Metaverse and Education: What Do We Need to Know?

Key Points

  • The metaverse can be leveraged as a space to create more opportunities for learning.

  • Where can we learn about the technologies involved in the metaverse?

metaverse
Photo by Muhammad Asyfaul on Unsplash

Although the metaverse seems like a new concept, it actually has been around for nearly three decades. In 1992, Neal Stephenson, an American science fiction author introduced the concept of the metaverse in his novel, Snow Crash.

In October, Mark Zuckerberg announced the change from Facebook to Meta and released a short video about how the metaverse would work and what his plans were for it. I showed this to my students, which sparked great conversations and many questions.

As educators, how can we keep up with so much information? Where can we learn about the technologies involved in the metaverse? I recommend setting a Google alert through your Gmail. Set the topic to be “metaverse” or other topics of interest, and each day you will receive an email with articles, videos and breaking news stories gathered from all over the Internet.

So what exactly is the metaverse?

According to XR Reports, the metaverse is “a simulated digital environment that uses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain, along with concepts from social media, to create spaces for rich user interaction mimicking the real world.” For some, thinking of the book or movie, Ready Player One, may be a good analogy to understand the concept of the metaverse. Understanding what makes up the metaverse is essential.

There are videos available that show simulated metaverse environments, even Walmart had one created. For those who have been using virtual reality for a long period of time, you may already have experienced something like the metaverse. Anyone familiar with Second Life, used for meeting with others in a virtual world, has an idea of what the metaverse is. In Second Life, you could create your avatar, move around a virtual space, and communicate and interact with others. This is the essence of what the metaverse is, except that it would go beyond short meetings or gatherings with friends such as existed in Second Life and others like it. With the concept of the metaverse already existing in some platforms such as Second Life, Fortnite, and Roblox, it is likely that we will see continued growth in these virtual worlds where people can engage in a variety of activities for work and leisure. Imagine your entire day spent in the metaverse. What would it feel like to spend 25 hours in a VR headset to live in the metaverse? One woman shared her experience and the impact it had.

What would you do for 24 hours in the metaverse? People will be able to interact, make purchases, work and engage in leisure activities just as you can in the real world except it’s your avatar. And beyond what seems to be quite a complex experience, we also need to know about other things like blockchain, cryptocurrency and NFTs, which are relevant to the metaverse. With so many questions about how things might be in the future, even if that time frame is not until 10 or more years from now, we owe it to our students to prepare them for whatever that will entail.  If we set 10 years as the tentative launch date,  our elementary and middle school students will be learning and working in the metaverse. So with something that is quite complex, what do we as educators do?


Interested in having a conversation about the metaverse with the Getting Smart team? Register for our upcoming Getting Smart Town Hall What on Earth is a Metaverse?: The Next Frontier of Engaging and Learning.


Will the metaverse really evolve?

There have been mixed reviews on whether the metaverse will become what some are predicting it will be. Many wonder when we will see the impact of the metaverse and wonder, will it last or not? The eighth-grade students in my STEAM emerging technology course have a lot of questions and many ideas about what it might look like, as well as benefits and negatives that the metaverse might have in our lives. To be able to guide them, we need to do whatever we can to best prepare them and ourselves for whatever it might mean for all of us in the future, which leads us to continued learning.

A recent article in Forbes shared some of the potential benefits of the metaverse. In the metaverse, people can make purchases, hold meetings, own land, buy and sell real estate, and even buy clothing for their avatars. It would have its own virtual economy for these transactions, which brings up another issue, financial literacy and understanding how the concept of money and finances would work in the metaverse. When it comes to the impact the metaverse might have on the economy, it is estimated that it could become an $800 billion market by 2024.

Metaverse and education

There is a great episode available through the Getting Smart podcast with Taylor Shead on the “Metaverse of learning.” In this episode, Taylor talks about how the metaverse provides the opportunity for increased equity and access in learning environments. The metaverse can be leveraged as a space to create more opportunities for learning, in particular, for hybrid learning and providing more access for students than what might exist in a physical setting. Students would have more access to learning from beyond their own schools and can immerse more in a variety of learning experiences and environments.

The metaverse is already being used to some extent in higher education. Colleges are looking at how classes could be held in the metaverse and what the impact would be for learning. Last June at Stanford, they unveiled the metaverse learning experience for students. The class was offered in virtual reality and students had headsets and also used the platform Engage VR. More than 250 students took two courses and spent 3,500 hours together learning in the metaverse. Beyond learning about VR and the content of the course, part of the experience was engaging in a guided meditation in outer space. VictoryXR announced that ten “Metaversities” will launch in the fall.

At some universities, a professor can have a digital twin who is engaging with students in the digital space as well as in the physical classroom space.  The metaverse can also resolve some issues such as class sizes and limits on travel or lack of materials due to budgets. Students can explore and be more immersed in what they are learning and therefore be more engaged. Beyond learning with their peers, it can expand globally to connect students and teachers from classrooms around the world. One benefit that has been mentioned is that educators could better control student interactions in the metaverse by changing the permissions that are set in that space. Also considering the cost of attending universities, which can be cost-prohibitive for some students, creating these environments in the virtual world might lead to more opportunities for students.

Concerns about learning and working in the metaverse

Beyond the potential benefits, we also need to consider any challenges that might be faced if companies, schools, and organizations decide to move forward with the metaverse. Enrolling in a school in the metaverse would enable students to learn from anywhere which is a benefit, however, there are also some negatives as well. We have to think about things such as accessibility, privacy and security, as well as how this environment will impact the development of socialization skills. For students with audio or visual impairments, this type of learning environment may not provide the necessary accommodations. If the goal of the metaverse is to promote greater accessibility and equity, then these are some areas where companies and individuals need to focus their efforts in designing their virtual worlds.

The metaverse can be leveraged as a space to create more opportunities for learning, in particular, for hybrid learning and providing more access for students than what might exist in a physical setting.

Rachelle Dené Poth

When it comes to SEL, existing in the metaverse will limit our interactions with others and can negatively impact social awareness and relationship building. While there are still benefits to being able to interact with others in the metaverse, it’s also important to develop these skills in person. Whether we are in school or at work, we have to know how to interact with others and collaborate in the same physical space. If we are existing completely in isolation by engaging in all aspects of life in the metaverse, what will the long-term impact of that be on us and on those that we interact with? And if the use of VR headsets becomes more common, what are the long-term health effects of this? An important lesson we have learned during the past two years of shifts between virtual and hybrid learning and a reliance on technology is that we need to find balance and focus on well-being when it comes to technology and dependency on it.

I asked my students for their thoughts and they had some of these same concerns. While some thought that it would be cool to be able to learn, work, buy things and explore in the metaverse, they did say that it could serve to further isolate people from one another.

These are just some of the things to consider, I think before we see greater buy-in and belief in the potential of the metaverse. There are some problems that need to be resolved first.  How is work defined? Is our information protected? Are there procedures for dealing with potential crimes that can happen in the metaverse, for example?

Metaverse in the world of work

In addition to the changes initiated by Zuckerberg, Microsoft is working on adapting some technologies they already have such as a mixed reality platform called Mesh. With Mesh, the user does not need special equipment and can enter an augmented reality environment through their phone or a laptop without the need for a VR headset. While many people use Microsoft Teams for meetings, which does help to foster a closer connection when people cannot be in the same physical space, it does not offer the same feeling of proximity as when in a virtual meeting space like Engage VR or Scena 360. With the metaverse companies could hold meetings in the virtual space while also having people in the office participate in the same meeting.

Only time will tell how the metaverse evolves and how society responds to it. As with all technology, we need to continue to evaluate the purpose, understand the concerns, and make sure that we are providing a variety of learning experiences for our students and for ourselves. With these emerging technologies, it is important that we all explore new ideas and ways to best prepare our students and ourselves for what these technologies will bring.


Interested in having a conversation about the metaverse with the Getting Smart team? Register for our upcoming Getting Smart Town Hall What on Earth is a Metaverse?: The Next Frontier of Engaging and Learning.

Rachelle Dené Poth

Rachelle Dené Poth is a Spanish and STEAM: Emerging Technology teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an edtech consultant, presenter, attorney, and the author of seven books, her most recent Things I Wish [...] Knew includes stories from 50 educators. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator. Follow Rachelle's blog at www.Rdene915.com.

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2 Comments

drahmedhafez
6/6/2022

it is one of the best efforts i read about metaverse and education
and many thanks to the writer Rachelle about this article

Nadia Rolle
7/17/2022

Excellent article! Kept me intrigued from start to finish. My main concern is also that of the social development of individuals engaging long term in the metaverse environment. In other words, what happens to our "real self" if we become too engaged. It almost sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the pros and cons are very real. In the educational context, I think it's an awesome idea. It's a great opportunity to engage nontraditional learners and those who simply would not be able to be engaged due to financial and logistic constraints.

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