The metaverse is a virtual world in which users, represented by an avatar, can shop, socialise, take part in leisure activities – and learn. Its development has become a priority for many tech companies, including Facebook (which recently changed its company name to Meta) and Microsoft.
In a recent video presentation, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined the ways in which the metaverse would supposedly revolutionise life. Education was a key focus. Learning would become an immersive experience. By donning glasses or a headset, students could virtually “teleport” to any place or time. They could bring any object – a planet, a human organ, a car engine – to them to learn about it.
Some aspects of the metaverse have already made their way into universities. The real revolutionary potential of the metaverse lies in how it allows for further profit to be made in higher education. As my recent research on digital technologies and higher education shows, these developments may further monetise the student experience and exploit the work of academics.
The metaverse promises a joined-up online experience, in which a single avatar can move between spaces – such as an online shop and a lecture theatre. However, many of the individual innovations mentioned in Facebook’s presentation already exist in some forms.
Online worlds such as Second Life and even the block building game Minecraft are used by universities. They can enhance lectures or allow distance learners to virtually visit a campus. Virtual reality simulations help students in medicine or architecture practice skills that are difficult to rehearse in real life.