Getting to grips with the Metaverse is one thing, attempting to figure out if you should take the blue or red pill and enter it as either a learner or educator is another. Which is my way of saying, this is a big, complicated gnarly subject and getting a definitive answer highly unlikely, partly because the Metaverse doesn’t exist just yet and as a result we have little or no evidence to prove its effectiveness either way.
However, maybe we could get some insight by looking at the component parts and imagining its potential.
A Virtual world
Although we need to define the Metaverse, to help better understand it let’s start with what a virtual world is. Here is what Stanford University have to say “A virtual world is a computer-simulated representation of a world with specific spatial and physical characteristics, and users of virtual worlds interact with each other via representations of themselves called avatars.” In 1994 Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino explained how you get from a real environment (world) to a virtual one in four stages, firstly, the real one followed by Augmented (AR) then Virtual (VR), finally ending up in the virtual environment.
Reality may not be the best of all possible worlds, but it’s still the only place where you can get a decent steak. Woody Allen
The Metaverse is a virtual world that has transitioned from the real one using technologies like AR and VR but has as a result become something more. *The Metaverse does not simply combine the physical and virtual worlds, instead it is a continuity of the physical world in the virtual one, to create an ecosystem that merges both (Physical and virtual). In other words, it is a brand-new world that is as engaging and important as the real one. Mark Zuckerberg (Meta) says that it is a world of endless and interconnected virtual communities, where people can meet each other, work together, play games and more. He sees it as the successor to the internet, an invention that changed all lives by allowing people to be online (in a virtual world) from anywhere and for as long as they would like.
“In simplest terms, the Metaverse is the internet, but in 3D” – Ed Greig, Chief Disruptor, Deloitte Digital
Changes in the environment change behaviour
There is of course another aspect to being in a virtual world, it is a different environment, and because of that it can have an impact on what you do and how you feel. It is well recognised that spending time in nature, a different environment to the one I am in just now as I write this blog, helps with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. We also know that in some instances the brain finds it difficult to differentiate between what is reality and what is imagined. When these two ideas are combined it becomes possible to understand how a realistic virtual immersive environment could change levels of motivation, confidence and even beliefs. After all, don’t people behave differently online when using social media tools such as Twitter, being unknown in a virtual world is like a cloak of invisibility, you can be whoever you want and say and do whatever you like without any consequence!
Learning in the Metaverse
In terms of learning, the Metaverse like many technologies or learning environments, is neither good nor bad. Whilst some are sceptical and express concerns about loss of identity, hate and cybercrime, security, and privacy, others are excited and want to take advantage of the learning opportunities, here are a few.
High levels of engagement – Much is made of the term “immersive” when talking about the Metaverse, it means that you are surrounded by and become part of the environment. This can be incredibly powerful when it comes to learning resulting in high levels of excitement, motivation and engagement.
Real life skill development – The metaverse provides a safe environment in which you can practice skill development. This is particularly valuable where mistakes can be made that might be upsetting or result in significant cost and even death. Here are a few examples from an article by the World Bank. Note this is not the Metaverse but examples of VR and games-based simulations that would be part of its ecosystem.
High risk – Pharmaceutical industry leader Novartis had to quickly train 100’s of people on best practice production and procedures for a new leukaemia treatment. They had limited physical training labs and subject matter experts to train people in skills where mistakes have life and death consequences.
Not so much life and death but perception, how to see the organisation through your customers eyes. This was the challenge facing Fortune 200 healthcare leader DaVita.
Developing soft skills – Practising communication, decision making and emotional intelligence.
A virtual University campus – A virtual campus has the potential to make a university experience available for everyone around the world. Meet likeminded people in the virtual world, discuss ideas and share ambitions, just like you would in the real world. Virbela have developed a Virtual campus that can be used for both education and or work-based interactions. The pandemic has shown that people can easily work from home, the Metaverse may have a significant role to play in the future of work as well as learning.
Takes the learner into the world – I was going to say that the Metaverse has the ability to bring the world to the classroom when in fact it’s the opposite. Although human imagination is a powerful tool think how impactful it would be if you could begin by explaining in a classroom that T Rex roamed the planet during the late Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago and that they could be up to 12m long and 6m tall, but then ask your learners to come and meet one, made possible by VR – Click here to see how the American Museum of Natural History has brought T Rex to life.
The social dimension – Social media allows people to interact, transact, and share interests with others virtually (pun intended) regardless of where they live. The metaverse is social media but in 3D, for better or for worse.
The Metaverse could end up being the biggest white elephant of all time. Reality Labs, the division building the metaverse, lost £3.16bn between July and September this year. Mark Zuckerberg has said that he would invest $10 billion to $15 billion per year, but that it may take 10 years before it yields results. That’s an estimated $100B+ investment into an unknown future.
BUT it might be as Zuckerberg predicts become the next iteration of the internet, personally I would like to give it a chance because it has the potential to contribute to a new and exciting next chapter as to how we help people learn.
That said, I don’t think I would be putting any money into it just yet.
And for a more in-depth explanation, Donald Clark in discussion with John Helmer VR & Metaverse with Donald Clark
The picture is obviously From the matrix – the blue pill will allow the subject to remain in the fabricated reality of the Matrix; the red serves as a “location device” to locate the subject’s body in the real world and to prepare them to be “unplugged” from the Matrix. Once one chooses the red or blue pill, the choice is irrevocable.
*Is Metaverse in education a blessing or a curse: a combined content and bibliometric analysis