Immersive education

A couple of months back, Microsoft released a white paper regarding immersive experiences in education. It can be found following this link. In summary, this white paper tries to illustrate how immersive experiences can help to improve and expand the curriculum in schools and universities, while having several advantages to students and teachers alike.

Education is always a hot topic. On one hand, it is one of the biggest industries that has not been disrupted by tech (you can find other here). Business aside, this is already a nice intellectual challenge. Yet more important, and I think that this may be often overlooked, it allows companies to lock users into their platform very early in their life. Think about this: if you have used the same software platform for a while, you are usually reticent to change to another one. If this happens when you are a child, it is very likely that you will want to keep on using the same platform as an adult.

As a long term thinking, this is a great idea. Possibly only allowed to big tech companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google… that can leverage thinking about 10 and 20 years down the line. I am not sure if a small startup thriving to meet ends can invest a lot in this kind of thinking. Although the intellectual exercise may very well be worth some time.

Funny enough, this is very likely one of these rare moments when technology and business interest align for a better development of society. Let’s be realistic: education, and the way of learning in schools and universities is stuck in a time long past.

Let’s review some history here: the first university in the world is the University of Karueein, in Fez, Morocco and was created in 859 AD. So the gathering of information in a particular place, already started more than one thousand years ago. At that time, and for the following centuries, that make sense. Information has been scarce during history. So schools and universities were the gatekeepers of those searching for knowledge. Therefore, you first needed to look for the information, study it, remember it and then, once you are able to demonstrate your knowledge, you were allowed to apply it.

You probably realized that this is not how society works at this moment. You will not expend years learning how to build furniture now: or you buy it in a place like IKEA and follow the instructions or you will follow tutorials online and make what you want. This changes happened mainly because no institution can gather more data than the internet (even though quite a lot of the information is deeply flawed).

Despite this democratization of knowledge, the way education works is still old fashioned, with a focus on remembering data (for an exam or test) and not how human beings learned the most: by experimenting. Think about children again: they try to touch, play and use things all around themselves. Easy example: how do you learn the best is something is too hot? By touching it. Of course, it will be very unsafe to let children to experiment completely freely, but we can extrapolate that way of learning by experimentation. And that’s also what is described in Microsoft’s white paper and one of the more important advantages of immersive technologies. They allow a complete freedom to experiment the world with minimal repercussions.

The funny thing is that learning by doing is such a cliche thing to say these days, but often not practiced enough. How may times did you find that your guesses were incorrect when you started a project? Furthermore, how much time have you used arguing with somebody attached to ideas that are easily disprove if they actually try to execute them? Thinking are planing are important, but not as much as actually doing the work.

And a though for you: wouldn’t be the world a better place if we focus on doing, rather than thinking? Please feel free to comment.

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