(c)iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Once regarded a science fiction fantasy, the idea of a virtual environment is now a very possible future. In fact, Facebook has even announced that it will soon launch a virtual reality (VR) social network with simulated avatars.
VR works because it puts people at the epicentre of an experience and has the potential to dramatically change the way we approach education and the world of work.
When it comes to education, VR creates a sense of presence to help students vividly absorb and remember what they’ve learned. Technologies such as Leap Motion ensure that users can utilise their gestures and hand movements whilst in a VR experience, maintaining the sense of being in a classroom scenario.
For example, a student can raise their hand in the real world and have their VR avatar make the same movement within the simulation. They can then interact with the molecules in a chemistry lesson by dragging them into position, or explore the human body in biology by separating tissues with their hands.
The world of VR means that students have all the information they need right in front of them, without the need to interrupt the experience to reference external materials.
Future generations will likely grow up supported by VR experiences in both the classroom and the workplace
But this is more than just a novelty – students in developing nations can also benefit from the same immersive experience. VR hardware is slowly becoming more affordable and, like the PC and smartphone before it, manufacturers will seek to produce more affordable options.
These devices can then be distributed to developing countries, where students can gain access to the same level of high-quality education as their peers throughout the world.
This furthers the democratisation of education, putting students across the world on an equal footing from the start.
VR also provides a new level of engagement within the workplace – especially when it comes to instructional health and safety training. Typically, this kind of education focuses on safety procedures on the factory floor and general day-to-day actions.
But, the same can’t be said for when things go wrong; reading through a manual doesn’t equate to real life, immersive experiences. Typically when people are put into hazardous and potentially life-threatening situations in their workplace, they will tend to panic and not follow standard procedures that are in place to mitigate disasters.
With that in mind, a VR experience replicating where things can go wrong is smart; it enables people to overcome their inner panic mechanism.
For example, one VR experience could place the user on an oil rig, where a fire has just broken out. This experience allows them to overcome their initial panic and understand how to act in that situation – and the relief at passing that simulation instils confidence in the user that they can potentially handle the same problem in the future.
Education prepares us for our future careers and the workplace will also be built around VR experiences just like the schools of the future. If we look ahead another fifty years or so, I believe that companies and organisations across the world will have adopted and created VR experiences across multiple industries.
But whilst some may fear that VR may make us less willing to go out and interact with others, we could become more extroverted with this technology.
For example, the travel needed to attend international conferences and briefings is seen as a pain point and time consuming; however people feel that being present is more important.
To overcome this, VR can replicate the sensation of being present through the use of avatars and immersive environments, facilitating us to feel as though we’re in the room and connected with others.
In environments where people may struggle with social anxiety, this allows them to develop their communication skills in a comfortable environment, and continue their professional growth.
The industry is still in its very early stages of development; however the infantile stumbling blocks are already being ironed out.
Future generations will likely grow up supported by VR experiences in both the classroom and the workplace, and this will likely change the way we create jobs and professions within the modern world.
The idea of a completely virtual universe is still a distant dream, but VR has the potential to dramatically change the way in which we learn and interact with our world.
The most pressing challenge will be balancing our real-world experiences with the virtual ones – after all, we want VR to complement our lives, not become our lives.
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