Perspectives and Uses for Metaverses in Education

Алёна Инжеева
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When we talk about metaverses, images of people in VR helmets immediately come to mind, as well as fantastic virtual spaces. This is a world that uses augmented reality and blockchain technologies to provide social and digital interaction between users. The metaverses include the immersion benefits of virtual technologies for realizing a digital approach to social learning. Their futuristic nature and novelty effect can completely transform the education process and make it radically different from what everyone is used to.

Education and innovation are two inseparable concepts. To implement new approaches in teaching, modern technologies are necessary. This is very important because school and universities form the consciousness of the future generation, whose task will be to transform our world for the better. Metaverses have a wide range of applications in the modern world. They are already actively penetrating into the gaming industry and business. In this respect, education is no exception. Let us consider in more detail how virtual worlds can help in teaching schoolchildren and students and how all this can be implemented in practice.

How metaverses can transform education

The integration of metaverses into the educational process is an opportunity to use the most modern digital technologies in teaching. Students will be able to explore virtual spaces and independently “extract” the knowledge they need during active interaction not only with the digital environment, but with each other. This will solve many problems in the educational sphere, including the accessibility of education to people with disabilities. But how exactly can meta-universes be integrated into the field of education, and what opportunities and prospects will this open up for students? With this question, we turned to our experts.

Vladimir Gorgadze, head of the Master's program in blockchain technologies of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, said that it is currently difficult to assess the benefits, consequences and risks of the development of metaverses. When the Internet first appeared in the early 80s, no one, either at that time or in the early 90s, could predict what impact it would subsequently have on the world economy and the lives of people.

According to the expert, the integration of virtual worlds and metauniverses into education is inevitable. Over the past two years, we have seen a rapid transformation of the business and education system due to the pandemic, with almost everyone telecommuting. At the same time, such a transition entails problems: there is less feedback from pupils and students, and visual contact has decreased. Students have the opportunity to “keep silent” in class, citing technical problems with communication, as well as other difficulties associated with the remote format.

Using the virtual possibilities of the metaverses, such as AR or VR, will again bring the teacher closer to the students. Metaverses make it possible to use new opportunities for the transmission of educational information, for example, a visual demonstration using special effects. It is impossible to conduct a laboratory experiment in physics right in the center of a star in the real world. Virtualization will also allow for effective tracking and planning of the learning process as to the time spent and the student’s progress in real time. In fact, this means the appearance of solutions similar to business monitoring and planning systems. This will be a revolution in the educational process.

Igor Zakharov, CEO of DBX Digital Ecosystem, believes that Metaverse will provide schoolchildren and students with a lot of new opportunities. He says,

“In the real world, studying at Oxford or Stanford is a pipe dream for many, and the metaverse opens the way to the best educational programs for everyone. Without leaving your home, you can choose any course and listen to lectures by leading experts. The Transition of education into the metaverse is still difficult, like any innovation that is not used to.

“The pandemic has shown that it is possible to study outside of school, taking full advantage of the virtual world. Using the avatars of the metaverse, the student can instantly be transported from the lecture hall to the laboratory. Many higher education institutions use online worlds like Second Life or Minecraft to build their own blocks. Thus it is easy to make lectures more interesting or organize a virtual tour of any campus or other facility.”

The expert also added that people with disabilities and special needs will be able to feel full-fledged members of society by regaining their lost abilities and qualities in the virtual world. By modeling virtual reality, it is much easier to master medicine, architecture, technical specialties and develop practical skills in any discipline.

Elena Ionova, PR and GR consultant, supposes that the metaverse allows you to completely rethink the education system,

  • Firstly, people will completely lose their dependence on the construction of buildings where training will take place. That already allows you not to waste time on going to the educational institution and back.
  • Secondly, libraries will become digital, and there will be no need to worry about the condition of the book or think about the time of returning it. You will have access to the large book database.

Marat Mynbaev, investor, expert in fundamental and technical analysis, Founder of Amir Wallet, thinks as follows,

“Over the past two years, we have completely revised our attitude towards distance learning. The pandemic has shown us that such training is possible and even effective. Being in a virtual classroom, you can study any subject. When a teacher explains anatomy at school, he cannot dissect a frog in class, and when he talks about nuclear weapons, he cannot detonate an atomic bomb. All this is possible in the metaverses. Studying school and university disciplines will become much more interesting and informative with the use of metaverses. Virtual worlds expand the possibilities of the entire field of education. In my opinion, one of the basic uses of the metaverses is education.”

Yulia Sinitsyna, head of Legal Department in an IT company, member of the Russian Chamber of Commerce Council on Intellectual Property, tax consultant in IT, believes that education is exactly the direction that not only can, but should develop in the Metaverses.

The expert also highlighted the opportunities,

  • Most people are visual learners. And having seen a chemical reaction a couple of times with their own eyes, walking through the human body or seeing some physical process (for example, the nuclear fission), they will absorb the most complex information faster and deeper.
  • Education will become more efficient because for the brain, the experience experienced in the metaverse will not differ from experience in reality, enabling better remembrance.
  • Since the learning process will become more interesting and visual, this will help increase the involvement of students.
  • It will help people with disabilities learn and socialize better than is possible now.

Yulia Zagitova, Secretary of the Union of Journalists of Russia, head of the Department for the Development of Regional Journalism, Founder of the Breaking Trends Agency, believes that the learning process transferred to the metaverse can change beyond recognition:

“In this regard, it is worth paying attention to the experience of China, where in recent years the task of developing virtual reality technologies has been among the priorities. As part of a large-scale school reform, the education model itself is changing to a more interactive one, with the introduction of VR / AR technologies and artificial intelligence. The possibilities for an educational system with such technologies are almost limitless. Metaverses make it possible to bring people from different locations together for a common interactive experience, communicate with a teacher, interact with each other, and not just study pre-prepared content.”

Alexander Nikulin, Sales Director of EMCD, the largest mining pool in Eastern Europe, emphasized that metaverses are a new promising direction that is at the very initial stage of development. Many are sure that this industry is going to grow rapidly in the future, but no one can say what it will look like in 5-10 years. It is highly likely that the metaverses will start to be used in education. But so far there are no such concrete concepts.

In the coming years, the development of the metaverses will largely depend on Meta (ex-Facebook, recognized as an extremist organization in the Russian Federation). The company has decided to become the powerhouse of a newly emerging industry in order to replicate the success that the company achieved after the creation of Facebook. If Meta fails to give the world a “new facebook based on the metaverses”, then it will not only lead to the collapse of the company, but also negatively affect the entire direction of the metaverses.

Natalia Matyushchenko, Vice-Rector for Educational Activities of the Academy of Oil and Gas Engineering ", Ph.D., Associate Professor, agrees that the possibilities of metauniverses are very extensive.

“Any game mechanics and any situation is duplicated in the virtual space wherever and whenever it happens. There are even costumes that completely imitate the user's tactile sensations. For the education sector, virtual worlds and augmented reality are going to be breakthrough technologies that will speed up the learning process and allow you to master skills without the use of complex and expensive equipment. The distances between the student, the teacher and the real objects on which you need to learn how to work will not be important. Health restrictions, pandemics, wars and other phenomena and events that limit ordinary life will not interfere with the process.”

Danatar Atajanov, Brand Manager of the OXLY.IO crypto platform, noted that the metaverse is a virtual world that anyone can enter using a browser or a virtual reality headset. Both teachers and students can enter this world, regardless of their location, wealth, gender or nationality. Virtual and augmented reality opens up new opportunities to increase the level and accessibility of education for everyone. Participants in the process are able not to depend on various conventions that interfere with communication and education in the real world, and also remain as mobile as possible and open to new opportunities.

The expert emphasized that teachers can not only conduct the learning process at the verbal level, but also demonstrate educational materials in an immersive three-dimensional environment, while moving with students to the locations within the metaverse necessary for better assimilation, for example, historical places or events. This approach will allow you to get away from boring cramming and use more channels of communication with students than in the real world.

Slava Nikitin, Creative Director of Brothers Production, shared his opinion with the readers of our magazine,

“We have nowhere to escape from the fact that sooner or later education will move to the metauniverses, not completely, but will become a separate line of education, because people continue to study and are not satisfied with the quality of education. That is, in the earlier times, we chose a direction, studied for 5 years and then worked all our lives in a profession not related to education. But when online education came along, people said: ‘Eureka, this is what was needed,’ because you can spend six months or a year and a half on training and devote this time to the area that is really interesting and relevant, immediately gain not only theoretical knowledge, but also practical skills, communicating with specific people who work in these companies and occupy these positions.”

The expert noted that the effectiveness of such education is insufficient because information is received through audio and visual components, just like at the institute. Unlike in classical offline and online education, interactive learning can be used in metaverses. During a speaker's lecture, a person can try to perform some task virtually, for example, turn a valve, like in a real factory. Students will not just write down the word “valve” in a notebook, but will learn how it looks, where it is located, how fast it rotates, and how you can interact with it. There is an opportunity for real practice and, most importantly, interest, because statistics show that every year the gaming industry is growing and it is seen that game mechanics can be applied in the educational process.

Slava Nikitin also added,

“For example, in GTA one could go to a military museum and study the history of military operations, or if now in the game you can only shoot, take money and steal a car, then why not tell us about how the car works, why it goes faster than the other and so on. It is easier for modern young people to perceive information through such channels in such an interactive entertainment format. In recent years, more and more often you have been able to find lessons in mathematics and foreign languages ​​on the gaming platforms Minecraft, Fortnite and Roblox. In a gaming form, children solve problems and learn the material more easily. Adults do not lag behind, but so far in the corporate segment, gaming platforms are more often used as a tool for team building. However, in the near future, in-house training will also gradually move into the virtual world.”

Dmitry Noskov, an expert at the StormGain crypto exchange, also argues that metaverses can be effectively used in the education system. With the help of AR and VR technologies, they can give students and teachers the effect of constant presence, for example, providing for remote experiments. In addition, according to the expert, with metauniverses, it will be possible to build individual educational programmes and create a continuous educational process.

Denis Smirnov, blockchain specialist, cryptocurrency researcher, as well as a Liquidity Manager for EMCD, the largest mining pool in Eastern Europe, said, 

“Certainly, metaverses can serve as an excellent development driver for education. With the help of augmented reality devices, it will be possible to get additional information about the objects in the environment, as well as increase the possibilities for one's own perception.”

The use of VR and AR technologies in education

VR and AR technologies are an integral part of the metaverses. This is the only way to fully immerse yourself in the digital environment and use its capabilities 100%. It is noteworthy that the use of virtual reality technologies in education had begun long before the metaverses became so popular. Various virtual excursions allowed schoolchildren to visit other countries and distant corners of universes. Technology, however, did not allow achieving the effect of 100% immersion. Today, a VR helmet is as common and desirable a gadget as a brand new smartphone. But the main advantage is that the metaverses allow the use of these innovative technologies not only for games and entertainment, but also for education. The experts spoke about it in detail.

Valery Alexeev, UX designer, entrepreneur, author of a course on UX design, could not help but note the fact that the potential of the metaverses in education is truly inspiring. One of the most important features of the virtual world is the gamification of most life processes. Gamification, according to research, is the most powerful way to increase student involvement and improve students’ results.

The modern understanding of the metaverse is based on three big R's:

  • VR is virtual reality, wherein the user sees only the virtual world through special glasses.
  • AR is augmented reality, wherein elements of the virtual world are superimposed (again, through special glasses) on objects in the real world.
  • MR is, wherein the interaction of a real person with virtual world objects is added to the visual picture.

The expert added,

“Now imagine a full class of students in VR helmets who, during astronomy classes, look at planets, asteroids and other space bodies not in “flat” textbooks, but in the format of an interactive 3D model, while being in outer space.

“Or, for example, in anatomy lessons, students are presented with a three-dimensional model of the human body or a frog. Using mixed reality tools (such as special gloves with tactile feedback), students can perform virtual operations and receive interactive prompts that will help them absorb knowledge much faster. This format of learning is easier and much more interesting and interactive both for students and teachers.”

Konstantin Sidorov, VR/AR project manager at ICL, also focuses on the use of virtual reality technologies in the education process. He notes that the VR/AR market, both global and Russian, is growing at lightning speed, and the concept of metauniverses is becoming especially significant for it. It is safe to say that by 2022, the range of activities aimed at the development and promotion of these technologies around the world has reached an unprecedented scale. Nowadays it is expected that in the near future such a new reality can be everywhere. The production of solutions is expanding, and more and more large companies are introducing their devices to the market, which become more accessible, understandable and more convenient for use.

The expert continues,

“The field of education, in my opinion, is the most promising in terms of the massive introduction of virtual reality technologies, in particular, in the professional training of IT specialists in universities, in-house training and advanced training courses

“The accent here is on applying the acquired theoretical knowledge in practice. Studying in the VR mode, a novice specialist is completely immersed in the necessary environment, becoming a direct participant in what is happening and performing various activities. Through this practice, the student develops muscle memory, and, being in real working conditions in the future, he is most likely to bring to life the skills already trained in virtual reality.

“Moreover, using VR technologies in the educational niche does not have to do with the learning process only, but also about confidence in the financial stability of the organization where students work on simulators. They allow minimizing any risks associated with training related to emergency situations due to the absence of teachers or supervisors. It also a significant reduction in the cost of operating various classrooms, because virtual simulators allow students to stay in different classrooms designed to study completely different disciplines and skills, in reality being in the same space.”

Konstantin Sidorov stressed the fact that the educational process in the virtual mode cannot be called “established”: if at first the main task of VR technologies was practical training, today more and more requests arrive specifically for the development of soft skills. A similar process is just as real. Special solutions through AI interact with the user using a digital avatar that carefully listens to him and recognizes his speech. It understands his words and responds, following the reaction of his live interlocutor afterwards and evaluating the correctness of the fulfillment of the tasks set at the beginning of the training block. Such a process today can be applied to help new employees of large companies.

It is safe to say that in the next few years society is going to see a digital revolution in terms of VR learning, and most IT professionals, as well as technical and service specialists in enterprises, will be trained in this mode.

Sergey Korkin, Director General of Nomix, a developer of VR/AR applications in Russia, notes that virtual reality technologies are already integrated into the education sector, both in the academic, corporate and even government environments.

“A surge of interest in VR as a tool for education occurred during the pandemic, when education was massively transferred to a remote format. For example, in Russia, virtual and augmented reality is already being actively implemented in children's education in the Education and Digital Economy national projects.

“Business uses VR to train employees. We can give the example of our development. This is a simulator for training workers in the pharmaceutical industry, which we developed together with the State Institute of Drugs and Good Practices. Our simulator completely reproduces the plant, where the user can go through all the stages of a real inspection, from arriving at the enterprise and meeting with employees to with a full inspection of production facilities and equipment.”

The expert also adds that such projects are being actively developed for all sectors. There solutions in construction, retail and the electricity production. Speaking about the opportunities that the metaverses open up, it is worth noting the increase in the availability of educational content, and the reduction in operating costs both for the student and the companies that organize such training.

Examples of the practical use of metaverses in education

One can discuss at length how the metaverses will change the learning process in the future and how the modern education system will change, but how are things in practice? It is important to understand what exactly will be implemented and in what specific educational processes these innovative technologies can be applied. Such things are always easier to understand with examples. Metaverses are already actively used to organize the educational process for both schoolchildren and students. And this is successful not only in the West or China, but also in Russia.

To clear up the details, we asked the experts to give specific examples of the practical use of metaverses in education.

Ravil Asmyatullin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of the Institute of World Economy and Business of RUDN University, emphasizes that metaverses imply the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies, some combination of the real and the virtual. This combination can give new opportunities for learning. New technologies help to increase the involvement of students in the learning process and increase the effectiveness of training practical skills. The expert also gives several examples:

“History students can explore landmarks and historical sites; medical students can train and perform procedures on virtual human bodies; physics students can study the structure of the atom from inside; for students of marketing and advertising, there is an opportunity to create virtual showcases demonstrating products that may not yet exist and much more.

“That is, the possibilities are very wide, but one must understand that technology does not replace real learning and real experience, but rather expands and supplements it. Metaverses can be used not only in the educational process, but also during the admission campaigns. It will be possible to make a virtual tour to the future university, see the territory and visit the classrooms. Applicants can plunge into the future student life. This can help with the choice of a university and facilitate the process of adaptation after admission.”

Nazir Naurzokov, Acer/Altos Project Solutions Engineer in Russia, notes that the coronavirus pandemic has significantly increased the trend towards transferring education from the real world to online, Due to the restrictions, almost all schools, colleges and universities were forced to switch to distance learning. It also encouraged them to develop new online courses and educational programs.

According to the expert, the use of virtual reality and metaverses seems to be a natural continuation of the current trend. Virtual or augmented reality will allow many students to study objects visually. Let us say, doctors will be able to get to know the human anatomy more deeply (there are already VR/AR anatomical atlases), and engineers will be able to see the design of various technical devices in the virtual world. Another opportunity for learning is the emergence of new professions associated with the metaverse (like metalawyer or metarealtor), as well as an increase in demand for all professions related to virtual content creation, programming and data analysis.

Egor Abramov, Principal of Fort Ross Ventures venture capital fund, shares his thoughts on this matter,

“I think that education will be one of the first massively demanded business applications in the metaverse. The point is that children are the natural first users of the metaverses based on games. Platforms like Roblox and Minecraft claim to be the first metaverses and these are the games that are in demand among 5-10 year olds.

“Today, gaming content prevails on these platforms, but developers are already introducing educational elements with game mechanics there. The rules of any teacher are as old as the world: first attract [attention], then arouse [interest], and finally satisfy [the desire to learn]. Game metaverses are the best fit for this, at least for children up to 10-13 years old.”

Yulia Sinitsyna cites a school in the United States as an example, which will start operating in the summer of 2022. Optima Classical Academy is the world's first school for grades 3-8 that will operate in the metaverse. At the initial stages, training in it will be free.

Natalia Matyushchenko gives an excellent example of this. She says that in 2022, INGM Academy plans to launch a new educational product using virtual technologies in the market. Together with Visschool, advanced training courses for oil and gas industry workers are being developed. It is planned to start with operators and masters of well production, since the learning these professions requires significant physical effort, material costs and processing of large amounts of information.

The expert adds,

“To teach employees of an oil and gas company to work at a production site, there is no need to immediately bring them to the field and let them near the well. First, they can learn workflows in a virtual helmet on an exact digital copy of the drilling rig, without risking neither their health nor expensive equipment. Moreover, they can practice new skills an infinite number of times, moving from level to level, like in a computer game, complicating tasks, simulating non-standard situations, etc. The economic component is also important here since there will be no costs for materials, fuels and lubricants and other accessories.

“Most schoolchildren and students are already immersed in virtual reality. In the process of obtaining professional education, it is necessary to create certain content for them, as harmonious as possible and connected with physical reality, allowing not only to form hard and soft skills, but also to fully integrate future specialists into the surrounding reality.”

Analyst Aziz Kenzhaev cites Winkyverse as a good example. This is a bot toy that is used in a metaverse that has educational games. He also notes that using the metaverse to integrate the blockchain into education is the simplest solution. According to the expert, now there are few solutions for distance learning, which will gain popularity because. “the same virus” is still spreading throughout the world. But the current applications for conducting classes on a remote basis do not fully meet the requirements, and there will be full involvement in the metaverse. Roughly speaking, you will have to go to school, albeit a virtual one.

Elena Ionova speaks about the fact that the Financial Literacy Development Association (FLDA) and New Reality LLC are launching the Financial Literacy Metaverse. It will include all financial institutions in Russia, including universities that train managers in the financial sector.

She says,

“Now we are already filling the exhibition space with residents. A resident can take a booth of the required size and use other resources to transfer all your business contacts to the plane, or rather, to the volume, of the metaverse. Students of resident universities will be able to attend lectures in the educational classrooms of the Metaverse, conduct scientific activities, communicate, get acquainted with the profile communities of the Metaverse, and synchronize with other scientific groups while working on the same task.

“The construction of the Metaverse and the integration of the educational environment into it is a process which will take several decades. Together we have to test a new reality, make friends with it in order to learn and determine our place in the boundless Metaverse.”

Radion Sailer, CEO of the Mr Sailer YouTube channel, cites driving lessons or speaking another language as examples. All this is already being implemented in practice using the smart level software. People can immediately begin to drive in the metaverse while learning on a virtual car. This will greatly simplify life and make it much safer. When learning languages, the metaverses bring the opportunity to personally communicate and interact with any person on the planet. This once again confirms the fact that nothing is impossible in virtual worlds.

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