When the initial prototype for the Oculus Rift was released in 2011, the entertainment industry showed the most excitement over the promise of virtual reality. But since then, the technology for simulating virtual environments has had implications in learning environments as well. Developers are collaborating with institutions to explore the use of virtual reality as an effective educational tool. They are looking at how it can enhance learning, especially for students facing challenges like dyslexia.
Full immersion as a learning experience
Using a head-mounted device, the wearer steps into a computer-generated environment that allows for an immersive experience. This cutting-edge technology can even enable movement within the scenario as if the wearer is transported into a different space and time. Complementary wearable tools such as VR-compatible gloves can enhance the experience further. These ‘peripheral’ devices provide haptic feedback which enables tactile information to be received. In addition to the audiovisual simulation, the wearer can also touch, feel, and interact with the environment through this feature.
Although still in the early days, VR-enabled classrooms are already showing a lot of promise. Lyfta, a Finnish educational technology company, uses VR headsets to create immersive worlds for students. While conducting a workshop in the UK, one of the founders, Serda Ferit, had a light bulb moment. Ferit relayed that it was sparked by an encounter with Kit Cody, one of the students. After having his turn at the device and reading from the multimedia content, Cody revealed to Ferit that he was dyslexic. It was his first time to articulate a text flawlessly. This led the minds behind Lyfta to believe that VR could help students like Kit Cody who have trouble with reading and language.
Unlike paper textbooks, VR technology can customize layouts, font styles and sizes, and background colors according to the needs of the dyslexic student. Dyslexic students are smart in many areas but often get distracted by unnecessary details in study materials. If this happens, they encounter more difficulty in decoding words. Font faces and spacing can also affect a dyslexic’s reading experience, making the format of the study material important to their learning.
Dyslexics typically respond better to multi-sensory experiences as well. They are picture-thinkers who specialize in mental imagery rather than word-based thinking. In this regard, VR can boost their learning in certain subjects. Tech Crunch mentions that VR has helped in teaching literature, history, and economics and other academic subjects typically involving a heavy amount of reading. Lyfta is currently working on researching how VR can help dyslexics in the classroom and has not yet released their preliminary findings. However, one can expect that the focus will be on these seemingly small changes in design, brightness, and presence of imagery. They can significantly improve a student’s confidence and ability to take in, memorize, and repeat information which can all lend to a better comprehension and application of school-based knowledge.