The way that we deliver learning is evolving.

Over recent years there has been a seismic shift from the traditional classroom environment to tailoring learning to individuals, incorporating more engaging learning and implementing effective remote learning.

The dawn of immersive learning using platforms such as virtual reality (VR), virtual environments (VE), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and extended reality (ER) has the potential to provide endless opportunities for education and training. As with any technological and educational evolution, it’s important to consider the experience of the end users – the learners.

For Special Education Needs (SEN) learners, the use of immersive learning technology and content has the potential to provide a number of additional benefits. By providing an engaging immersive learning environment, it could help to level the playing field of education and bridge the gap between education, work and society. There are, however, many points to take into consideration.


Bringing together educational experts

In partnership with Jisc, Metaverse Learning, a leading immersive learning company, brought together experts from across education to discuss the challenges and benefits of implementing VR for SEN learners, AR for SEN learners and immersive learning for SEN learners.

The panel included:

  • Nigel Newbutt, Assistant Professor of Advanced Learning Technologies, Institute of Advanced Learning Technologies;
  • Laura Sheerman, PhD Education Student – VR in FE Health and Social Care Curriculum;
  • Sarah Terry, Head of Learning Support – Warwickshire College Group (WCG);
  • with facilitation from Jason Holt CBE, CEO at Metaverse Learning.

The panel discussion raised three key themes explored in this article.

If you would like to watch the panel discussion in full, you can view it here.


Considerations when implementing immersive learning technology

Immersive learning technology is best used as a complementary tool rather than a replacement for traditional teaching methods, and this is true for both SEN and non-SEN learners.

There are many things to consider when adding learning technology to the curriculum. While the list below is not exhaustive, educators may want to think about:

  • Health and Safety – can everyone access the technology safely and in the right physical environment?
  • What are the objectives for using immersive technology?
  • What accessibility features are included?
  • What sensory challenges are addressed, and how are they overcome?
  • What hardware is most suitable to the needs of the learners, and can content be deployed to match the technology?
  • Is the budget available for both the hardware and software?
  • And most importantly, does the content meet the needs of your students?


Recommendations for implementing immersive learning

Throughout the conversation the main recommendations for implementing immersive learning emphasised collaboration and communication.

It is vital to bring in the voice of the students, to understand their needs and to get their feedback. This might involve a trial of some apps, content or equipment over a period of time to understand what works best for them.

When gradual and well-considered steps are made, there are more likely to be successful outcomes that will benefit the learners. A graduated approach feels safer for the learners and allows them to overcome any anxieties. It also allows educators to ensure that they have the technology and content that is right for their learners.

Co-creation of content was also drawn out as a recommendation. By working with expert providers, educators can ensure they have the right content in the right place on the right platform. By getting involved in co-creation, a level of control can be maintained over the final outcome while still sharing the financial and resource burden that comes with creating new immersive learning content.


Ambitions for the future of immersive learning for SEN learners

All experts shared an ambition for SEN immersive learning to come together in the next three to five years.

Currently, there is no single point of repository of content to deploy across multiple platforms to support SEN learners. Conversations, collaborations and content are all fragmented.

The nirvana would be to bring everything together to make learning accessible. SEN learners are potentially already disadvantaged within the education setting. The ideal outcome would be for no one to be left behind and for everyone to have level-playing field access to education, education in the metaverse, work and society.

What are some of the ways that we can do this?

  • Research to demonstrate the benefits of using immersive learning with SEN students.
  • Support for teachers with the practical implementation of new technology into the curriculum.
  • Creating champions in schools to support the learners with the technology.
  • Upskilling teachers to correctly use the technology available.
  • Co-creation of new content to support SEN learners.
  • Making technology equitable to empower learners.
  • Listening to the learner population.

While education and training for SEN learners can often be seen as a minefield of information, there are a lot of key workers, researchers and teachers doing their best with the current fragmented tools that are available.

The benefits of using immersive learning content and immersive training using VR for SEN learners are far-reaching. Some of the examples shared from our experts included:

  • Hands-on active learning can be useful for ADHD learners;
  • The option to explore and learn can help SEN learners learn at their own pace;
  • Virtual reality and immersive learning can help with cognitive overload, giving a slow, gradual, and calm introduction to learning.

There is still a lot of work to do to bring together useful content to help SEN learners and ensure that they have the right learning in place to support their education as well as their transition into work. It’s important that we keep these kinds of conversations going so that we can drive forward change for the benefit of learners across the globe.

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