Social distancing & education: How new tech can bridge the gap

Social distancing & education: How new tech can bridge the gap

Over the last few months the very fabric of society has been reimagined, with the education sector subject to some of the biggest changes since lockdown hit. University students are facing months outside of the classroom due to COVID-19, with primary and secondary schools facing their own challenges to minimise disruption to studies whilst keeping students safe. But the world of education also has the most to gain from technological innovation that can bridge the gap to keep students engaged whilst social distancing remains in place. Where tech and education intersect exists huge potential to breathe life into tired teaching practices, creating fresh opportunities for interactive distance learning and supporting schools and institutions as they adapt to the new normal.

‘XR’ or extended reality is one key technology that can close physical distances with the help of advanced augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies. Accessible from multiple devices including VR headsets and smartphones, XR simulations enable the kind of on-the-job learning that, until recently, has only been achievable in real life settings. Unlike in-person lectures, classes or training sessions, XR is making it possible - and affordable - to deploy teaching quickly and at scale to large numbers of students and employees. It’s immersive qualities mean little is lost in terms of nuance, vibrancy and interactivity when in-person teaching is replaced with extended reality.

Whereas traditional teaching formats can be expensive and slow - requiring readily available professionals to deliver lessons in situ - XR is making experiential learning accessible, repeatable and on-demand at a safe social distance. It couldn’t have a more essential role to play in empowering educators and students with effective learning tools, at a time when the future of traditional classrooms looks uncertain.

What’s exciting is that we already know just how effective XR-led immersive learning can be. It’s proven to be a far more effective educational tool than traditional lessons and lectures, with a Virti study finding that learning retention rates can be as high as 230% when XR is used to deliver teaching - compared to just 10% for reading or a lecture and 20% for video delivery. Virti’s tech has also been shown to reduce skill-fade by 52% and improves learner confidence by 77%. The research evidences the extent to which repeatable, interactive and data-led learning enabled by XR can enhance opportunities for students across the board, even at a distance.

New technologies are also able to provide students with the kind of objective feedback that human-led teaching simply cannot deliver. AI, for example, generates unique data-driven insights which then provide objective data on student performance, which would usually be subjectively assessed or missed during real world training settings. This is particularly effective when it comes to testing hard-to-measure soft skills. Characteristics such as empathy or self-expression can be practiced by having students communicate with an AI-powered virtual human. This interaction can then be objectively measured and analysed to generate enhanced feedback and scores, and repeated as often as is needed, to aid improvement and increase emotional connection. Students don’t need to be in the same room as their teachers to reap these benefits.

The adoption of XR stands to benefit institutions, too. Significant costs are associated with the travel, time and staffing burden of face-to-face training across the education sector. Embracing XR can help educators reduce the time and money spent on teaching, without compromising on quality delivery. Once a simulation or module has been created it can be used indefinitely and repeatedly, boosting knowledge retention rates whilst standardising teaching across year groups and institutions; and helping educators get the biggest bang for their buck.

Crucially for right now, learning using XR technology can help keep people safe. Easily deployed at scale to large numbers of learners, XR simulations and training modules are easily accessed at a distance, offering a standardised experiential learning experience even for students scattered across the globe. Realistic simulations, interactive testing and enhanced opportunities for practice and feedback mean little substance is lost when learning is taken out of the classroom and into remote settings. In fact, as the data shows, much could be gained. This is of huge significance to universities, medical schools and primary and secondary schools looking for new, evidence-based ways to deliver teaching, which also protect students and staff.

With social distancing measures set to be in place for the foreseeable future, innovative solutions that maximise learning potential without compromising on safety are going to prove crucial to both educational institutions and organisations looking to deliver quality teaching over the coming months. The evidence-base for the effectiveness of XR speaks for itself, with its far-reaching capabilities and unexplored possibilities creating a wholly positive outlook for the future of learning in a socially distanced world. The sky’s the limit in terms of who, what and where this tech can teach.