In the 1950s, the concept of virtual reality served merely as a plot device in fiction. Often thought of as sinister, the use of technology to bring remote environments to one’s immediate environment leads to tragedy.
Ray Bradbury illustrates this notion in his short story The Veldt, where a nursery virtually transports people to different places by displaying scenes and landscapes on its walls. While this type of technology sounds fascinating to us now, the virtual reality nursery brought about fear in Bradbury’s characters.
Today, people embrace virtual reality. Companies from different industries have been using 3D digital art and virtual reality to meet their business goals. But what’s particularly fascinating is the fact that it’s also currently being used to enhance learning.
The Link Between Experiential Education and 3D Art & Virtual Reality
Three-dimensional art is found mostly in the digital space. Notably, it is also found in virtual reality, acting as the environment in which 3D art exists. We mostly see this combination applied in most video games striving to give users a realistic, breathtaking gaming experience. But the use of 3D digital art and virtual reality is beginning to permeate through every digital channel and medium we use — and it has started to make a significant impact within learning spaces as well. But why would establishments employ virtual reality for learning? The answer lies in a philosophy called experiential education.
What Is Experiential Education?
To John Dewey, the traditional classroom setup in schools poses several problems. For one, the traditional approach to teaching treats knowledge as something “static”. According to Dewey, knowledge in the current system is “a finished product” as opposed to an ever-changing body. Another problem he noticed is the vast number of students who associate learning with boredom, which prevents them from appreciating what they learn in school.
In his 1938 book Experience and Education, Dewey enumerates other problems he observed in the way educational establishments conducted learning. But he also proposed a new approach to learning, one that merged education and experience. Although Dewey said this approach is not without its flaws, he believed it was a step forward from the current educational system.
For education to be effective, two principles must be at play, he said. The first one is experiential continuum, and the other one is what Dewey calls interaction. Experiential continuum is an elusive concept to grasp, even for Dewey. But at its core, this principle refers to an educational setup that encourages continuity. Education, then, must result in a positive experience for the learner. Interaction, on the other hand, means the meeting of the learner and the subject. It includes both the objective and subjective aspects of learning — that which comes from the subject or its facts, and that which comes from the learner or their experience.
Integrating 3D Art and Virtual Reality into Learning
The practice of using virtual reality in learning is not new. Several companies have already started implementing virtual reality to allow students and professionals to witness subjects seemingly first-hand, subjects they will eventually encounter in real life.
For example, NASA is using virtual reality technology to let astronauts experience space. Without virtual reality, astronauts-in-training are subjected to a somewhat immersive space simulation. One notable simulation gives them an approximate experience of what it’s like to walk in microgravity. However, this training does not visually replicate the environment of outer space. With virtual reality, this becomes possible. Virtual reality enables astronauts to prepare adeptly for
In the field of healthcare, virtual reality technology provides universities with the capacity to train medical students without having to source an actual cadaver. Stanford School of Medicine recently opened a Neurosurgical Simulation and Virtual Reality Center in 2016, helping medical students and professionals plan surgeries and learn the intricacies of human anatomy.
With so many companies applying virtual reality in their field, it’s hard not to be convinced of the positive impact it brings. But why is this type of technology a useful learning tool? What element separates it from traditional learning methods? We go back to the notion of experiential education.
The Relevance of 3D Digital Art and Virtual Reality Experiential Education
Learning through virtual reality technology satisfactorily meets Dewey’s experiential education principles. There is an incentive for the student to continue learning because of the entertainment value virtual reality provides, resulting in a positive experience for the learner. And there is interaction, albeit by proxy, between the learner and the subject.
How 3D Digital Art and Virtual Reality Support Learning
Several studies have shown how virtual reality and 3D digital art improve learning in some of the most complex fields, such as medicine. One of the most complicated subjects is anatomy or the structure of human or animal bodies. In 2016, a study’s results revealed how 3D models assisted students in visualizing anatomy from patient data, giving them a “better understanding of the shape and spatial relationships among structures.”
Another study conducted in 2016 compiled and reviewed articles showing the relationship between virtual reality technology and learning among medical groups. The results of the study showed virtual reality actually improved learning in 17 out of the 21 studies reviewed. Moreover, the review shows people were more accurate in their medical practice in 20 out of the 21 studies.
But let’s look outside of healthcare and into another field that significantly benefits from virtual reality. Through virtual reality, archaeological research and projects now have the ability to be more immersive. This is a significant innovation, mainly because a lot of archaeological research involves old spaces. Hamilton College initiated a project called “Sacred Centers in India”. Through the project, it rendered 3D models of two sacred centers in India, namely Buddhist Bodhgaya and Hindu Gaya, which users can view through virtual reality technology. They were able to build this in Unity.
Because of how interactive, immersive, and even gamified these virtual reality tools are, it’s easy to see how such technology is aligned with Dewey’s idea of an improved system for teaching. Virtual reality might not answer every field’s need for experiential education, but having advanced technology is certainly a step toward progress.
Incorporating virtual reality and 3D digital art into learning satisfies two important principles of experiential education. These principles are experiential continuum and interaction. Many studies have shown how these technologies improve a learner’s understanding of a subject, especially if the subject requires its physical presence and this physical presence is not easy to attain.
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