There has been a notable change in the ways students learn over the past few years, since the emergence of technological advancements. From e-learning and mobile learning, to smart learning, classrooms have evolved and are not confined to traditional methods of imparting knowledge. It is evident that digitalisation is having a profound impact on education.

With the world literally at their fingertips, today’s students need schools and teachers to re-envision the role of technology in the classroom. 21st century learners are increasingly displaying new behaviours, skills and expectations.

Therefore, it is time to avail learners of new opportunities, by using emerging technologies, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, to further enhance the educational experience. Classrooms will now be seen as immersive and interactive spaces for smart learning.

Learning is the focus, and technology is just the conduit. VR provides a smart learning environment that puts learners at the forefront. This type of immersive and experiential learning has the potential to create a deeper level of engagement with target topics, in a distraction-free environment.

Such an environment creates chances for focus and attention on concepts, possibly heightening retention. Studies suggest that VR is playing a crucial role in creating excitement, maintaining enthusiasm and piquing the interests of students.

On-the-go mentoring with a proper dosage of artificial intelligence, neural networks and smart technologies, will continue to enhance this immersive, multi-directional interactive learning environment.

Virtual reality has the power to enhance the way students learn and more easily understand difficult concepts in new and amazing ways. It can connect students with hands-on experiences which involve specialised skill-set training; such as welding practice, carpentry, performing simple lab experiments and much more.

For instance, if a student who is learning about such a seemingly dry topic as potential and kinetic energy is afforded the opportunity to do so while taking a wild ride on a roller coaster, boredom can longer reign supreme. This topic cannot be considered dull and uninteresting.

The students would eagerly want to participate in this experience, wherein they can see theories at work. VR provides the opportunity to gain real-life-like experiences, explore worlds and situations which might be difficult, impossible, dangerous or just plain expensive in real life.

Virtual reality can change the way a learner interacts with the subject matter, as it provides new forms and alternate method of presentation of content. Immersive graphics and animation can allow better visualisation and offer an emulative feel. Use of three dimensional dynamic models is particularly useful in visualising complex structures and processes.

According to Edgar Dale’s concept of cone of experience, we remember 90 per cent of what we do. VR will help in building better learners who are active participants, and not passive recipients of information, which should help them to reflect on their experiences, use analytical skills to form a concept or an idea about the experience, make decisions and take constructive action. It provides for the involvement of more senses, enabling new ways of learning, while fostering intuitive skills within students.

But this will not be impactful enough without the teacher’s involvement. As teachers, one needs to know the level of engagement of his/her students, and identify gaps in learning. If the VR was properly set up for academic use, it would complete the circle and provide meaningful data to a teacher.

It would empower teachers to better understand a student’s connection with the material being taught, see the gaps and to attend those issues in a timely manner. This can only come by identifying the need to have a connection between the learner and teacher, best accomplished by the use of analytics and the reporting of student data from within the VR environment.

Giving an opportunity for meaningful feedback and dialogues, VR would make the teaching learning experience much more relevant and meaningful, for both students and teachers. It can be of great benefit to teachers to have a tool such as the VR at their disposal, but only if paired with the right content. Regardless of the medium, it is uncontroversial to reassert that content is king, and always will be.

Textbooks, videos, and DVDs share one thing in common, that without proper, vetted content, they will all undoubtedly end up collecting dust on a shelf. VR can suffer that same fate, unless wise decisions are made with respect to content, and how and why the VR is utilised.

Only then can we harness the power that this new device potentially possesses, and positively affect the learning environments and lives of our students. But the key is that it has potential. VR is not a panacea, nor is it a fad. Only wise choices will allow its true value to be realised.

The writer is senior education consultant, Veative Labs.