Virtual reality – revolutionising education?

Contributed by Janine Hornsby

Marketing manager

Fri 18 Dec 2020

Imagine a time when teachers are more like mentors, guiding their students through a personalised development plan, where students can learn at their own pace with others of the same level and not just the same age. Imagine immersive and interactive virtual reality learning experiences that engage students. A future where a range of subjects is available for students to choose from according to their interests and in line with their personalised plans.

Having lived through the experience of remotely teaching your pupils and/or homeschooling your own children during COVID-19, many of you probably think the above scenario is a distant reality that can’t come fast enough! I’m here to assure you that there are already schools, such as the Steve Jobs School in the Netherlands, that have adopted this approach with great success, and the future is nearer than you think here in the UK. 

Many educators are calling for a permanent move towards blended learning post COVID, where virtual delivery is as engaging, immersive and impactful as our in-person delivery. Webinar-style delivery was necessary during the lockdowns, and teachers did what they could to make it work, but that approach alone is not the most effective virtual teaching method.

The pandemic’s effect on education cannot be overstressed, but it has also hit the publishing industry very hard. Many printers were unable to print books, books could not be shipped across borders easily, many physical bookshops were closed, and authors found it difficult to promote their books without events and book fairs.

Like many other people, I lost my job in 2020. I was a marketing manager for an international publishing company, where I spent all day promoting books and authors. It was great fun for a bookworm like me, and I had access to thousands of free books! Unfortunately, when the pandemic struck, my employer made the difficult decision of making many employees redundant, including me.

It was a chance for me to think about what I wanted to do moving forward. As a former secondary school teacher, I knew I wanted to be involved with education again but not in that capacity. I enjoy the creativity and the analytics of marketing more, plus I have a work-life balance I never had when teaching. After 12 years of working in education, I had completed an MA in literature, left teaching and joined the publishing industry. I also gained an MBA at Westminster Business School.

So, when the opportunity came up at Marshall Centre to market its training and apprenticeships, I jumped at it! The role allows me to utilise all the transferable knowledge in education that I have gained over the years within an amazing team of innovative colleagues. It suits me perfectly as I advocate for lifelong learning, and I am a strong believer that the only thing more contagious than enthusiasm is the total lack of it! 

Virtual training makes learning fun

One of the great things about working at the Marshall Centre is that I see first-hand a way of leading positive change in how we deliver learning to students. I am part of a team developing a virtual training centre that offers customised virtual reality learning experiences to make independent learning fun.  

Book2All author blog - Janine Hornsby Virtual learning – revolutionising education
Virtual reality can make learning more fun

I’m lucky to be involved with designing the future of classroom education, but I have not lost sight of the fact that, although the pandemic will not last forever, its impact on how we learn and work is likely to be enduring. Accelerated by lockdowns and school closures, the current crop of students are now learning independently more than we have ever seen before. This change dovetails naturally with the blended learning project, of which I am now part. Virtual learning is suddenly closer to becoming the new normal than even those involved in its inception could have imagined.

The interactive lessons are designed to reflect how students communicate outside of the classroom. By allowing children to interact in their usual way, virtual learning aims to boost their enjoyment of learning, leading them to retain more of the taught information.

Virtual learning is designed to be accessible to all

Immersive learning experiences such as ours, which go live from April 2021, are designed to be accessible to all schools, even those operating on a tight budget. The 360-degree space can be accessed through a virtual reality headset, a computer, a smartphone or a tablet, avoiding the need for expensive equipment.

The potential for this technology to help learners from disadvantaged areas, or learners who have disengaged from mainstream education, is also massive. Because there is no cost per user, you can train five or 5000 people at an inexpensive fixed monthly cost. The learning experiences are short, interactive and provide instant feedback, so learners can work at their own pace, without distraction or fear of public humiliation if they get an answer wrong.

Delivering learning through a virtual reality experience – as opposed to the webinar style of virtual lessons – will drastically reduce screen time and combat screen fatigue because the learner does not have to concentrate as intensely in a virtual reality world. If a learning experience lasts between 10 and 15 minutes, students can step away from their device for short breaks in between activities to maintain a healthy balance. Invaluable time is given back to teachers, who can focus more on developing pupils’ soft skills like resilience, learning how to learn, developing a growth mindset, and nurturing wellbeing; all the attributes that are vital for our next generation to be successful in the rapidly changing future of work.

However, I am at lengths to stress that virtual learning is intended as a supplement to classroom lessons and is not a substitute for conventional classroom teaching. Still, it would have been a boon if it had been widely in use this year, wouldn’t it?

Thank you for visiting our blog. Our vision here at Books2All is a world where every child finds the books that help them reach their true potential. If you have spare books in good condition at home that you think might be appropriate for school children, please sign up for our app’s pre-release waiting list. If you represent a school, please register to receive books for your students.

Banner image courtesy of The Virtual Marshall Centre, Cambridge

Inset photo courtesy of stem.T4L on Unsplash

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