This fall, millions of students across the US are returning to school – and, in accordance with recent trends, many have come back to in-person schooling. But let’s not confuse this for a return to the old pre-pandemic normal. The pandemic has irreversibly changed the way students can access the classroom. As of June, 98% of public schools offered full-time in-person teaching – but also, 33% of public schools offered full-time remote teaching.
These developments mirror similar trends in the workplace, where 33% of all businesses offer a mix of in-person, remote, and hybrid options. In education, the options are no longer simply the in-school experience or a home-schooling experience. We have distance learning – the hybrid model. We can expect distance learning to grow in line with “adult-world” workplace norms. And as we become familiar with this mode of learning, we’ll see a fourth option emerge: school in the metaverse.
What is the metaverse?
First, let’s recap what the metaverse actually is. It’s an immersive environment made up of multiple connected virtual settings, where users can interact socially and with objects in that setting. Right now, developers are building individual experiences enabled by augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR). In the future, we’ll see those experiences seamlessly connected for the user to explore. In terms of education, students will be able to move from the virtual classroom to the virtual museum or library – or to yet-to-be-imagined settings that don’t exist in the physical world. And in the metaverse, students will be able to learn in settings that combine virtual and physical elements.
The broad and rich potential of the metaverse suggests what the future of distance learning could look like. We know the common criticism distance learning gets today: Learning behind a screen makes lessons feel more ephemeral and less tangible. Students may get distracted at home. Educators may feel like they have less control over their “classrooms.” But we also need to remember these are growing pains students and educators are experiencing as a result of distance learning being so new in mainstream education. And the standard tools used for distance learning today are nowhere near as sophisticated as metaverse applications are.