Virtual reality evangelists are quick to emphasize its possibilities beyond the gaming realm, as it is not just limited to recreation. Beyond being backed by hefty investments, tech and non-tech corporations are embracing virtual reality as a tool for a multitude of areas and as a medium. There is a potential for successful executions of this emerging technology that add a unique value, and can become the pathway for our younger generation to bridge experiences in engagement.
The United Nation’s International Youth Day is celebrated on August 12th each year. This annual observance not only raises awareness about issues that affect the youth of the world, but also recognizes their efforts in promoting new ways to engage them in being actively involved in making a positive impact on society.
There are currently 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This is the largest youth population ever, and 1 in 10 of the world’s children also live in conflict zones, and 24 million of them are out of school. Political instability, labour market challenges, and limited space for political and civic participation have led to increasing isolation of youth in societies.
“Millennials are by far the largest, most diverse generation in today’s digital age. They are the generation most driven by social causes and have great potential to drive peace through innovation and digitalisation.” says Ola Jo Tandre from the Telenor Group.
While millenials have adopted technology, however, generation Z – usually defined as people currently under the age of 20 – has grown up with it readily available. They are said to be “digitally native”, but also want to be more engaged and feel valued, often using social media to strengthen bonds with friends and develop new friends.
According to data from Greenlight VR and Touchstone Research report, 79% of Gen Z US internet users said they are already interested in virtual reality.
Empowering the Next Generation Through Expression
We’ve learned that immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, hold the potential for experiential storytelling that provokes learning and action. One project, MY World 360º, invites young people worldwide to develop digital skills and create 360º media as a way to share their own perspectives in order to advance global positive action.
From the partnership of the UN SDG Action Campaign, Digital Promise Global, and Oculus, this shared commitment to the potential of virtual reality to bring youth’s experience to life in new and powerful ways was announced at the Global Festival of Action earlier in the year.
The expectation by MY World 360º is to increase global participation through a new expressive and immersive medium by the youth of the world, especially in marginalized groups, while promoting awareness and understanding of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals, adopted in 2015, are to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity over the next 15 years.
By engaging youth through a compelling learning experience with virtual reality, this also helps them build new digital, purposeful skills. The Sustainable Development Goals are to create a more sustainable and equitable world for all by hopefully inspiring collaborative action by our youth that is needed to achieve those goals.
Virtual Reality in Educating Youth
In an effort to increase education retention and engagement, adding virtual reality into classrooms means that no longer will students read about rockets and spaceships, they will actually be in one. It also means no longer being contained in a four-walled room for hours a day, but being able to explore the world. A school’s curriculum materials will no longer be predominantly text-based, but will shift to learning via simulations and imagery.
In fact, the eye-brain system is incredibly advanced. Looking at the world, we absorb the equivalent of a billion bits of information per second, as much as the text in 1,000 copies of a magazine. But our mental ‘text computer’ is limited by the fact that we can read only about 100 bites-or characters-per second. Overall, virtual reality leads to increased student engagement and constructivist learning for our youth.
VR Education is one software firm dedicated to changing how educational content is consumed globally. Their core product is a social education and presentation platform called ENGAGE, that enables educators to create their own content in a virtual setting. Examples of such experiences that have been created for students are the Apollo 11 VR Experience and Titanic VR.
While there’s no substitute for touring a world-famous museum or the Egyptian pyramids, providing students the experience to walk through a simulated version of these places has many potential benefits, and virtual reality has the power to democratize education for youth.
Youth for Change
It is the very shift we have seen in values and access to technology that is empowering millions of youth around the world to overcome present challenges. The idea of success is changing as young people band together for their collective future.
Today, young people have different aspirations than previous generations. They define success not only in terms of material wealth, but also in their ability to easily access resources for themselves, as well as for their peers. They are sharing knowledge via online classes and social media. They are working toward a more tolerant, sustainable, and fair society.
They are also the pioneers of emerging technology, and will not only be the consumers of the virtual reality world, but the inventors. Naturally, youth are realizing their potential to solve problems, hold their governments accountable, and shape the world they want to live in, and virtual reality is a great tool for taking the steps towards this brighter future.