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Dr. Symeon Retalis is a Professor of Learning Design Models for Technology-Enhanced Lifelong Learning Environments at the University of Piraeus, Greece.
The education sector has been experiencing enormous change over the last decade, particularly with the increased use and integration of modern technology in the classroom. Despite some pushback from educators and parents, concerned that technology may hinder student learning and social development, there is nonetheless ample evidence that, when used correctly, these new technologies can significantly improve student learning.
One of the most exciting developments is the use of mixed reality learning, a new immersive technology tool that may change our entire approach to education. Capable of allowing students to fully interact with virtual elements in a real-world environment, it has the potential for huge applications in education, particularly regarding special education.
As we continue to move towards a more technologically advanced society, it is vital that education keeps up with the latest advances. MR shows that way forward while also promising to make implementing it in the classroom as easy as child’s play.
What is Mixed Reality Learning?
Before we get to mixed reality (MR), let’s first look at the two other types of immersive technology. Most people will be familiar with virtual reality (VR), a fully immersive experience that puts you in an entirely digital environment, usually through a headset. There is also what’s called augmented reality (AR), in which virtual information is overlaid on the real world. An easy example of this would be the mobile game Pokémon GO or when using filters on Instagram or Snapchat. While AR does have a lot of uses in both entertainment and education, it is limited in that users can’t interact with virtual objects like they would in real life. That’s a capability reserved only for MR.
With an MR environment, both real and virtual elements can interact with one another and the user. You’re not entirely replacing the environment or augmenting it with new content. Instead, you’re combining the two in a way that allows you to interact with a virtual object like you would in the real world. While this can involve the use of a headset or translucent glasses, it can also be achieved by using a 3D depth camera that can track the movements of the user.
An example would be an interactive game where students are asked to take a virtual box from a real table, open it, and see what’s inside. This has huge potential for allowing students to familiarize and associate themselves with situations or objects that are otherwise not possible to recreate within the four walls of the classroom.
It’s important to note that MR isn’t intended to replace teacher-directed learning. Instead, it aims to give educators additional tools to use in the classroom and greater flexibility in how they approach lesson plans. This is especially important in the world of special education, where students may have disabilities that preclude them from certain tasks. By allowing for a multisensory approach to learning, MR can remove these barriers and provide a greater sense of equality in the classroom.
How Mixed Reality Can Help Early Learners
There is good reason to think that introducing children from an early age to technology will leave them better equipped to use the tools of the future. But the real benefit of using MR is that it encourages a multisensory approach to learning. Children learn best when they can use the full range of their bodily senses. This is how our brains have evolved to learn and function in a multisensory world. Among the benefits of multisensory learning are:
- Improved memory by providing continuous reinforcement and using the entire brain.
- A holistic learning approach that works for all learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
- Allows for new multisensory associations in the brain to be developed rapidly.
- Increased concentration and focus.
- Promotes better mental and physical relaxation.
- Improved communication by encouraging more self-determination and freedom of choice.
How Schools Can Begin Implementing Mixed Reality Learning in the Classroom
The best part about using MR is that it doesn’t require any complicated equipment. All that’s needed is a 3D depth camera that can track the movements of a user and a software program that can provide interactive games and teaching resources to choose from. There are several such software providers already on the market, each of which is designed to be easy to learn, implement and start using right away.
When it comes to integrating MR into the classroom, educators should follow a few simple principles. First off, they should ask why they are using the technology and what learning goals they hope to achieve through it? For instance, maybe you have a student who struggles with spelling and pronunciation. Having them play an MR game each day where they must move letters around to form words and vocalize the sounds could help them form stronger memories. MR works best when it is combined with good teaching practices.
It’s also important that educators know their classrooms. Students may need to possess a certain level of technical know-how to use mixed reality software effectively. Gauging their classroom’s ability to use the technology at the start of the year will help determine how extensively it can be used in lesson plans. A degree of supervision will be needed by the educator, but students should be encouraged to approach and explore the material in whichever way suits them best.
While studies are still being done on how best to use and integrate MR into daily classroom activities, it still remains a very new technology in the field of education. Due to this, educators will have to think for themselves on how best to use it. All that might take is a bit of planning, an understanding of the limits of MR, and the flexibility to change their lesson plans as needed. The challenge of how to efficiently use MR in the classroom may even give educators a chance to refresh their approach to education. At the end of the day, MR is only a tool, it’s how you use that tool that brings the real results.