Online learning is heading virtual with virtual learning spaces increasing in popularity
E-learning and synchronous teaching and learning has seen tremendous growth in recent months. Virtual worlds allow students and educators to interact in real-time in out of this world environments. In contrast to video conferencing options, virtual reality (VR) provides students with an immersive platform in which they can collaborate and share ideas just like they would in the classroom.
Students share the quasi-realism of a 3D environment where participants can see and hear one another, this provides a strong sense of group presence, which leads to engaging group learning interactions
Whilst educational VR platforms are still in their infancy, one platform in particular, the Engage platform from Immersive technologies www.engagevr.io is leading the way in the virtual learning arena and designers like KAEP – www.kaep.co.uk are working together with psychologists and educators to create immersive learning spaces which boost student engagement and improve cognition and learning.
This article provides an overview of the newly created ‘Olympus Campus’ created by George Kenyon of KAEP as a proof of concept to generate further debate amongst educators and designers alike who are interested in designing and using virtual learning spaces.
Olympus is designed to create a compelling and participatory experience for users. In this particular design the focus has been on recreating a real-world style campus and although the design is currently only a prototype it has already received a great deal of interest from educators interested in taking their courses online and into VR.
The need to move courses online has never been more prevalent than at this current time when many students are having to self-isolate at home and are unable to attend college. The social campus model provides students with hang-out spaces to allow them to connect with their peers or relax outside of class. The environment encourages students to stay on campus for longer and the greater sense of immersion experienced inside VR, creates a great degree of flow than what students experience during video conferencing. Students easily lose track of time inside VR and are less likely to be distracted by outside influences during their learning.
Bright open social gathering places predict higher student achievement and that learning environments affect both the student’s mental state and their academic achievement. The learning environment can affect how people act, feel and make sense of the world and that campus colour can make students feel warm, cool, calm and invited or excluded.
To encourage student socialisation in-between and after sessions the Olympus Campus makes use of friendly outdoor spaces and seating areas for students to gather. Green spaces and natural skyboxes mimic real-world conditions and provide students with a welcome escape from the winter blues/dull grey weather outside in the real world.
To encourage students to explore the Olympus Campus, the architect included pathways that lead through nature, along rivers, bridges, outdoor seating areas, grassy spaces and even a beach area for group discussion and time to process information learnt in class.
There is an adequate amount of buildings which can be used for a wide variety of educational sessions as well as a medium-size stage area for scheduled and unscheduled events.
The sense of excitement students get walking through such a special place can only be fully understood by experiencing this first-hand. Why not join the team this coming Wednesday 9th December at 9.30GMT in Zoom to be a part of a discussion on the future of education hosted by The Enso Education Institute, concluding with a tour of the Olympus Campus.
Don’t worry if you don’t yet have a VR headset, Engage VR can be enjoyed on PC and Android tablets too. Be sure to download your software version before the event at www.engagevr.io
 Tanner, C. K. (2008). ‘Explaining Relationships Among Student Outcomes and the School’s Physical Environment’, Journal of Advanced Academics, 19(3), pp. 444–471. doi: 10.4219/jaa-2008-812.
 Franceschi, K., Lee, R. M., Zanakis, S.H. and Hinds, D. (2009). ‘Engaging Group E-Learning in Virtual Worlds’, Journal of Management Information Systems, 26:1, 73-100, doi: 10.2753/MIS0742-1222260104