The Ready Player One Test

Image generated by DeepAI

The Metaverse Is Here? Really?

Interest in the metaverse spiked and waned during 2022. A Google trends chart shows a decrease in interest starting in the spring of 2022 after a peak at the start of the year. Much of that interest was driven by Facebook’s announcement of its name change to Meta in the fall of 2021. 

If we zoom out we can see that the overall interest in the metaverse is up from June 2021, regardless of the hype bump from Meta.

Metaverse and Education

Discussion about the metaverse in education remains strong. Articles are regularly published by reputable online education websites like Getting Smart, Education Next, and EdSurge. Also, the annual conference for ISTE, a leading international organization to help educators use technology, had a variety of sessions on the metaverse as well as AI, and VR/AR. Additionally, reports have been released by both the Brookings Institute and Meridian Treehouse about the metaverse and education. One report specifically covered how gen Z is positioned to experience and shape the future of the metaverse.

Educators in K-12 and higher education are continuing to explore the implementation of this technology. Universities such as the Wharton School of Business are offering certification in metaverse studies. Schools are exploring how to incorporate the metaverse into their instruction. Morehouse University has already begun to move its learning onto metaverse platforms.

A Brief Background on Ed3

The first bricks of this technological revolution were laid in a 2015 Wired magazine article with the introduction of Education 3.0. Author Dr. Jedd Borden proposed that we “learn how to embrace technology as the ultimate empowering agent, not as a competitor or loss-of-control agent.” He doesn’t use the word “metaverse”, but he does propose that we “jump the curve” and that we need to “look ahead and not backward as we figure out how to make education something meaningful — special for our students.” 

The Learning Economy Foundation also referred to the “jumping off the curve” as the “internet of education.” In addition, the mission of professional agencies such as is “developing the future of education with web3.” There is also an NFT project released by the Ed3 DAO* that describes itself as the “FIRST NFT collection made by educators, for educators, powering a community of educators.”

While no formal definition of ed3 exists, founder Scott David Meyer describes it as “tech-enabled personalized learning.” In the “education 3.0” model technology will be a personalized agent of empowerment. As a fully immersive multi-dimensional digital space, the metaverse will play an important role for these learners.

*In honor of full transparency I am currently the community growth lead for the Ed3 DAO discord community.

The Ready Player One Test

In his book Failure to Disrupt MIT educator and researcher Justin Reich says that we need to be “oriented toward innovative pedagogy and a commitment to educational equity.” He adds that in order to align ourselves with these things–innovative pedagogy and educational equity, we need some guidelines. This is what inspired me to create this list of guidelines. These are intended to be used as a framework for educators as we introduce fully immersive digital environments into our modes of delivering learning experiences.

The title of this “test” is the “Ready Player One” test. This was chosen to remind us of the dystopian future that is possible if we do not correctly navigate these next 20 years. Technology solutions can be a tempting easy fix for all our systemic woes. If we don’t use foresight to build this future safely and intentionally we are at risk of causing more harm than good.

This is an opportunity to pause and consider how to effectively implement this technology in our classrooms. The parts of the Ready Player One Test are listed below, with proceeding sections that will expand on each item in more detail.

  1. Does it allow learners to immerse themselves in environments that would be too expensive or dangerous to experience otherwise?
  2. Can the learning be personalized by the student?
  3. Is it regenerative?
  4. Does it allow for learning to happen non-linearly, at any time and any place?

Does it allow learners to immerse themselves in environments that would be too expensive or dangerous to experience otherwise?

The policy brief by the Brookings Institute starts with a potential vision of our future classrooms. It describes a scene with students moving from real-life storytelling of Greek myths to a three-dimensional timeline projected onto the floor. Students enter an immersive metaverse in which they are placed in the center of a busy marketplace from 2500 years ago.

Research is emerging supporting the idea that students learn better when placed in immersive environments. Dynamic direct instruction coupled with immersive experiences and well-crafted student-led projects helps students engage with content at a deeper level.

But how exactly is this possible? How can a student in Gary, Indiana, or Bangalore, India, immerse themselves in an ancient market of Greece, or the far-away streets of Baghdad?

What about enabling students to experience the horrors of a live battle in World War 2 or contemporary conflicts in Ukraine, or feeling the fear and confusion of a raid by Ghengis Khan’s army?

This can all be made possible through an immersive metaverse. A closer look at the definition of “immersive” uncovers more possibilities. Let’s look at the Mirriam-Webster definition for some guidance.

Definition of immersive

: providing, involving, or characterized by deep absorption or immersion in something (such as an activity or a real or artificial environment)

The key word here is “deep.” Platforms like Gathertown and Zep are a great transition between web2 platforms like Zoom, but does it qualify as “deep absorption”? To truly experience learning that allows us to transcend space and time we need to go further.

In Dr. Mark van Rijmenam’s article 6 Characteristics of an Open Metaverse, he states, “mimicking the real world in the virtual world does not make sense. In the metaverse, there is infinite space. Users can quickly teleport from one experience to another.” This concept helps us move from three-dimensional to four-dimensional spaces. 

Focusing on one of Dr. van Rijmenam’s six characteristics, spatiality, presents a clearer picture of full immersion. “A metaverse that is not spatial is a metaverse with limited opportunities. Any virtual world, space, or experience should incorporate spatial anchors to make objects inside those virtual or augmented experiences persistent so people can find them and provide an experience that is more akin to the real world, which can be further reinforced using spatial audio.”

Audio, haptics, and the ability to smell and touch will all become possible as this technology evolves. This will allow the user to experience the deep absorption that immersion is all about.

The possibilities with teaching and learning here will be 10x or even 100x with this technology. Imagine a fully immersive cooking class in which you can compare spices from around the world. Using touch to compare fabrics as you learn about fashion design or interior architecture. There are numerous examples that could be generated when we see the metaverse as a fully immersive experience rather than “mimicking the real world.”

Students could descend into the crater of Halemauʻumaʻu on Hawaiʻi Island to learn about the creative power of Pele through a geologic or cultural lens. A science curriculum could be augmented with an examination of butterfly wings under a microscope and then complemented with an immersive experience of becoming a butterfly and flying over a field of wildflowers. A mathematics lesson on completing the square could have students settling a land swap in ancient Babylonia.

All of these immersive experiences when combined with effective lesson design provide learning that is deep and effective. They can all be enabled by AR/VR/XR, the metaverse, and haptic technologies.

Can the learning be personalized by the student?

The single narrative education system is no longer working. As a system it does not honor young people as the dynamic individuals that they are. New models of teaching and learning need to be designed to center on the student, not the teacher.

In Dr. Benjamin Freud’s article, The Metaverse will make schools places of becoming, Chapter I asks, “Why do I need to learn from you?”.

This question is an invitation to us as educational professionals to create systems that allow students to personalize their learning. Again from Dr. Freud, “Kids know that they can learn anything they’re curious about and that there is so much more out there than the curriculum they are fed.” Education 3.0 has an important role to address this directly.

Immersive technology via the metaverse can support students’ curiosity about topics that interest them. Blockchain technology can help document, certify, and facilitate these learning experiences in a trustless way. Token-based systems have the potential to provide students with access to resources that can help grow and regenerate these learning experiences. 

Dr. Freud summarizes these points by stating, “Learning is liberated when we are released from our physical constraints when the physical world subsumes the imaginary world and we can access anything, anyone, anytime.”

It’s our responsibility as educators to pay close attention to how these immersive worlds are designed and implemented as we transition out of the physical world and into a new one. If students lose agency in these immersive worlds there is the potential to continue the corporate-owned and data-driven models of identity extrapolation.

Learning benefits when it is personalized. Immersive technology creates personalization that goes beyond the surface level discussions that are currently happening in education circles.

Is it regenerative? 

The concept of regeneration (and regenerate, regenerative, and regeneration) has been borrowed from biology and has begun to spread across a variety of well-known industries–from agriculture, energy, finance, and education. The definition changes slightly with context, but we can extract a generalized definition of regenerative to mean “to regrow or be renewed or restored.”

The sustainability of an immersive learning system depends on its ability to continuously grow itself anew. Educator Daniel C. Wall relates this concept to education in his Medium article titled Education and Regenerative Cultures (Version 0.0) the following way:

“Education for regenerative cultures is about the life-long process of enabling and building the capacity of everyone to express their unique potential to serve their community and the planet and in the process serve themselves.” 

This circular relationship between building the capacity of the individual to serve the community, serving the planet, and then in return serving the individual must be a foundational principle of the metaverse. Without this grounding in regeneration, immersive learning becomes a novelty that may replace some fo our outdated learning models, but doesn’t add any value.

Emerging interests in virtual, augmented, and immersive technologies puts us in a dangerous position. We are “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” if we don’t lean into the innovative pedagogy that researcher Justin Reich described in his book.  Essentially cutting off in-person learning to spite its monotony.

We can examine how regeneration can support innovative pedagogy in immersive learning environments by digging a little deeper. Author Carol Sanford developed “The Regenerative Paradigm for Education” which consists of 7 First Principles of Living Systems. These are described in a series of articles titled The Regenerative Education System and Practice.

These are the characteristics found within these principles that contribute to regenerative learning:

  • Learners are agents of their learning
  • Learners are whole individuals made up of mind and body
  • Learners possess the ability to teach themselves
  • Learning happens through both participation and observation
  • Learning happens in small nodal communities

Educators can maximize the effectiveness of immersive technology by infusing these characteristics of regenerative learning into their instruction. The metaverse will be another technology that “fails to disrupt”) to borrow from the title of Reich’s book) if we don’t.

Does it allow for learning to happen non-linearly, at any time and any place?

Decentralization has taken on a new meaning in the context of web3 and blockchain. The World Bank has identified different forms of decentralization to help communicate what it means in different industries. 

Education innovator Mike Peck coined a school-specific definition of decentralization in his article Schools in an Era of Decentralized Learning Networks, “educational systems that operate both inside and outside of the traditional school structure, using a variety of methods, sources, and technologies to facilitate teaching and learning.”

Traditional school structures are no longer viable that are limited by the physical space of the school building and the time of the school schedule. There are two main reasons for this, one is the inequality of this structure, and the second is the changes in how our society is structured.

A primary force causing the inequality in our public school spaces stems from funding models in the United States that are based on income from property taxes. The type of educational experience and learning opportunities, as well as the facilities and resources that young people have access to, are impacted by where they live. There is an even greater disparity happening in countries with emerging economies and more dislocated school systems.

The structure of our school day and the school year is extremely limiting as well. The design of the school calendar is out of date and based on societal needs from centuries ago. In terms of the in-day schedule, this Atlantic article examines adjustments to disrupt the common 8 am-3 pm model.

It also is time to rethink the structure that limits learning between eight or nine in the morning to three or four in the afternoon from August/September through May/June. We need to move towards “just in time” learning models that allow learning to happen at any time and anywhere. If a student learns best during the summer months from 2 pm to 9 pm we should be able to offer learning that honors that. Same for a student who prefers 5 am to noon.

Immersive technologies have the ability to facilitate learning that is accessible across space and time. This will help create this future in which educational systems are operating as Dr. Peck says, “both inside and outside of the traditional school structure.” The metaverse will be a key technology as these systems are built.

Non-linear learning will help incorporate two learning strategies that have been proven to improve learning efficacy: the jigsaw method and self-efficacy. The jigsaw method empowers students to become content experts and disseminate this knowledge to their peers. And self-efficacy is defined by John Hattie as “The confidence or strength of belief that we have in ourselves that we can make our learning happen.”

Shifts in the architecture of our schools and effective pedagogy combined with immersive technology are the ingredients for how we can reimagine education for the next generation of learners.

Concluding Thoughts

Education is particularly ripe for change, but many transformative technologies have not been invited into our learning spaces. Legacy systems are resistant to embracing things that will make their structures and rules irrelevant.

Immersive technologies are one of these technologies. Instead of pushing them away, we need to invite them into our schools to help facilitate new learning opportunities. The “Ready Player One Test” is a framework that educators can use to guide their decision-making around immersive technology because not all implementations of this technology are beneficial.

In 2023 when the opportunity arises to implement the learning that uses immersive technology ask yourself if the learning you are designing passes the Ready Player One Test. 

  1. Does it allow learners to immerse themselves in environments that would be too expensive or dangerous to experience otherwise?
  2. Can the learning be personalized by the student?
  3. Is it regenerative?
  4. Does it allow for learning to happen non-linearly, at any time and any place?