While Australian technology and society has changed since the advent of the internet and 4G, the way in which we receive formal education has not. Distance education in Australia still primarily consists of accessing written and audio material with some skills, only being accessible in person, leaving many students unfairly disadvantaged and limited in their choices for further education.
In remote and isolated areas of Australia, primary and secondary education is delivered via short wave radio, commonly referred to as the ‘School of the Air’ . However, distance education in Australia has grown in popularity, with the number of Australian tertiary institutions offering online courses increasing, including the introduction of an entirely online tertiary education platform, Open Universities.
A number of companies have recognised the need to shake up the education sector, and have begun to use the latest technology to bridge the gap between online and in-person education and training. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are already in use in many consumer-facing applications such as gaming and content viewing. A number of companies are already using this technology to create immersive, simulated training and education platforms for students and staff members.
These platforms enable learners to experience the material as if they were in the same room, regardless of their location. Currently, students from K – 12 are able to participate in virtual field trips, exploring far-flung destinations like the Great Pyramid, all without leaving their classroom.
Internationally, airlines in Japan are experimenting with virtual cockpits to train co-pilots, while in the United States, medical schools are trialling teaching methods using computer-simulated cadavers. In Australia, Vodafone has teamed up with Australia’s Ruby Union team, the Wallabies, to develop an innovative and immersive VR-based match review system.
In addition to increasing the range of educational experiences available to all learners, VR/AR educational platforms also have a number of other benefits over traditional delivery methods. These include cost-effectiveness, lower risks and increased retention. In fields such as aviation and medicine, where training is both costly and risky to the learner and others, VR/AR delivered learning methods offer both a cheaper and safer alternative. One study comparing data retention between VR learning and traditional training methods found that 80-percent of information presented via VR was retained by audiences, compared to 20-percent when listening to a lecture.
Currently these technologies are supported on 4G and Wi-Fi networks, however the latency (delay) between the image seen and movements of the wearer can result in nausea or what is now commonly referred to as ‘cyber sickness’. This unfortunate side effect and the sheer amount of data that must be transmitted in order to operate an entire classroom of VR devices has prevented VR from being fully adopted as an educational resource.
Many experts within the industry believe that the arrival of 5G will allow VR and AR technology to reach their full potential. Current speed and bandwidth limitations of 4G technology have so far meant that VR and AR are seen as a novelty rather than the incredibly diverse tools they could become. The super low latency speeds associated with 5G networks will eliminate ‘cyber sickness’ while also being capable of supporting a huge number of connected devices across a concentrated area.
Virtual Reality has the potential to completely transform the way in which we access education from the city to our most remote locations. VR allows for the sharing of knowledge regardless of physical distance, bringing us one step closer to becoming a truly global society – a society in which information is freely shared and people of all walks of life can learn from each other, no longer limited by their circumstances.
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