great certification based learning program it seems like, with a lot of room to make money as well. Meta is probably already on it)
- Content Creation: Oculus today has done a wonderful job of creating/sourcing educational content across STEM, Arts, History, Geography, and Travel. However, a lot of the content is today created from an America-first (or First-world) approach and is not necessarily globally inclusive. We expect that a lot of players will emerge in the space, who create immersive learning experiences catering to local educational frameworks (certainly in interesting opportunity for major publishers in India)
- Privacy: Challenges in privacy remain with ongoing debates about personal data being compromised and misused when users face-scan to create their avatars.
The possibility of reality-altering capabilities of applications could pose a risk to young users’ safety and well-being as well.
What’s in it for the investment ecosystem?
The adoption of Metaverse is still fairly nascent and fragmented, with no real clarity on what will be viable in the long term. We do not recommend / advice that the reader invest in any of the following asset classes, and are only sharing the below for informational purposes:
- Investing in Metaverses: The four major Metaverse players today are Meta (formerly Facebook), Decentraland, Axie Infinity, and Sandbox. As an investor, one could buy assets such as land, virtual homes, and corporate spaces in anticipation of capital appreciation of these assets. Another way of investing in these Metaverses is to purchase NFTs for items such as clothing, footwear, and artwork that can be traded in the Metaverses
- Investing in Currencies/Blockchain backing Metaverses: If you also believe that a Metaverse will do well, then investing in the currency on which the Metaverse runs could also be an avenue you could explore.
For example, MANA, the blockchain-based currency of Decentraland is also one of the potential investment opportunities in the space
- Investing in Startups Building Technology: Players who are focused on building efficient and affordable tech will come out on top when it comes to the education use-case. Platforms such as Virbela, who offer a Metaverse for educational institutions are helping create an ecosystem focused on education and the Future of Work. On the other hand, we expect OEMs to also start building VR technology which is affordable for all (watch out for companies like Xiaomi and Samsung)
- Investing in Startups Creating Content: Content is king. There are several companies today working on creating immersive experiences for the Metaverse. A few names are WNet, Flyover Zone, Melcher, and Phoria. We expect more and more players to come up in the space with a Local first, with global approach.
- Backing Web3 Funds: We are seeing more and more venture capital firms starting to look Web3 as a new investment vertical for them. There is also a significant of Web3 dedicate funds, such as Web3 Capital, Solana, Hashed, Founders Fund, and Everse Capital.
The Metaverse, as understood today, is extremely new with a lot of learning to be unboxed. Nonetheless, the space holds immense economic potential for corporates, individuals, and investors. And the best is yet to come.
Watch this space for more on EdTech, Education, and everything in between.