Is education, as we know it, about to radically change? With Facebook's acquisition of Oculus Rift and Sony's virtual reality efforts hitting the news last month, we can expect to see virtual worlds in our lounge rooms – and classrooms – more than ever before.
The fourth annual Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds conference has just wrapped up in Prague, where cutting edge game design and simulation technology was introduced as a new way of critical thinking.
The conference – which was created to promote greater education and understanding of the potential for virtual worlds – featured both educational and game driven insights into the power of simulating the real world.
3D games, augmented reality, education in virtual worlds and the role of virtual humans in education were just some of the topics discussed, with a presentation about ground breaking technologies in the experiential landscape catching our attention.
The presentation, titled 'Finding the Balance between Pedagogy and Technology' and presented by ReactionGrid Chief Learning Officer John Lester, opened up a whole new virtual world in the gaming sphere.
ReactionGrid is a software development company that specialises in multi-user 3D simulations, and Mr Lester, who has a background in both neuroscience research and simulation, was perfectly positioned to discuss this exciting field.
Mr Lester talked attendants through three key simulation technologies breaking new ground in the experiential learning landscape – Unity3D, OpenSimulator and WebGL/HTML5.
Unity3D is highly interactive app and game development software which allows users to create incredibly detailed 2D or 3D malleable worlds and then share them on multiple platforms.
This software is already in use by such companies as Sony, which have built their 'TV Buying guide' using Unity3D and Aura Tower – a future hi-rise complex in Canada that has created virtual plans using the software to show future buyers how their 78 story condo will look when built, several years from now.
Unity3D is just one of many virtual technologies that have the ability to begin the experiential learning journey, acting as further proof of how simulation technology is slowly but surely evolving from a science fiction concept into a full-blown entertainment and education tool.
Already, a number of forward-thinking education providers and training organisations are experimenting with this technology to see how it can improve learning outcomes.
Recently, mobile solutions specialist Conquer Mobile and virtual reality company VRcade announced they are partnering together to work on new medical simulation solutions designed specifically for medical education.
Conquer Mobile has developed 3D patient education simulations on iPad to reduce the information overload often experienced by patients during consultation.
"Having a personalised copy of the visuals to take home can help to relieve some of the anxiety and provide a reference for future conversations" their website states.
The Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds conference is a perfect example of simulation reaching the real world and the power of virtual reality as an educational tool. It ran from Saturday March 22 to Monday March 24 at the Angelo Hotel in Prague, Czech Republic.