Our Community

Metaverse High Schools - The shape of things to come?

June 2, 2022

It seems like just the other day we were talking about the struggle many K-12 institutions had in adapting to online, blended or hybrid learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are very aware, that virtual high schools and K-12 offers partially or wholly in the metaverse are not about to happen overnight. We are not even saying that they should happen.

What is clear, is that this transition is taking place. Check into it, and you'll see that the schools dipping into immersive virtual learning environments are not as rare as they were, even a year ago. This is happening, and from where we are standing and observing, it seems to be picking up pace.

So what might that transition look like, and why would we want to go this route? What's in it for learners and institutions? Let's start by asking what it's all about!

Why do we need the metaverse at all?

A recent report from Hirsh Pasek et.al entitled A whole new world: Education meets the metaverse opens by saying that "Soon it will be as omnipresent as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook". This plays into a sense that the metaverse is unstoppable, inevitable, which it most likely is. However, they do not explain why we need it. That seems to be the best place to start when we are talking about something as emotive, or sacred even, as traditional K-12 education.

A great summary on XR today outlines the reasons why the metaverse is so advantageous. The main arguments seem to be that it can be more collaborative and accessible. Rather than siloed, passive consumers of Web2, we can interact and visualise information in a more visceral way. The idea of decentralisation and open source data is key too, which would imply that our rate of development could accelerate quickly. In a world facing climate, where bold technological and societal solutions are needed, they may very well be made easier in the metaverse.

These are early days, and we have no idea how things will unfold, but we seem to be at the stage where a diversity of voices are able to shape the metaverse, without trying to "own" it. Long may that last.

Immersive virtual learning at K12

Educators at K-12 already know about gaming. How could we not? So many of our learners are absolutely immersed in virtual worlds, teaming up with people they have never and will never meet to perform tasks, meet challenges, slay monsters, develop skills. Some are even professional E-sports players. Games like Roblox have 42 million active users, and that number is climbing fast.

These learners already know how it feels to live between physical and virtual worlds, and they know how to find their own way. This translates well into learning in a modern environment.

We do not learn best when we sit down to be instructed, and at least we all pretty much agree on that now. We learn best when we are supported to direct our own learning, explore and find our own way through, ask for help when we need it, but essentially use teachers as another learning resource, alongside peers, technology, community, experiences and our own reflection.

Learning immersively with technology is not a leap for Gen Z and Alpha, and institutions who can afford it can be quite confident of engagement and uptake. The Optima Classic Academy in Florida has provided 1300 students with VR headsets and is launching a metaverse classroom in August 2022. Learners can choose a range of study options, visiting ancient Rome, learning French at a virtual Parisian café or standing witness to the formation of galaxies. They will then supplement this work with independent research and learning to consolidate what they did in the metaverse.

We are not talking about dipping a toe in the virtual waters of AR in the classroom, for example, but full learning environments in the metaverse. That can be a scary prospect to many, but looking at Optima Classic's example, the metaverse can augment and complement other forms of learning, rather than replace it. As superfast 5G connections become more ubiquitous, and the price of the tech falls (even a little), we are going to see more institutions setting up metaverse learning environments and integrating them.

Learners will most likely love the opportunity to explore and direct their own learning virtually, although the jury is still out on how to manage mental health, identity and wellbeing in a scenario where our physical and virtual selves can develop separately. If the technology is user-friendly and affordable, uptake will ramp up very soon, but institutions do need to take advice on how to prepare for the shift. Having more engaged learners who can experience learning in a richer, deeper way is incredible, but our duty of care comes first. This is another reason why metaverse learning will not become commonplace in the next few years.

K-12 in transition

Transitioning to full metaverse learning can happen step by step, and this is really positive. Schools which are already offering education programmes online can quite easily partner with tech companies to augment that offer with more immersive learning. One more recent example of this is the American High School, which is a fully online school in the US, with a virtual learning component.

AHS students are all over the world, and though they do offer structured programmes like getting your American High School Diploma, how they get there is customisable. With a fully digital learning environment, they can build learning pathways around individuals, so that learning can be personalised.

So here is the thing. Up to now, what we have been describing could be a 2D online learning environment, much the same as many institutions developed during the pandemic. There is a foundation here, in that we have really seen how online learning can give more people access to learning on their terms, and makes managing personalised pathways so much more viable.

On this foundation comes the next step. AHS partnered with The PIEoneer award-winning Victory XR who have helped bring 2D TO 3D. Immersive learning through VR headsets mean that students can, in the words of AHD "experience the inside of a heart, build atoms in space, explore the Pyramids of Giza, virtual museums.". By attending a virtual campus and learning in 3D, they have quite literally taken the best of what online learning has to offer, and added a new dimension.

So why should we take notice?

The learning for institutions can and should begin now. Equipping ourselves with a greater understanding of the opportunities and challenges, and opening ourselves to change and to new conversations about education 3.0, are what will make all the difference to our relevance in 10 or 20 years. If we are left behind, we will not catch up. More than this, we owe it to learners to provide the best experience possible, and to do so in a way that works with their world and their future.

We've barely begun to make sense of how the regular internet has affected education, communication, knowledge sharing, ownership, and perhaps even changing our brains. Now comes something new, and it is understandable that we adopt a "wait and see" attitude, but this time we are not all experiencing it n the same way. Our learners at K-12 are already deep in the transition, flowing with it, and becoming comfortable with a whole new relationship with technology.

For schools who had to react quickly and get online learning set up, you may by now have had the chance to see how amazing it can be for learners when done right. We didn't ask for it, but the pandemic did give us an accelerated learning opportunity, and that just might be a stepping stone to the future, rather than a reaction to the present.

For schools making this transition, reshaping their offer and trying to find new ways to communicate what you do and build broader learning communities, talk to us at NEO to see how we can help. We really are in this together.

This is some text inside of a div block.