Immersive learning is transforming education as we know it.
Imagine you could bring someone from 1880 and show them our society in 2019. A visit to a modern office space would have them baffled by smartphones, videoconferencing and laptop computers. A stop at the local hospital would present them with a way of approaching healthcare that would have been unimaginable for them.
Now suppose you brought them to a university lecture hall. Would they see anything there that would blow their minds? It seems unlikely. After all, a professor making notes on a board at the front of the class with students seated at desks would not be out of sync with how post-secondary students learned in the 19th Century.
I thought of this when I was reflecting on the HP Higher-ed Tech Tour that I recently attended in Palo Alto, California, where I had the opportunity to see technology that has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach post-secondary learning. The highlight? Without question, the immersive experience of discovering the human anatomy through Virtual Reality (VR) technology.
Back in the day (we're not counting how many), I studied biology at the University of Winnipeg. In those days, the tools of the trade were textbooks, lecture notes, and the biology lab equipment. Back then, it wasn't easy to fully envisage how all the elements of anatomy indeed come together. I couldn't possibly have imagined what I was able to experience in Palo Alto.
Using the Immersive Learning tech, I was transported to a virtual world where I was looking at a 3D image of a cross-section of the human eye. I could see where all the different muscles and layers fit together, from the cornea to the pupil, to the ocular nerve. I could touch and play with everything to see how it would move. I saw how more light makes the pupil dilate. The HP Virtual Reality device brought a cool experience to life.
A proven better way to learn
More than being an incredible experience, this technology has been proven to be leaps and bounds ahead of the traditional lecture method when it comes to helping students learn. A study of 1,000 college STEM students at three universities found that using the immersive learning method increased one full letter grade – across the entire group. In addition, the failure rate dropped to zero, and the lowest performers improved their grade scores by 277% compared to learning the traditional way.
After using the technology, it's no mystery as to why. Taking the example of studying the human eye, if you're going to be an optometrist, you have to learn the intricacies of the eyeball and how everything fits together. Traditionally, that involves picturing it in your mind's eye, and if you couldn't do that, you had to do it through rote memorization. But when you put yourself in the virtual world and see how everything works, it moves things off the page and resonates with students in a way that wasn't possible before this technology.
Not only does the immersive method lead to better learning, but it also leads to faster learning. Another study found that curriculum which took students 24 weeks to master the traditional way took them only 15 weeks when learning through a virtual 3D experience.
Preparing students today for a better tomorrow
Now is the time for colleges and universities across the country to invest in the virtual campus providing students with the best learning tools possible. We can't expect to produce the leaders of tomorrow by putting them in yesterday's learning environment. If we want to create the best doctors, engineers, architects, and chemists, we need to train and teach with the best tools possible. Post-secondary institutions have the power to make this happen.
There are so many ancillary reasons to adopt this technology. The first who do will have a competitive advantage in recruiting top talent both in faculty and students. Virtual reality can be used for digital archiving of artifacts that can help students learn for generations to come. And it can be a way to move beyond costly antiquated analog lab equipment.
As compelling as they are, none of these are the reason why post-secondary leaders need to begin the process of bringing this technology in the classroom. The truth is, we owe it to the leaders of tomorrow to provide them with the best learning environment and opportunity for success.
Nothing less is acceptable.