The way students learn about subjects from the Middle East to Mars and from history to health care is undergoing a remarkable transformation. No longer will faculty be limited by pictures in a textbook or videos on classroom televisions. A new wave of technological innovation is redefining what it means to learn — bringing to life new places, topics and experiences in ways that will revolutionize learning for students, no matter where they live.
Today colleges and universities are exploring the power of immersive learning technologies to solve real learning challenges, offering benefits for students in fields from nursing education and engineering to construction and surveyor training. This is being done through immersive learning, as facilitated through virtual reality and new technologies such as Microsoft HoloLens, an “augmented” or “mixed” reality device that allows users to see and interact with holograms in their own environment.
An Explanation of Immersive Technologies
Augmented/Mixed Reality — In Augmented Reality (AR), learners can still see the environment around them, but digital content is overlayed into their space. Mixed Reality (MR) is a subset of AR and is powered by a headset – usually a 3D holographic model – which is superimposed over the user’s current surroundings. MR allows the user to walk around and interact with said model and analyze it from angles or select specific areas with which to interact (see image). Mobile-based AR allows users to view digital content via a handheld device (see image). The user can be guided by voiceover located in the headset and only needs to use their hands and own body movements to control interactivity within the environment.
Virtual Reality — Virtual Reality (VR) is a completely immersive experience in which users are taken from their real world surroundings and transported virtually into an entirely new digital and game-like environment. The user can look around and see a full panoramic view of what is happening in the virtual space, and can listen to accompanying audio, and interact with things that they see. In being unable to see what is happening outside of the headset, the user is fully transported into this virtual world, allowing us to use visualization in new and previously unimagined ways.
360 Content – This is a full panoramic video or photographic view of a real environment – similar to VR but with video. This 360 content can be viewed in a headset or via PC.
Immersive Learning in Action at Colleges and Universities Around the World
Pearson is collaborating with Microsoft to explore the power of mixed reality to solve real challenges in areas of learning, ranging from online tutoring and coaching, nursing education, and engineering to construction and surveyor training. With Microsoft HoloLens, the world’s first self-contained holographic computer, Pearson is developing and piloting mixed reality content at colleges, universities and secondary schools in the United States and around the world.
HoloLens embraces virtual reality and augmented reality to create a new reality – mixed reality. With virtual reality, the user is immersed in a simulated world. Augmented reality overlays digital information on top of the real world. Mixed reality merges the virtual and physical worlds to create a new reality whereby the two can coexist and interact. By understanding the user’s environment, mixed reality enables holograms to look and sound like they are part of that world. This means learning content can be developed for HoloLens that provides students with real world experiences, allowing them to build proficiency, develop confidence, explore and learn.
For example, at Bryn Mawr College, a women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, faculty, students, and staff are exploring various educational applications for the HoloLens mixed reality devices. They are testing Skype for HoloLens for connecting students with tutors in Pearson’s 24/7 online tutoring service, Smarthinking. If successful, this out-of-the-box solution could provide struggling students with richer, more personalized just-in-time support from expert tutors as if they were sitting side-by-side. Bryn Mawr will also experiment with using holographs and mixed reality to explore 3D content and concepts in a number of academic disciplines, including physics, biology, and archaeology.
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock and San Diego State University are both part of a Pearson mixed reality pilot aimed at leveraging mixed reality to solve challenges in nursing education. Today many nursing programs hire and train actors to simulate scenarios nurses will face in the real world — a process that is hard to standardize and even harder to replicate. As part of the mixed reality pilot, faculty at the two universities’ schools of nursing are collaborating with Pearson to improve the value and efficacy of the types of simulations in which students participate. To develop the content for this pilot, Pearson will use Microsoft’s holographic video capture capability, filming actors to simulate patients with various health concerns and then transferring that video into holograms for the student nurses to experience in a clinical setting. When student nurses participate in the simulations using HoloLens, they will have a real world experience diagnosing patients, building the confidence and competence that they will need in their careers.
Pearson’s work with mixed reality and HoloLens isn’t limited to higher education. The company is in the early stages of evaluating the impact of holographic learning at the late grammar school stage. At Canberra Grammar School in Australia, Pearson is working with teachers in a variety of disciplines to develop holograms for use in their classrooms. The University of Canberra is partnering with Pearson to provide support for the project and evaluate the impact these holograms have on teaching and learning.
It’s exciting to see how these technologies are being leveraged to create high-quality immersive learning experiences designed to meet specific learning needs in higher education and vocational training. With the addition of effective faculty training to help educators become more confident with the use of these technologies in the classroom, immersive learning can make a measurable difference in the lives of students and instructors.