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3 Futuristic Technologies to Support Blended Learning: Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Augmented Reality

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A look at how educators are utilizing AI, VR, and AR in blended learning classrooms
Girl using virtual reality goggles

3 Futuristic Technologies to Support Blended Learning

Technology used in everyday life is continuously progressing, allowing for greater access to information and life conveniences.

The latest in technology—including artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR)—can have an incredible impact on today’s classrooms, bringing never-before-possible experiences into students’ learning.

Today’s educators are investigating and experimenting with ways to incorporate these game-changing technologies into practices that enrich and extend educational experiences for all students. 

The future of blended learning: AI, VR, and AR

Blended learning, the incorporation of technology into traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms, is a perfect instructional model for experimenting with AI, VR, and AR. Some classrooms are already incorporating these technologies by providing AI-instigated online tutorial assistance for students, exploring foreign countries through VR systems, and learning new languages with the help of AR tags.

As these and other forms of new technology are introduced into the educational world, blended learning options will continue to expand causing educators to mold and shape what the classroom of the future will look like. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

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AI is already imbedded in many individuals’ everyday lives, from Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa to self-driving cars and area-assessing Roomba vacuums.

When a machine learns from experience, adjusts to new information, and becomes capable of performing human-like tasks—such as Uber apps suggesting optimal pickup locations or Google Assistant making a hair appointment—we call this artificial intelligence (AI). 

But how can AI optimize educational experiences for students across the country?

Here are a few ways educators are harnessing AI to better teach students today.

  1. Global connectivity. AI connects students and teachers with peers from around the world. By interacting with international colleagues, students can build academic and language skills and learn about life in the home countries of their matched peers. These connections not only lead to more informed students, but more empathetic global citizens.
  2. Instant resources. AI connects students and teachers with resources they need right when they need them. For example, educational software that uses AI can instantly provide students with access to one-to-one tutors, giving them the support they need with the help of an expert or virtual peer. 
  3. Personalized learning. AI offers personalized learning for students by analyzing student responses on digital educational programs, determining areas of need and interest, and finding resources to help students understand material. One example of how AI provides personalized learning is Imagine Learning’s Imagine Math program that offers just-in-time live teacher access for students using the software-based educational program. Using a wide array of metrics, the program implements AI, or machine learning, to identify when a student needs support right in the moment of struggle. The program interjects an invitation to the student on their screen within seconds, as if a live teacher were on the other end asking if the student needs help. When a student engages, live teachers join the conversation—via chat or live conversation—giving the individual students the instruction and support they need to move forward in their personal learning path. 
  4. Teacher empowerment. Teachers are able to access AI-gathered data about individual students to create unique learning opportunities or pathways, offer constructive and timely feedback, and bridge any learning gaps with additional teacher-led instruction. Student data collected and processed via AI also frees up a teacher’s time so that they can devote more energy toward individualized interventions.

Virtual Reality (VR)

giu-vicente-727228-unsplashRetained learning often occurs from actual experiences, making VR-based education compelling. VR is a completely immersive experience, where users wear VR goggles and can’t see anything that’s not on a screen.

“You’re basically in another world,” explains Richard Winget, staff software engineer with Imagine Learning. “There’s not a lot of educational VR content out there right now leaving a lot of space for growth for software and educational companies.”

Here are a few ways VR is impacting instruction in today’s classrooms.

  1. Experiences. VR allows learners to experience environments, countries, and cultures in ways not previously possible. A teacher can take students to locations around the world where learners can safely and easily interact with people, artifacts, and traditions. For example, students can interact with chemicals in a virtual lab, experience outer-space and life under the ocean, and go back in time in a fully immersive, memorable VR encounter. “You can see the Hoover Dam in pictures, but it’s nothing like standing on top of it through VR,” explains Dan Randall, learning experience designer with Imagine Learning. “Google recently created a virtual experience where you can go to Petra. In five minutes, I learned more about Petra through that experience than all the time I’ve spent reading about it.” 
  2. Ethos and empathy. New research suggests that VR educational experiences have the potential to create empathy in students, forming more engaged world citizens. When students virtually travel to different countries around the world, they have the potential to become more sensitive to and aware of other cultures. Students can virtually walk the streets of foreign cities through programs like Google Earth VR to get up-close-and-personal with other parts of the world. 
  3. Equity. Students from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds can overcome geographical distance and financial obstacles to be offered extraordinary educational experiences via VR. Traveling to Europe or Asia—once seen as only affordable to the few—can be experienced by students in VR settings from anywhere in the world. Investment in low‐cost VR headsets, such as Google cardboard, make implementation possible in even low‐resourced schools. Donations or grants can also help to offset costs. Admittedly, higher-end VR equipment can be costly—undoing any equity created—but once initial purchases are made, entire schools of students can share educational VR experiences.
  4. Inclusion. VR has the ability to allow students with learning or physical challenges to participate more fully in educational experiences. “For example, sound-based virtual environments utilize 3D acoustics that create spatial imagery for students who are visually challenged,” explains Patrick Efird, game designer at Imagine Learning. VR can also simulate bodily experiences for students who face obstacles to fully participate in physical activities. Students with cognitive delays can practice every day, potentially hazardous skills such as crossing a road, shopping, or cooking in a safe, simulated environment. Children with autism can practice interpreting and responding to emotions represented by an avatar, and students with anxiety, ADHD, or some phobias can practice challenging experiences such as riding an escalator or giving a public speech. 

Augmented Reality (AR)

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As opposed to VR’s immersive experience, AR takes a user’s real-time environment and overlays digital information on top of it.

“With AR, you’re still in your reality but you’re augmenting it by adding additional content that wasn’t there before,” explains Randall. “To the user, it looks like objects are coming out of real things around you.” 

AR is already being utilized in a variety of industries, such as car windshields that give the driver “heads-up displays” or the Pokemon Go game that recently swept the nation. 

Examples of AR in classrooms include the following:

  1. Book reviews. Students use AR goggles or an app to view book reviews scanned onto physical books.
  2. Language instruction. Students use their goggles or an app to scan objects and see the foreign word for the object pop up in a bubble.
  3. Spatial learning. Students manipulate AR-produced 3D shapes to learn angles and geometric concepts.

AR allows students to share educational experiences with other learners who are using the same program, inviting collaboration and academic discourse to flourish in the classroom. AR also motivates students who enjoy the AR experience and are more willing to participate in activities.

And the more students are engaged in instruction, the greater the learning gains can be.

Limitations to AR include technical difficulties maintaining superimposed information and students paying too much attention to virtual information, causing AR to be seen as an intrusive technology that distracts from learning.

As technology continues to develop, the students of tomorrow will likely see more of these digitized developments in the classrooms of the future.

And this is compelling, as VR, AR, and AI have the potential to enrich education, enable teachers, and engage students around the world.

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