The online learning industry is booming. Studies project the online education market size as crossing $370 billion by 2026. One-third of post-secondary administrators say they will continue both online and in-person learning options well beyond the pandemic.
The Challenge and Promise of Online Learning
And yet, close to half of online learners indicate that staying motivated is their biggest challenge. This might be owing to outdated teaching materials and instructional styles, not to forget the greater risk of distractions while learning online. Camera off, multiple programs running in the background, cell phone buzzing: for the modern multitasking mindset, learning is simply one task among many.
The good news? Along with the online education and training industry, learning innovations are also booming. Learners accustomed to highly personalized interactions with artificial intelligence can be comforted with learning platforms that can customize content. Imagine logging into your learner account with: “Siri, I would like to learn with a Rubik’s cube today.”
Hands-on learning engagements such as Rubik’s cube exercises are fast becoming the 21st century equivalent to a pop quiz- quick ways to do learning checks. Experiences are taking over rote learning. It is clear from Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience that we retain 10% of what we read and 90% of what we experience. And experiential education makes pedagogical sense in online environments.
Virtual Reality: Game-Changer in Online Education
Enter virtual reality (VR), a tool that has become a game-changer in keeping and engaging learner attention. Along with its counterparts, augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR), VR has been available for several years but has started rapidly penetrating consumer consciousness: think of the adaptive cruise control or virtual displays in the latest cars.
Here’s a simple equation to consider as educators: is the technology in the classroom as engaging and immersive as the technology that learners are using at home? If not, online learning has lost the battle for attention and retention even before sounding the bugle.
Education and training adapted to personal computers, the Internet, and mobile technology– these were the first three waves in the world of computing. And now it is time for teaching and learning to shift with VR/ AR/ MR, i.e. with a fourth wave of technological innovation, according to a ClassVR study.
You might already have engaged with VR and AR as a consumer. These technologies make it possible to design and experience memorable interactions, such as immersive activities in impossible settings— say, in ancient kingdoms or while swimming with sharks, or walking on a tightrope between skyscrapers. Or users might explore a car’s engine in a multidimensional way or raft through rapids for a cardio workout.
This makes VR sound like fun and games. But can virtual reality enhance learning—and, dare we say, develop learner intelligence? In fact, VR develops more than that—it challenges multiple intelligences.
Since it was first introduced in the 1960s, Howard Gardner’ s multiple intelligences (MI) theory has transformed thinking about learning all over the world. MI defied the traditional notion that intelligence was inherited and one-dimensional: either you were born with it or were not. MI posits that reducing intelligence to a single construct does not do justice to the wide variety of human abilities.
Gardner lists at least eight distinct types of intelligence on his Multiple Intelligences Oasis website:
• Linguistic, or the mastery over words and their meaning
• Mathematical, or the capacity to conceptualize logical relations among numbers or symbols
• Spatial, or being astute about navigating large or small spaces
• Kinesthetic, or the ability to use one’s entire body to solve problems or create products
• Musical, or the sensitivity to tone, pitch, rhythm and their patterns
• Interpersonal, or the sensitivity to others’ feelings and motivations
• Intrapersonal, or the ability to understand and plan according to one’s own traits
• Naturalist, or the capacity to classify natural surroundings, flora and fauna
This list is a work in progress, meant to be tweaked as human competencies and environments evolve. The latest aspect which might soon be added to this list is digital intelligence, for example , and Gardner has extended upon his work through the notion of a synthesizing mind that integrates intelligence across multiple dimensions. MI has disrupted the status quo for teachers as well as learners in profound, positive ways.
Multiple Intelligences Implications for Education
Educational success can no longer be predicated only on a low, average, or high IQ, because strength or weakness in one kind of intelligence does not predict strength or weakness in others. MI theory has led to two specific changes in pedagogical approaches:
1) Personalization of content
Since learners have unique sets of intelligences, educators need to teach in as many different ways as possible for their multi-faceted learners. Second, we need to assess learners in a way that allows them to demonstrate and apply their learning- ideally in dynamic or unfamiliar contexts.
2) Pluralization of content
This aspect correlates with instructional design: presenting ideas, concepts, theories in several different ways to engage multiple intelligences. Gardner explains that in presenting the art of Michelangelo or the Pythagorean Theorem in several ways, educators can achieve two important goals. First, educators can reach more students with this plurality, because some learn best from reading, others from constructing or role playing. Second, they are modeling expertise. To completely understand something, you should be able to think of it in several ways.
How to Unlock VR to Maximize Multiple Intelligences
The rapidly evolving online education industry has already embraced MI theory to enhance student achievements and experiences. VR can be the next step in open wide-ranging possibilities for both personalization and pluralization of content.
At Edstutia, our instructors took on the challenge of teaching in VR while tapping into multiple intelligences, both in terms of presenting ideas and concepts in many different ways as well as evaluating learning across multiple dimensions.
Here are specific content ideas we developed at Edstutia using the eight MI categories: the central focus was Gardner’s recommendation of helping learners demonstrate and apply their learning in shifting or unfamiliar contexts.
Teaching and Learning VR+MI
Shifting scenarios in a “cold calling” framework with avatars reacting at different levels of interest, for which learners counter with appropriate verbal responses in a communication module
Building virtual, 6-D statistical models of COVID response across cultures, investigating whether a high power distance or greater deference for authority has a positive correlation with effective COVID containment in a crosscultural competence module
Orientation challenges in different architectural and geographical 360-video environments to encourage thinking about user experience differentiation in a design thinking module
Team-building exercise in a VR auditorium with either visual or audio cues cut off, leading to participants using their other senses for problem solving
In a communication module, switching speech rhythms while playing a “guess who is behind the avatar” game
Immersing in 360 videos to observe leader-follower interactions spanning different organizational and leadership style contexts
Using AR and VR to create a self-leadership blueprint reflecting on strengths and highlighting a development plan for specific traits
In a Video Production module, demonstrating awareness of dynamic natural surroundings and elements such as lighting for a commercial shoot within a VR environment.
Assessments with VR+MI
How would you prefer to engage with your learning materials? Is it by:
(a) Writing an article
(b) Orienting yourself through a maze
(c) Working on a team project
(d) Writing code for a game
(e) Mixing sound for a video project
(f) Creating a product prototype
(g) Analyzing your strengths and areas for development
(h) Classifying a new kind of organism
Now that you are MI experts, you know that each of these assessments correlates with a different, unique type of intelligence within your intellectual toolkit. And by embracing that learning can be demonstrated using any of these dimensions, Edstutia instructors were able to respect—and acknowledge—the plurality of skills and competencies within their classes.
VR+MI for Workplaces
Just as workplaces can throw dynamic, shifting, unfamiliar scenarios at us, so can our learning environments- and this significantly enhances the education experience. This was one major takeaway for us while integrating VR and MI.
In the world of work, each of the assessment choices listed above could be part of job roles leveraging MI, corresponding to the responsibilities of an editor, manager, designer, engineer, producer, architect, talent strategist, or microbiologist.
Modeling expertise using multiple intelligences helped our instructors create a high level of trust with learners in terms of our acceptance of their varied MI capabilities. Perhaps more interesting was the realization—and acceptance—of everyone’s limitations in certain intelligence facets while navigating virtual and augmented reality, whether they were learners or educators.
Our second big takeaway was that the combination of MI+VR helps democratize the learning and development process and fosters respect for neurodiversity. Organizations of different sizes and across industries can benefit from this more nuanced approach to diversity.
Through the Looking Glass with Virtual Reality
Online education and training have achieved remarkable success in adapting to the demands of a post-pandemic learning reality. It is time to embrace newer kinds of reality- AR and VR- to continue making the learning experience relevant and accessible for diverse populations and nontraditional study and work contexts. It is time for learning to not just be virtual, but also to be augmented through a winning VR+MI approach.