Mobile and immersive learning: How tech can transform education

 In Blog, Articles, K-12 Education, Learning Environments

After weeks of balancing a full workday from home with homeschooling their kids, more than one of my colleagues have mentioned gaining a newfound appreciation for teachers. Chalk it up as one of the few positives to come out of this pandemic.

Between online lessons and learning to be the family IT department to keep all those tablets and computers connected, this health crisis is shining a light on mobile learning—the good and the bad. Yet, the situation is giving us a new window into how the next evolution of mobile learning might evolve.

More important, how could our children benefit from some new approaches, especially when the teaching reins are handed back to the experts?

Making the case for mobile learning

As technology rapidly evolves – and our digital native kids come to expect it in every aspect of daily life – the opportunities for mobile learning are seemingly endless. Even the definitions can be broad, including this one from the book, “Mobile Learning: A Handbook for Developers, Educators and Learners”:

“It is anywhere, anytime learning enabled by instant, on-demand access to a personalized world filled with the tools and resources we prefer for creating our own knowledge, satisfying curiosities, collaborating with others, and cultivating experiences otherwise unattainable.”

Regardless of how you define mobile learning, the benefits are vast, including the opportunity for learning on the go, reaching underserved learners (especially as smartphones become more ubiquitous in this country), improving higher-order thinking, personalizing learning and motivating students. Indeed, it is truly the foundation for building lifelong learners who are equipped with the skills and tools to think productively in an ever-changing world.

Technology and immersive learning

Technology and the rise of mobile learning have made a particular impact on the possibilities of one component of mobile learning, the concept known as immersive learning. The concept is not new, of course; we are all familiar with immersive learning environments such as performing arts auditoriums, wood shops, medical simulations labs, dark rooms—anywhere students can experience hands-on learning in a simulated real-world physical space.

One of the latest immersive learning tools – and one of the quickest to evolve – is virtual reality. A game-changer for lesson exploration, VR is capable of taking students on unprecedented journeys without leaving the classroom or the home—from witnessing the puffs of moon dust behind Neil Armstrong’s steps to getting lost in the inner corridors of the Great Pyramid. Even simple explorations closer to home – discovering new species in a greenhouse or studying the penguin feeding habits at an aquarium – can enhance your curriculum in new and valuable ways.

In fact, Tom Vander Ark lists VR and immersive learning in general as one of four “emerging trends” reshaping education around the world, as he elaborates in Forbes:

“Powerful learning experiences are often immersive. A growing number of K-12 schools are leveraging the power of place to explore the ecological, cultural and economic aspects of a community … Virtual reality is bringing the power of place to classrooms.”

It turns out that immersive learning through both VR and AR (augmented reality) approaches can also help teachers provide additional help and attention to the students who need it, keeping them on pace with their classmates.

Eli Zimmerman explains in EdTech:

“In K-12, assistive learning can be a tricky beast to tackle. Schools have a duty to attend to all students’ needs, but it can be difficult to create a curriculum that addresses every student … Technology helps educators give each student the attention he or she needs, through tools such as … virtual and augmented reality.”

Evolving learning environments moving forward

Immersive learning, of course, is just one aspect of the larger concept of the new learning environments we’re creating together. This marriage of formal and informal learning is integrating many kinds of devices and many types of spaces, both virtual and physical. Yet, all of it is focused on collaboration.

In the end, we’re building entirely new learning environments – expanding far beyond the traditional classroom – all powered by connected mobile technologies. Along with so many other aspects of our life, the world will probably look a lot different once we emerge from this pandemic. Here’s hoping the effect on education is as positive as we all hope it will be.

Scott Barton has a master’s in Learning Design and Technology and serves as a partner at Hollis + Miller Architects, an integrated architecture firm that designs the future of learning environments, including public K-12, private and higher education. Share your thoughts on Facebook, LinkedIn or on Twitter @HollisandMiller.

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