Boosting the K-12 Educational Experience through Virtual Modes of Learning
Virtual modes of learning—methods that use the Internet and technology to augment or replace in-person classroom instruction—have been making inroads into college and adult education for some time, but they’ve rarely been found in K-12 schools until recently. The landscape is changing quickly. Innovations such as virtual reality (VR) available via smartphone-based devices, and online services such as Skype, make it possible to communicate face-to-face with multiple parties in far-flung locations. Here are three ways that virtual learning environments, or VLEs, can enhance the K-12 educational experience:
Instant field trips. VR creates an immersive visual environment for learning: Think of visiting the Great Wall of China, walking in outer space, or going scuba diving without leaving a classroom. When kids turn their heads, the environment moves with them, allowing them to get a closer look at details and experience a place in a far deeper way than books allow. Google is pioneering a program called Google Expeditions that provides K-12 classrooms with instant field trips. A few thousand dollars of hardware and software can provide access to virtually unlimited field trips for hundreds of students each day!
Teaching cause and effect. The virtual world allows for simulations that would be impossible in the real world. As an example, a lesson on gravity could take place within a virtual classroom that lets the teacher “turn off” the effect of gravity; students then build structures from virtual blocks in various shapes, and the teacher then turns gravity back on to see if the students’ creations remain standing.
Self-paced learning. Older, self-directed students can use VLEs to delve deeper into topics of interest, connect with peers around the world on coursework, or explore subject that are outside of the typical curriculum. Also, smartphone apps and 360-degree cameras allow students to create their own VR content for class projects and independent study.
VLE-enabled teaching calls for flexible, next generation educational spaces that can adapt to a variety of evolving technologies. The ideas presented here are just scratching the surface, but it is clear that virtual modes of learning hold great promise for boosting the K-12 school experience for all involved.