Every educator knows that STEM education requires three important skills: critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving. Together, these skills help students understand abstract concepts and visualize those concepts in real-time scenarios. But recently those scenarios have been driven into unfamiliar territory due to the evolving challenges related to our environment and society and the highly digitized world we live in today. It’s clear that traditional learning methodologies, such as lectures and reading, are no longer enough for students to hone these skills and further learn through the replication of real-time situational research and experimentation.
Technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality, collectively known as extended reality (XR), have emerged as critical tools to help students visualize abstract concepts and improve their learning outcomes in STEM subjects. With XR, students are able to explore subjects in ways that previous generations didn’t have access to.
The Benefits of XR in Learning
Research has shown that XR learning can enhance a student’s performance and results. According to a study sponsored by Verizon, “On average, a student can remember 30 percent of what they hear, 20 percent of what they see, and 90 percent of what they experience. With XR applications, students can hear, see, and interact with a lesson, potentially improving engagement, accessibility, motivation, and, more importantly, learning outcomes.”
Learners receive on average 75 percent retention rates with XR. This is compared to reading and lectures at 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively. XR provides an alternative to pricey field trips and complex science experiments, while also eliminating language barriers and contributing to inclusivity, among other benefits. But through our research and working in classrooms, we’ve learned that less is more. Students do not need to spend hours or entire classes on a headset. They don’t need to go to virtual campuses to experience the benefits of immersive learning.
XR is beneficial for specific use cases, especially those that add immense value. The goal for XR is not to do things that are incrementally better than what could be done without XR. The goal is to do things that were dangerous, impossible, counterproductive, or expensive to do before the technology. We call this the DICE approach. If the activity being performed falls into one of these categories, it’s probably well suited for XR.
Classroom Use Cases for XR in STEM Education
The XR market is expected to reach $1.2 billion by 2035, and education is one of the fields that stands to benefit most. XR is already being used in STEM educational settings across the world:
- XR has been called the Magic School Bus for the classroom. With XR, students can shrink in size and enter the human body. They can explore the inside of cells and learn how DNA is structured and where it’s located inside the nucleus. They can also experience DNA replication and what that looks like.
- For physics, students can travel to different planets and learn about Newton’s Laws of Motion. With XR, they can change gravity and air resistance and even remove the atmosphere. What would happen to a ball if you dropped it? What would happen if you threw it?
Building that intuition in ways that were truly impossible to do before, that were just not feasible, like shrinking into the microscopic world or flying across the solar system and learning about how these topics are truly experientially enacted in different places, are some of the ways XR is already being used in STEM education.
The author, Amrutha Vasan, is Co-Founder and COO of Inspirit. She is a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient for 2022, an SXSW EDU Launch competition winner, and was recognized as a top 10 EdTech company by ASU GSV.