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VR: A route to success for learners

Our experimental work on artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)  will deliver many benefits.

The Role of Virtual Reality (VR) in Learning Management Systems

The Role of Virtual Reality (VR) in Learning Management Systems

2 August 2017

In our mission to build the World’s best LMS, we are already experimenting with VR and AR. We see a future where our LMS course builder will make it easy to load and play VR and AR content and playback through VR goggles or AR devices such as Microsoft HoloLens.

Video credit: Microsoft

The Development of AI

When you go for a virtual reality ride through the human cardiovascular system at a multimedia theme park, you are experiencing the next step in the evolution of digital learning environments-virtual reality simulation. This began with flight simulation systems which enabled airplane pilots to practice emergency situations, such as losing engine power, in a safe environment. Virtual reality (VR) today usually involves some kind of clothing such as a glove, goggles, or headset. In special centres the same effect can be experienced with large screens and hydraulics to move the cabin.

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The ultimate interactive learning environment will be online as a whole. It increasingly includes the vast repository of human knowledge, tools to manage this knowledge, access to people, and a growing galaxy of services ranging from sandbox environments for young learners to virtual laboratories for medical students.

Today's baby will tomorrow learn about Michelangelo by walking through the Sistine Chapel, watching him paint, and perhaps stopping for a conversation. Students will stroll on the moon. Petroleum engineers will penetrate the earth to the drill bit. Doctors will navigate through your cardiovascular system. Researchers will browse through a library. Vehicle designers will sit in the back seat of a car they are designing to see how it feels and examine the external view. Imagine the future applications you might create with Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML) the VR equivalent of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) used to compose home pages.

From linear to hypermedia learning

Traditional approaches to learning are linear. This dates back to the book as a learning tool, which is usually read from beginning to end. Stories, novels, and other narratives are linear. Most textbooks are written to be tackled from the beginning to end. TV shows and instructional videos are designed to be watched from beginning to end.

But today’s access to information is more interactive and non-sequential. Notice how a child channel surfs when watching television. Kids go back and forth between various TV shows and video games and no doubt this will be extended to surfing the Net as our TV’s are becoming Net appliances.

When surfing the Net, the new generation typically participate in several activities at once. When surfing some new material, they hyperlink to servers and information sources all over the place.

From instruction to construction and discovery

Seymour Papert says, "The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a child of the pleasure and benefit of discovery (Papert, p. 68)."

There is a shift in our understanding of good pedagogy; the art, science, and profession of teaching, to the emphasis around the creation of learning partnerships and learning cultures.  Where schools can become a place to learn, rather than just a place to teach.

We now find that today’s learners don't want optimised, predigested information. They want to learn by doing, where they synthesise their own understanding, usually based on trying things out. Learning becomes experiential.

This is not to say that learning environments or even curricula should not be designed. They can, however, be designed in partnership with the learners or by the learners themselves.

This approach is described by educators as the constructivist approach. Rather than assimilating the knowledge broadcast by an instructor, the learner constructs knowledge anew. Constructionism argues that people learn best by doing rather than simply being told; constructionism as opposed to instructionism.

The evidence for constructionism is persuasive, but shouldn't be too surprising. The enthusiasm a learner has for a fact or concept they "discovered" on their own is much more likely to be meaningful and retained than the same fact simply written out on an instructor's whiteboard.

From teacher-centred to learner-centred education

New media enables centring of the learning experience on the individual rather than on the transmitter. Further, it is clear that learner-centred education improves the child's motivation to learn. Learning and entertainment can then converge.

It is important to realise that shifting from teacher-centred to learner-centred education does not suggest the teacher is suddenly playing a less important role. A teacher is equally critical and valued in the learner-centred context, and is essential for creating and structuring the learning experience.

Learner-centred education begins with an evaluation of the abilities, learning style, social context, and other important factors of the student that affect learning. It would extensively use software programs which can structure and tailor the learning experience for the child. It would be more active, with students discussing, debating, researching, and collaborating on projects.

Immersive VR

We have seen that first-person experiences account for a great deal of our activity in the world and our learning about it. We have also seen that first-person experiences occur when our interaction with the world does not involve conscious reflection or the use of symbols.

Immersive VR allows first-person experiences by removing the interface that acts as a boundary between the participant and the computer. In this, VR technology is unique. It alone allows a synthetic experience to capture the essence of what it really means for a person to come to know the world.

Immersion in a virtual world allows us to construct knowledge from direct experience, not from descriptions of experience. Any learning that is mediated by a symbol system, whether text, spoken language, or computer, is inevitably a reflection of someone else's experience not our own.

Multi-participant VR, in which a group of participants inhabit the same world at the same time, allows the negotiation of meaning to take place should communication among participants be required.

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Immersion in a virtual world allows the same kind of natural interaction with objects that participants engage in in the real world. If cognition is non-symbolic and learning intimately tied to action, then it is through interaction with the virtual world that knowledge is constructed. The word "constructionism" is used to describe knowledge construction that arises from physical interaction with objects in the world. Immersive VR permits both physical and perceptual interactions to occur.

To the extent that VR can simulate the real world, it allows students to learn while they are situated in the context where what they learn is to be applied. Situated learning is both more relevant and successful than learning out of context.

Because a virtual environment is computed from data, it allows the participant three kinds of knowledge-building experience that are not available in the real world, but which have invaluable potential for education. These are size, transduction and reification.

Size

In a virtual world, one can get infinitely close to and far from objects allowing extremely large changes in size. For example, rather than bumping into a virtual wall, I can keep getting closer to it so that smaller and smaller details of the material from which it is made are revealed. I can see the cellular structure of the wood panelling, and can even enter the molecules and atoms of which it is ultimately composed. At the other extreme, I can "zoom out" from the wall, out of the house, the city, the country and the planet if I want, while still not violating any of the four conditions for immersion.

The video ‘Infinite zoom: The inner universe’, produced by Chris Tolworthy, conveys this idea far better than any written description.

The advantages of such changes of size for education are significant. On the one hand, it is possible for students to enter an atom, and at the other extreme it is possible for students to get a sense of the relative sizes of and distances between the planets of the solar system by flying from one to the other.

Transduction

Transducers such as goggles and headphones are used in VR hardware to present information to participants, and to convert participants' behaviour into commands to the rendering software.

Transducers are devices that convert information that is not available to our senses into forms that are. A depth sounder on a ship bounces sounds that we cannot hear off the bottom of the ocean that we cannot see and converts the echoes into digital or analog displays for us to read. HMD's (head-mounted displays) convert data into images on CRT's and sounds in headphones. But the data from which these transducers construct visual and auditory displays need not be originally obtained through the human senses. It is possible to convert the ultrasonic echolocation data from a bat into lower-frequency sounds or into visual displays so that we may indeed experience the world of the bat, albeit in the third person.

What is important for education is that as soon as students put on HMD's, they put on an infinite array of transducers. They can see the world as if through infrared or ultraviolet light. They can lay trails of pheromones and watch the behaviour of the moths that they attract. They can journey to the centre of the sun, or slow down the speed of an atom. And all the time, they are enjoying first-person experiences and constructing first-person knowledge about objects and events that are accessible to them in the real world only as third-person descriptions.

Reification

Changes in size and transduction give first-person access to experiences that students could not otherwise have. Some of these experiences arise from simulations of aspects of real objects and events, such as atoms or bats. Others arise from representations in perceptible forms, through transduction, of objects and events that have no physical form, such as algebraic equations or population dynamics. "Reification" is the process of creating these perceptible representations.

Reification stands in contrast to simulation. In simulations, virtual worlds contain facsimiles of real objects and their behaviour. Their advantage is that students can interact with them safely and that often virtual simulations are cheaper to build than full-blown physical simulators.

However, it is often the case that the power of VR is wasted when it is used for simulation. For example, if you enter a virtual world in which there is a virtual microscope through which you can look at a virtual drop of water, you gain nothing. Learning about the microscopic life-forms that live in the droplet is accomplished far more effectively by using a real microscope in the biology laboratory.

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The microscope in the virtual world is a transducer (revealing to the eyes what would not otherwise be revealed), and the participant is on the wrong side of it. VR comes into its own when, through a massive change of size, the participant jumps through the virtual microscope's eyepiece and into the drop of water, attaining the same relative size as the microorganisms that live there. At this scale, the experience is first-person.

Immersive VR furnishes first-person non-symbolic experiences that are specifically designed to help students learn material. These experiences cannot be obtained in any other way in formal education.

The convergence of theories of knowledge construction with VR technology permits learning to be boosted by the manipulation of the relative size of objects in virtual worlds, by the transduction of otherwise imperceptible sources of information, and by the reification of abstract ideas that have so far defied representation.

Conclusion

This leads to the conclusion that VR promotes the best and probably only strategy that allows students to learn from non-symbolic first-person experience. Since a great many students fail in education because they do not master the symbol systems of the disciplines they study, although they are perfectly capable of mastering the concepts that lie at the heart of the disciplines, it can be concluded that VR provides a route to success for learners who might otherwise fail in an education system as it is currently construed.

Create LMS for VR and HoloLens AR

Objective - Clients will not need Steven Spielberg sized budgets and will be able to create stunning VR and AR training using consumer grade devices. We are already shaping the processes and methodologies within the platform.

For clients such as:

  • Membership organisation - British Damage Management Association. In 2018 we hope to create VR tours of a fire damaged house with the subject matter expert imparting wisdom to the learner. The journey will be tracked along with test/quiz results.
  • Transportation industry clients will be able to map a vehicle to HoloLens AR, and run guided tours of new vehicles, approaches or processes, even practicing disaster recovery exercises within the actual environment with actions, timing and other elements fully scored and tracked.

Our experimental work on artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)  will deliver many benefits.

In the above video, our development team have mapped the office to HoloLens and added some stock holograms. These play or can display data as you approach or activate them with hand movement as can be seen in the video.  Within under a year, our own course builder tool will soon support this HoloLens AR capability and other maturing AR/VR standards.

Learn more

To learn more about the vision of Create LMS being the World's best LMS and how we can implement an affordable and future-proofed LMS learning management system for your organisation, please get in touch.


 

References

Papert, S. (1996). The connected family: bridging the digital generation gap.
Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation.

Tags

Best LMS for Microsoft (MS) HoloLens
Best LMS for VR (Virtual Reality)
Best LMS for AR (Augmented Reality)