(Source – Microsoft)

Here’s how wearables like Microsoft HoloLens 2 are enhancing education

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality have been making their way into the education space through wearables. With the COVID-19 pandemic acting as a catalyst for this change, universities recognize the potential that these tools have in delivering their courses and interacting with students. 

Singapore Polytechnic (SP) ‘s School of Chemical & Life Sciences (CLS) is embracing this digital shift by teaming up with Microsoft to use its holographic technology – HoloLens 2 – to benefit over 500 CLS learners, which includes students, mid-career professionals, and job seekers. 

The HoloLens 2 – the successor to the world’s first fully untethered holographic computer – takes augmented reality to new heights. Students can interact with virtual representations of physical lab instruments, science concepts, and learning scenarios. These interactions are crucial to help them acquire industry-relevant knowledge.  

“Equipping the next generation with relevant skills and knowledge is key to ensuring the readiness of our workforce as we focus on closing the gap between skilling and employability,” says Lum Seow Khun of Microsoft Singapore. 

For kinesthetic learners who rely on physical interaction for better learning, the HoloLens 2 allows them to familiarize themselves with the instruments before entering a quality assurance or quality control laboratory. 

“Holographic technology tools are very useful in building the confidence of users who are new to analytical instruments. Most of the users are graduates from secondary school and have never had to perform laboratory works with such complexity,” says Dr. Charmaine Tan Yen Ling, Course Chair of the Common Science Programme at CLS. 

Moving forward, SP plans to create more learning opportunities in the virtual space, such as “over-the-shoulder coaching” and an “e-assessment tool.” 

With the HoloLens 2, educators can bring textbook science to life effortlessly and enrich learning curricula with immersive content. (Source – Microsoft)

Are universities and students keen on embracing wearables?

SP isn’t the only university using wearables and immersive technology in education. In Malaysia, you can find the HoloLens 2 at Taylor’s University VORTEX XR Lab. VORTEX, or Virtual Online Future Technology and Extended Reality, is part of Taylor’s ongoing effort to enhance virtual, interactive, and immersive learning in an extended reality (XR) environment. 

The global wearable technology market is also rapidly growing. According to Bloomberg, this market is expected to reach US$ 186.14 billion by 2030. As more Gen-Z students enroll in universities, it’s natural for institutions to adapt their learning process so that the “hyper-cognitive” generation stays engaged. 

What does this mean for universities that fail to embrace this new change? Would this cause a tech divide? These are good questions, especially when not all institutions have the proper infrastructure to incorporate wearable technology. 

A study conducted by McKinsey in 2021 showed that the top three barriers preventing colleges and universities from using more technologies were a lack of awareness, inadequate deployment capabilities, and cost. 

Speaking about cost, wearables like HoloLens 2 are priced at US$3,500 per piece. While educators enjoy a 10% discount, it is difficult for universities to invest heavily in this digital product. There may be cheaper wearables in the market, but the quality differs, especially in providing the right user experience. 

Students can also get distracted and disengaged in a digital learning space due to various factors such as stress, mind-wandering, unwanted noise, and external alerts. Young learners might not enjoy the full benefits of immersive learning due to the increased risk of distraction. 

Despite this, education tech continues to evolve. Perhaps in the future, with improvements in the network and lower costs, wearables and immersive learning could be a reality for everyone.