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VR learners more empathetic and inclusive, study finds

Virtual reality and the metaverse can nurture a more empathetic and inclusive community of learners, with VR learners feeling almost four times more emotionally connected to content, a study by PwC has found.

Meta has made a $150 million commitment to education and the Metaverse.

Three-quarters of learners surveyed said that during the VR course on diversity and inclusion, they had a wake-up-call moment and realised that they were not as inclusive as they thought they were.

Jeremy Dalton, head of metaverse technologies, PwC UK, spoke at a recent webinar hosted by The PIE and VictoryXR on how VR can advance practical and physical skills training through movement tracking, and how it can also diversify and enhance the development of soft skills.

“From a soft skills perspective, it is very difficult for corporations or indeed any organisation, educational or otherwise, to recreate scenarios on demand that make you feel like you are invested emotionally in a certain scenario,” Dalton said.

“In VR, being able to conjure up these scenarios is nothing more than a button-click or a headset ‘on’ switch away.”

PwC conducted a study on the value of VR within soft skills training – an inclusive leadership course in this case – for staff in the US. A number of individuals sat the classroom component, others went through the e-learning component and a final group of employees experienced the same learnings through the VR modality.

The results found that VR learners felt 3.75 times more emotionally connected to the content than classroom learners and 2.3 times more connected than e-learners.

Furthermore, three quarters of learners surveyed said that during the VR course on diversity and inclusion, they had a wake-up-call moment and realised that they were not as inclusive as they thought they were.

PwC conducted further research by providing staff with a training course on unconscious bias and recording the varying levels of empathy learners felt, comparing results from those with no training, those who completed desktop training and those who completed VR training.

Dalton said it is “not surprising” that the results showed that those who completed VR training felt more empathy as, “if you are more immersed, if you have greater focus, if you are able to be more emotionally connected to the content then it makes sense that logically there should be a connection to greater empathy”.

Steve Grubbs, CEO and co-founder VictoryXR, describes the concept of the Metaversity as “a university, college or learning institution that is both synchronous and persistent”.

Muhsinah Holmes Morris, director at Morehouse Metaversity, has been teaching in the Metaversity for four semesters and believes that this model is “integral to helping incorporate social emotional learning and metacognitive strategies that focus on building the strength of the student”.

For Morris, who believes that a smartphone, laptop or tablet, graphing calculator, and VR headset are the only learning tools students need, the Metaversity has “changed the constraints of the learning conditions,” and is a “breeding ground for learning and cultivating higher levels of understanding”.

“It is a place of belonging, a creative shared space, that is persistent and happening in real time. It is built with community in mind. Instead of just focusing on the academic side of college life, we focus on the social aspects as well – social, emotional learning, metacognitive strategies, ways to increase health and wellness,” said Morris.

Meta, a leading provider of VR hardware and formerly known as Facebook, has made a $150 million commitment to education and the metaverse through Meta Immersive Learning.

Nicole Goldstein, global head of business strategy and marketing at Meta noted that Meta is at “the very beginning of its journey”, and its aim is to “support creators and developers to become trained on its products, be able to create amazing content experience that inspire the next generation of learners”.

At the University of South Wales, a concept called the ‘Mediverse’ is being developed. The medical digital platform, created by medical training business Goggleminds, provides a virtual hospital for students to carry out their work.

“We use the power of VR technology to re-create clinical environments and clinical scenarios to replicate what you’d get in real life,” said Azize Naji, founder of Goggleminds.

“So a doctor or nurse, surgeon, or medical student, can test those skills and can retain that knowledge without having to put themselves or patients in danger.”

Experts at the USW-based Centre of Excellence in Mobile and Emerging Technologies have been working closely with the Cardiff-based company to develop a system which focuses specifically on treating children.

“Through the CEMET project we really wanted to focus on and hone in on paediatrics,” Naji said.

“When specialists are learning about treating children there are more challenges than when dealing with adults, such as consent, the ethics, do we want to put children through any possible trauma?”

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