By Martin McDonnell

AS the ongoing impact of Covid-19 continues to disrupt classrooms and lecture theatres worldwide, education institutions are scrambling to find suitable alternative methods of learning which can be adopted at scale to deliver effective results.

Like most other industries, the answers lie within the realm of digital technology. However, finding the right technology to match the need has been a challenge facing the education sector for decades.

Settling for traditional teaching over Zoom and Microsoft Teams may have just about seen through educators to the end of the academic year. However, it’s clear that video-conferencing does not offer a long-term solution to the problems presented by social distancing and blended learning.

How can lecturers overcome Zoom fatigue to adapt and amplify their methods to meet the challenges brought on by Covid-19 while meeting the demands of a Generation Z audience – digital natives – who increasingly expect interactive and engaging content?

Research continues to show that while our current generation of students love to learn, they won’t engage with university training and development programmes unless they are flexible, collaborative and give individuals the ability to practise and prove what they have learned.

That’s where VR systems in an educational context are coming into play. Through the use of Virtual Learning Environments, educators can overcome the challenges of remote learning while also meeting student demands for collaborative, interactive and engaging learning experiences.

Of course AR and VR have been heralded as the next great things for years, decades even. However, as the technology has improved and costs have fallen, education, like many other sectors, is finally able to take advantage of the potential offered by immersive visualisation.

Building on evidence from the military and aviation sectors to show that simulation and practice-based training in VR is highly effective, the education sector is now in the process of applying these learnings to modern teaching environments.

At Sublime, we have been working with The University of Glasgow for the past two years to develop Edify - a platform that helps lecturers create and lead classes in 3D environments from anywhere in the world. From a 3D model of the heart and a tour of the stomach, to stepping inside a disease diagnostics lab, the platform is enabling learning by doing and by “being” in impossible places. Unsurprisingly, feedback from the students who have benefited to date has been wholly positive.

Given the conditions brought about by Covid-19, aligned with the learning needs of students and the technological advances of VR, it would be easy to assume that success is all but guaranteed. However, the key to widespread adoption lies in greater collaboration between industry and academia – to create apps which meet specific teaching needs. That’s why we’re currently offering to fund the development of new virtual learning environments for academics and institutions – all we need are the ideas from academia.

The application of technology in education has, to date, mostly focused on making information more accessible and interactive. However, VR can offer so much more by enhancing the learning experience. At a time when Universities are under mounting pressures to maintain teaching standards while faced with the constraints of remote learning, VR represents a paradigm shift for higher education pedagogical frameworks. Those who embrace the potential offered by this technology stand to benefit from a very real competitive advantage in the world of post-pandemic higher education.

Martin McDonnell is co-founder and CEO, Sublime