Metaverse education: from university to metaversity
However, will we see the same substantial change in education? We believe so, and we have made it our personal quest to change the world for a better learning and also teaching experience. In this blog post we explore how a 5G-enabled metaverse will power a new universe for learners and teachers alike!
What is a 5G-powered metaverse?
Neal Stephenson rose to fame twice: the first time in 1992 when he coined the term “metaverse” in his acclaimed novel “Snow Crash”; and the second time in 2021 when Facebook rebranded to Meta and claimed the metaverse to be the “next big thing” out of Silicon Valley.
Whilst Neal had conceptualized the idea and Meta is a strong driver behind the metaverse today, there is a very large ecosystem emerging which believes that time is ripe for our Internet to go from 2D screens (our smart phone and laptop screens) to 3D engagements (via AR and VR devices).
Does that mean that any AR/VR application is by definition part of the metaverse? We don’t think so. Consensus in the community is that the metaverse represents foremost a social construct where humans – represented by digital avatars – can interact with each other. That interaction will initially be trivial, such as glazing into each other’s eyes, but eventually morph into more immersive experiences via haptic devices and more.
Another underlying trait of the metaverse is that it relies more and more on Web3.0 technologies. These blockchain-based technologies enable an internet without any central ownership but rather a strong notion of an individualized value creation. Could this be of value to teachers around the world? We will see!
Another important trend is that consumers want light and affordable AR/VR devices and fully immersive content of the highest quality. Reconciling these requirements without a 5G network is unthinkable. And that is where Ericsson comes in as we provide the powerful, high bandwidth and ultra-low latency networks which connect consumer devices to nearby edge-clouds where content can be generated at will. As a side result, the energy consumption in the device goes down by an order of magnitude which translates to smaller form factors, more affordable AR/VR devices, among other.
In our first blog in the 5G metaverse series of Ericsson, we have discussed in great detail the different trade-offs which network providers, device manufacturers and application developers need to consider when designing their metaverse. Our 5G network offers the needed rate, range, reliability and latency: e.g., the average downlink (DL) and uplink(UL) data rates provided by 5G today are 200Mbps/30Mbps per user; achievable latencies are in the order of 10 milliseconds for frequency range 1 (FR1) bands below 6GHz, and 5 milliseconds for frequency range 2 (FR2) bands above 24GHz, otherwise known as millimeter wave bands.
These performance KPIs of 5G ought to be enough for first metaverse applications requiring a real-time connection to nearby edge-clouds so that content can be created and rendered in real-time and then streamed back to the devices. Working with the assumption that metaverse capabilities will improve over the months and years to come, it is timely to ask: what does that mean to the learning and teaching ecosystem today?
Why the metaverse can be a great learner environment
Having taught thousands of students over past decades, it has become apparent to us that the key to learning and indeed achieving learning outcomes is engagement. It sounds trivial but keeping a generation of learners engaged, one that has grown up with short-lived social media content, is everything but trivial! And this is where the metaverse comes in, by giving us the opportunity to create social spaces for people to learn and share experiences in a much more engaging way. Let’s discuss this in more detail:
Well-designed immersive environments with an intuitive way to interact enables much more focused and engaging learning sessions. That in turn allows both teachers and students to achieve given learning outcomes more effectively and efficiently. Effectively in that content does not need to be cast from a 3D world into a 2D book and then back into the learner’s 3D mind, but rather learning artifacts remain true to their nature. Efficiently in that learning happens quicker since the intuitive 3D content is easier to understand and memorize.
Indeed, with the stronger and easier-to-memorize visuals which can be conjured in the metaverse, both passive learning (teacher broadcasts knowledge) and comprehension via reading (learner reads a book) is superseded by truly experiential learning. Students can grab, manipulate and walk around learning objects; they can be immersed into historical events; among many more opportunities. This was shown to significantly improve learning retention, i.e. the ability to consistently meet learning outcomes in a prolonged fashion.
Augmenting this AR/VR-powered metaverse, there are haptic devices such as haptic gloves and suits as well as exoskeletons. Haptics is a very powerful learning tool – after all, we humans have evolved (and thus learned) over millions of years using our haptic skills. Haptic engagements create muscle memory allowing very complex manual tasks become completely seamless. A good example is learning to play the piano: we all start small training each finger in both hands and, over the years, make it seamless so that even rapid improvisations come easily.
Learning-by-doing is the best way of learning even the most complex of tasks. We thus imagine a future where learners are embedded inside an immersive metaverse whilst also using haptic/exoskeleton devices to further accelerate learning. Many device and standardization challenges still need to be solved but such a haptic metaverse future is now within reach.
Overall, the metaverse is a safe place for learners to just “be themselves”, i.e. to learn at their pace, to make mistakes, and make mistakes again, until the learning objective is perfected. Learning by mistake is another powerful tool to master skills. Doing this in the real world is often very expensive or impossible. Take the example of students mastering the art of surgery: even mock-equipment is very expensive to universities. A medical metaverse (“mediverse” anybody?) is a real value proposition here.
The metaverse also removes spatial barriers! No matter where you are as a learner, you can step into immersive worlds for any learning purpose. Often, these have spatial persistence, i.e. learners and teachers from around the world can manipulate and walk around the same set of objects. And when they come back the next day, that content is still in place. That works both for VR and AR enabled metaverses.
Probably the most attractive feature of the metaverse is that students can interact with each other and with the teacher, no matter where they are. Humans are inherently social beings and the immersive metaverse allows for very social and community learning experiences. From a tech point of view, important here is to ensure the availability of ultra-low latency 5G networks so that multi-learner haptic engagements remain jitter-free.
What’s in for teachers?
From above, it is clear already that a metaverse learning environment is also a great proposition for teachers and the entire teaching profession. Any technology which can accelerate achieving learning outcomes is a win! Due to the better interaction within the spatial and social construct of the metaverse, teachers now also have the ability to offer more complex tasks. Tasks which could often only be acquired with real-life experiences, rather than via well-planned upskilling pathways.
It doesn’t stop here. A properly designed environment allows for entirely new ways to teach. Teachers can use role-playing techniques with avatars to enact real-life scenarios. These scenarios can be as realistic as one wants and yet different every time – a digital twin, really, combined with the metaverse. Another opportunity is to push collaborative problem-solving where learners work as teams to find solutions. Or what about having as many teachers as students, some of them augmented by AI? All possible in the “metaversity” of the future.
Teachers are also able to measure and track in new ways the learning improvements of students. What was before a multiple-choice test is now augmented with spatial feedback data, such as haptic trajectories or eye-gazing movements. This allows the teacher also to modify content through feedback loops, and measure more precisely haptic tasks. Overall, there is a unique opportunity to build better analytics, including behavioral, eye tracking, heat maps and gesture tracking.
An overlooked capability is to use these measurements and build a skills database. One could record a large set of different haptic skills and record them onto a standardized skills database. And whenever needed, they can be downloaded and used to bring about muscle memory and other skills. It sounds futuristic and a little sci-fi, like the blockbuster film Matrix, but it is in the realm of the possible today even though important hurdles still need to be overcome.
Once that is achieved, exams of the future can suddenly look very differently! Rather than proving your worth in the real-world, whether as an aspiring dentist or aspiring car driver, you will be able to take valid exams in the metaverse since the digital twinning environment allows emulating the real operating conditions whilst the metaverse allows for precise measurements of your actions in 3D. Anybody within a certain error margin will pass the exam; and anybody else will need to train more.
The dawn of a new “educonomy”
The amount of new material a teacher needs to produce constantly qualifies them (probably) as the most prolific content creators on the planet. Yet, financial returns are modest. An important and intriguing question thus is if the metaverse could turn the tide and enable anybody creating learning content to benefit financially.
The metaverse based on Web3.0 is – by design – enabling the creator economy in that utilized assets (whether a cool jacket or a medical mockup) will fetch the originator (crypto) tokens. These tokens can then be used in the real world or traded into fiat currencies and then used in the real world. For instance, the metaverse Decentraland uses MANA tokens to reward its creators.
An interesting aspect of Web3.0 is that the value-stack is slightly inverted when compared to more traditional Internet business models. Notably, with today’s Internet, the chain goes:
Infrastructure -> applications -> financial value
In other words, one would first need the infrastructure, then build an application, and then hope for somebody wanting to pay for it. However, Web3.0 has made a slight modification to that chain:
Infrastructure -> financial value -> application
In other words, once a metaverse is created and there is any form of transaction or trading etc. happening, it automatically creates value since tokens are exchanged. The workflow of a teacher could thus be:
- first create original immersive content which can be hosted in an educational metaverse;
- lock the content onto a blockchain in form of e.g. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and make sure that the blockchain used by the NFT is the same as used by the metaverse (for interoperability reasons);
- publish the content in the educational metaverse, assign rights and capitalize on the viewing, usage, modification and re-selling of the content.
The actual workflow is of course much more complex and very much dependent on the underlying metaverse, but the principles are common to all.
The creator economy model goes even further in that it allows even students to become creators who can capitalize on their assets. For instance, a student could create something as part of an assignment which proves of value to other students. Once on the blockchain, the Web3.0 value construct allows the student to monetize on the creation. That’s an enticing educational economy, or “educonomy”.
But let’s come back to the first step in creating immersive content. The tools are not as widespread as for writing books or creating 2D videos. However, the ecosystem is advancing at lightspeed and creating immersive experiences is becoming easier, better and quicker!
For example, one can create 360-tours with tools like SharePoint Spaces or Thing Link and host them in Teams! Bet you haven’t tried that before! One could also use a 360-content creation app on the phone. The content could then be further improved by using tools like Unity, Unreal Engine, Blender, etc. It allows one to create blended learning experiences, including 2D and 3D assets. And said 3D assets ought to be reusable, as is with Ericsson’s immersive community.
Why does the educational metaverse need 5G?
Most VR-powered metaverse experiences at home will probably use Wi-Fi. However, when it comes to education in schools, universities or enterprises, 5G will come in very handy! The reason is because 5G can provide the scale needed to support many learners in the same physical space. Today’s Wi-Fi is not able to handle dozens or even hundreds of XR devices at once which offload compute tasks to a nearby edge-cloud. However, today’s 5G is!
The networks are ready but the device manufacturers need a little more time. That is, we will likely see Wi-Fi-enabled XR devices first and only then 5G-enabled devices. Given above and many more use-cases and use-places, VR and AR devices will certainly be 5G-enabled over the next months and years to come.
Some VR or AR educational experience require very low latencies. For instance, many students are collaborating on a very demanding engineering project which requires immediate synchronization across the metaverse views of all students. In that case, latencies of below 10 milliseconds are recommended which cannot be met with Wi-Fi but can be met with 5G.
Some other educational AR experiences will require outdoors mobility. That, in turn, means frequent handovers and other aspects of mobility support – all of which has been mastered by the 5G community. Operating such a system over Wi-Fi is not possible.
Yet another aspect is end-to-end security! In the end, we will entrust our children to use such metaverses in the future. To make sure that the educational metaverse remains secure, one has to secure devices, radio, networks and clouds. 5G is able to provide such assurances end-to-end since security is built-in by design.
To this end, Ericsson offers very powerful 5G networking capabilities to educational institutions to support the educational metaverse. We have performant 5G Private Networks which are being used in schools and universities around the world today.
Our Personal Learning, Teaching, Metaverse & 5G Experiences
To finish off this blog on the 5G metaverse education, we wanted to share some personal experiences in the space. So, who are “we”? Well, we are four passionate educators with a rich history in all things VR, AR, 5G, teaching and learning. Our history started well before anybody called the construct metaverse. And we would love to share some of the personal experiences.
I am Anand. I have been with Ericsson for 12 years. I started as an IT Consultant in the people domain driving IT development projects and after 6 years joined Ericsson’s Global Learning & Development (L&D) division. In the 7 years I worked there, I led the technology and innovation work focusing on tools and next generation technologies for creative learning experiences.
Working together with passionate learning consultants & Group IT, I laid the foundation work for L&D’s metaverse and brought it to its current level of maturity – in terms of platforms, scale & security and partnerships.
I am Katarina. I have 25 years of experience in enablement over last 15 years in senior leadership roles; previously in IBM and now in Ericsson Global L&D. My experience is that when enablement is used as a vehicle for transformation solving key business issues, it is a genuine differentiator. Over the years, I have developed and implemented this type of strategic enablement with proven results. Business value and user experience are also my guiding principle using new technologies to support learning and development making sure we achieve business impact in all we do.
An example of this is our Ericsson Global Tech Talent program where we use avatars to practice and get feedback on personal value propositions. We use our internal metaverse to socialize, network, hang out at the beach, play some games, exhibit key solutions, co-create business projects, book a coach in our House of Growth and – importantly – take a moment to relax and create new energy using our special area for meditation. This is just the beginning, and I am very curious to see what holograms and haptic technologies will do to enhance the everyday learning experience.
I am Matilda. I am now a Business and Operations Intern at Ericsson. I recently obtained a B.Sc. in Business and Economics and Global Management from Stockholm University. At the moment, I am also studying for a Master of Science in Business and Management at Uppsala University. I am very keen to understand and help design all the emerging technologies which are impacting the future of learning.
And I am Mischa. I moved from London to Silicon Valley only a few months ago. In London, I was full/tenured Professor at King’s College London where I was lecturing, researching all things cutting-edge tech, building 5G networks and driving many cross-disciplinary co-creation projects. For instance, together with Ericsson, we built the UK’s first 5G network and put it straight to use in the educational sector.
From the many use-cases we explored, one stood out: The quest to teach people around the world – no matter the background or location - how to play the piano using haptic gloves, immersive environments and virtualized teachers connected via a powerful low-latency 5G network. My dream was to build an Internet that would democratize skills the same way as today’s Internet has democratized knowledge and information. I gave it a name: the Internet of Skills. Terminology has evolved over the years to the Internet of Senses, and now the metaverse – but in essence they aim to achieve the same outcome: a hugely augmented learning immersion to improve learning outcomes and teaching experiences.
Join us on the journey to a new eduverse
It is certainly an interesting time to rethink education whilst the internet transits from 2D to 3D. Whilst a lot of work still needs to be done in terms of technology, content and applications, teacher upskilling as well as user acceptance, the 5G metaverse opens up many incredible opportunities to transform the way we learn and the way we teach.
It’s very timely too! Today, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) , 369 million young people do not have access to the internet, resulting in exclusion, fewer educational resources and limited opportunities for the most vulnerable children and youth; with UNESCO also reporting that 260 million children between the ages of 5 to 16 receive no schooling.
We at Ericsson provide the 5G technology and connectivity that offer the opportunities and access to quality education for all – bridging both digital divide and enabling education. By increasing coverage and adoption to provide equitable access to mobile technology, we empower more people to reap the benefits that digital technologies provide.
Being an advocate for universal access of digital connectivity, tools and skills, we are partnering with customers, governments, NGO’s and UN agencies to bridge the said digital divide. We drive education initiatives, such as Connect To Learn, that help achieving global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
We would love you to join us on our journey from “classrooms” to “classworlds” which is really a journey to democratize education.
Join us in Santa Clara and online
Ericsson’s Imagine Possible event will gather leading innovators and thought leaders from technology frontrunners and enterprises as they share their vision for the future. Learn more about the event on October 18-19 in Santa Clara and online.
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