Metaversities: Education Meets the Metaverse
The means by which humans learn are constantly evolving. Thanks to technology, a multitude of unprecedented possibilities have emerged over the last two decades. These have revolutionized the way we are exposed to and absorb information. Think, for example, about the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. It makes the 20-volume encyclopedia at your local library redundant, as it allows faster, easier, and cheaper access to an ever-growing web of up-to-date information. The same goes for learning languages, which today can be done via interactive smartphone applications at a fraction of the costs of a classroom setting while offering hundreds of languages to choose from.
Both of these services have opened the doors for millions of people to access information that they otherwise couldn’t. Thanks to technology, information and thus education are becoming exponentially cheaper and more accessible, which leads to higher levels of education across the population worldwide. With blockchain technology, metaverses, and virtual reality (VR) entering the picture, several companies have started developing new education applications and services. Their goal is to educate even more people in a better, faster, cheaper, and more efficient way by making full use of the possibilities now available thanks to these technologies.
What Are Metaversities?
The term describes the fusion of metaverse and virtual reality with the academic-learning experience at universities. Metaversities aim to create an immersive-learning experience in specifically designed metaverses. Thanks to virtual reality (VR), students will have in-class (or even superior, as VR is not bound to physical limitations) learning experiences from anywhere in the world.
Virtual learning platforms have been around for two decades. With the launch of the popular virtual world game Second Life back in 2003, the idea of virtual classrooms was born. Several universities experimented with virtual classes and avatars at the time. However, the technology proved to not be advanced enough to create a pleasant experience for both students and professors, so virtual classrooms were put on standby.
Thanks to advancements in technology over the last 20 years, specifically in 3D-rendering capabilities, faster speeds through 5G and fiber networks, and leaps in augmented reality (AR) and VR equipment, metaverses and with it virtual classrooms are now at a level at which they become a serious option for universities and other educational institutions again.
Being forced to shut down in-class education due to the worldwide lookdown mandates during COVID-19, many educational institutions were forced to go fully digital. This unique situation taught these institutions two valuable lessons.
- The need for high-quality online education is high and steadily increasing.
- Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and similar software are very limited in their ability to facilitate an immersive-learning experience.
With metaverse being one of the buzzwords within the tech world in 2021, and Facebook changing its name to Meta to show its commitment to the metaverse, the solution for the above challenges was obvious: Universities will have to develop their own metaverses with virtual classrooms, where online students could have the same learning experience as their in-person peers.
How Do Metaversities Work?
There are two general approaches when building metaversities. The first is called Digital Twin. Its goal is to replicate the in-person learning experience in the metaverse as closely as possible. Digital Twin is the virtual representation of the real campus and classroom. Thanks to sensors on the physical campus, large quantities of real-time data are collected to update the virtual campus, thus making it an exact replica of the physical place. This creates a complex virtual model, which visualizes crucial information about the real campus and its classrooms. For students, it thus should make no difference if they are attending a course in person or online via VR, as they will have the same experience, both in classroom and lab settings.
The second approach is called Metaverse-First and is largely detached from traditional academics. It focuses on providing the most advanced learning experience possible in line with recent scientific findings for optimized learning. This includes, among others:
- Self-paced learning: Students can learn anytime, theoretical parts can be learned outside of class time. Interactive learning can be done with other students or with AI avatars in the metaverse.
- Blended learning: Virtual or simulated lab allows students to experiment freely. Complex phenomena such as atoms, chemical reactions, and human organs can be studied in detail through virtual simulations.
- Personalized learning for individual students: Students get introduced to harder tasks after they have mastered a certain level.
- More accurate grading: Students are graded differently than in traditional academics. Instead of assigning a single grade for a course, virtual learning will allow for a more detailed assessment, both in theoretical and applied skills.
The Metaverse-First approach allows for more customization for each individual student. The educational institution is only defining the learning outcomes for each course and the degree program as a whole. The methods, tools, and pace used for learning are chosen by each student individually.
How Will Metaversities Change Education?
Metaversities, and more generally spoken, education in the metaverse will have a massive impact on the educational landscape. The most obvious benefit is a significant reduction in cost for higher education such as medical school or an engineering degree. Metaversities will enable universities to scale and teach students worldwide, offering similar benefits to online students than to on-campus students but at a fraction of the cost.
Secondly, education through the metaverse will further encourage self-learning. YouTube is currently teaching and educating millions of viewers. Some would even argue that many students learn more relevant skills from YouTube than from their regular school attendance. But YouTube is limited in its capability to teach hands-on experience. Putting VR technology into Youtubers‘ hands will enable them to not only teach theoretical knowledge but to impart practical experience and skill to students as well.
For children and adolescents, metaversities will also be a great place for “edutainment.” This combination of education and entertainment is teaching students knowledge and skills in a fun and playful way. One of the most promising ways to successfully transfer knowledge and skills is through video games, which require the players to master certain skills like coding, languages, or math in order to excel in the game.
Not only universities are experimenting with virtual classrooms and education in the metaverse. Private companies like Meta are also entering the education space. In a recent presentation, Mark Zuckerberg highlighted that education will be a key focus for Meta in the years to come. A part of his vision for Meta is to build an immersive VR learning experience for his users. And Meta is not the only company focusing on education in the metaverse. Other competitors are also developing their own form of metaversities.
For students and learners, this is good news. The higher-education space is likely to get more crowded and competitive thanks to metaversities. This will result in more options, lower prices, and a higher quality of education.