The Future of Virtual Reality in Higher Ed

Looking to the future, as adoption of VR increases among universities, the technology will be used in more innovative ways.

Currently, universities offer options for distance learners to take online classes; soon, colleges will use VR technology to fully immerse students in the college experience, allowing them to feel present in a classroom discussion or lecture, regardless of distance. Universities can either record these experiences for later use, or use live-streaming virtual reality—a technology that has only recently begun to catch on with major brands and institutions.

The combination of all this technology could result in something like a virtual Rhodes Scholar program, where students can take part in live classes with top professors at universities all over the world, without having to leave their regular school.

The technology will also offer an invaluable means of learning for those in the social sciences and medical fields, which often require “hands-on” experiences. Eventually, VR technology will allow students to be placed in the shoes of patients to give them insight into how they experience the world. Organizations like the Virtual Human Interaction Lab are already studying the psychological effects of VR as related to empathy. This could allow future public policy students to experience first-hand what it means to be a refugee in a third-world country, or optometry students to experience what life is like for the vision-impaired.

Outside of lectures and hands-on learning, VR also offers schools the chance to immerse students in important cultural events. Educators are already using video to enhance lessons; in the near future, VR will be used in a similar manner. For example, instead of having students watch political debates on TV or YouTube in the classroom, professors can allow them to immerse themselves in the debates, making them feel as though they were actually there in the crowd. In fact, some major media networks are already experimenting with this type of content.

In addition to utilizing the technology to support individuals before and during their college experience, universities could also use VR to foster a vibrant alumni community. Virtual reality technology could allow former students to virtually attend major sports games, or even take part in virtual networking events for past and present students to meet and discuss their time at a particular university.

As the popularity of virtual reality products and applications grows over the next five years, industries will begin to find new and creative ways to take advantage of the technology. For colleges and universities in particular, virtual reality technology creates immense opportunities, from student recruitment to the actual learning processes and beyond.

Abi Mandelbaum is co-founder and CEO of YouVisit, a fully integrated platform for creating, distributing, and monetizing virtual reality and other immersive experiences across all devices, including headsets, mobile, and desktop.

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