The face of education has transformed during this pandemic. Virtual learning has become the norm, and by all accounts, it has been a disaster for students, teachers, parents alike.

The impact of this lost educational opportunity will be profound. OECD pegs the long-term cost in foregone productivity from school aged students during this time in the U.S. at around $15 trillion.

This crisis will pass, but it has left many wondering what the future of education will look like; advances in educational technology seem not only inevitable, but necessary...what will they look like?

In typical fashion, we can look to well-funded enterprises--which spend an estimated $83 billion a year on training--to understand what emerging technologies will be used and how best to implement these technologies. These astronomical education related expenses push enterprises to constantly innovate their strategies and technologies, seeking to reduce training costs by reducing training time and increasing retention.

In enterprise training environments, several technologies are working together to automate education (and everything else eventually) in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As artificial intelligence learns from the information generated by the internet of things (IoT) used to educate trainees and students--computers, smart phones, virtual and mixed reality headsets, etc.--education will become more personalized, streamlined, and automated.

Extended Reality (XR) is the technology to watch in the education sector.

Extended reality refers to augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality. Augmented and mixed reality blend the physical and digital worlds, while virtual reality immerses you in a completely computer generated world. These technologies will change education in the workplace and the classroom.

Augmented/Mixed Reality

The major advantage of augmented and mixed reality over our current phones and computers is the level of connectedness we are able to maintain with our physical space. Instead of immersing yourself into your phone or computer, you can interact with digital information right in front of your eyes and completely hands-free.

This prevents the inefficiency we currently have from dividing attention between the information you need and the task at hand, instead allowing for real-time, active learning. 

For example, if you’re learning how to change a tire by watching a video, you won’t need to go back and forth between what you’re watching and what you’re doing; you’ll experience the real-time knowledge transfer of seeing step by step instructions right in front of your eyes while you work. These instructions will even identify and “augment” the tools and parts you’re using so you know exactly what you need and what to do for each step.

Training and education is currently one of the most heavily invested in uses for augmented and mixed reality by enterprises because the ROI associated with it is so immense. AR and MR headsets are used in healthcare, aerospace, manufacturing, retail, and military. Here are just a few ways this technology adds value for education and training.

Engagement and Retention: Visual, auditory, and active learning come together in a brilliant new way with MR and AR wearables. Digital visual aids can walk you through a lesson while experts talk you through the lesson--while at the same time you’re using your hands to complete a task. Working together, these sensory inputs and outputs increase engagement in the task. It’s hands-on learning in a structured, interactive way.

Fuller engagement in a lesson naturally increases retention of the lesson. Studies of using Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 MR headset in education show a 35% increase in student engagement and retention. They also saw a 22% improvement in test scores.

Safety: For lessons or jobs that are inherently dangerous--like performing surgery, operating heavy machinery, or working with high voltage--AR/MR provides a safer environment for training. Improvements in engagement and retention also increase the likelihood that safety training will be remembered. Finally, real-time knowledge transfer allows for on the job assistance during dangerous tasks.

Cost Effectiveness: Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 goes for $3,500, so there are some high initial costs for implementing the technology, but they’re outweighed by the benefits of increased efficiency, retention, safety, as well as by replacing the need for costly seminars or classes.

In addition, costs of the hardware will come down as more manufacturers produce slimmer versions--like Apple Glass, which is predicted to come launch this year and retail for $500. This will also remove much of the cost burden from schools and employers, who won’t need to provide every student/employee with their own headset.

These headsets also allow for on-demand training. Instead of hiring someone to onboard new employees and provide ongoing training, training material can be recorded once and used over and over again.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality has a unique ability to bring lessons to life. It places students in situations they would never experience otherwise; they might walk through ancient Egypt or attend a royal dinner party. Though it removes the user from their surroundings, VR has all the same value propositions as AR/MR when used in the right circumstances.

Internet of Things & Big Data

The network between all of these technologies and the big data collected from them plugged into artificial intelligence to analyze behavior will be instrumental for personalized learning, determining interventions, and what tools are effective.

This is the one that tends to freak people out about this technology...and we get it. No technology provides insight into human behavior like mixed reality headsets. Eye tracking technology paints a very clear picture of human psychology, making this data extremely valuable to anyone and everyone.

As the automation of education moves forward, we’ll see more personalized education based on these analytics. The question is, who else will pay to get their hands on it and how will it be used?

Regardless of these privacy concerns, this technology is coming full steam ahead, and it will transform more than our classrooms and workplaces. It will transform our homes, our streets--our lives. It will invade every type of business and industry and eliminate the need for screens until the physical and digital worlds are one. What an interesting journey we are about to embark on.