In recent weeks, while AI-based technologies are grabbing all the headlines, one technology that has been going under radar for a couple of years is also making its presence felt now. This immersive technology, called “Metaverse,” is often considered the next step in the evolution of the internet and promises to have a major impact in several industries, be it education, entertainment, social media, gaming, or online shopping.
In a Metaverse, one could enter a realistic virtual world through their digital representations (known as avatars) by wearing virtual reality headsets. The avatars chosen reflect user preference and could communicate in the virtual world with other users. The Metaverse also allows users to create their own generated virtual world, such as virtual spaces, content, characters, and other objects, for a seamless and engaging experience.
COVID-19 accelerated IT and internet adoption, and universities went either hybrid or totally online to cope with movement restrictions. This increased adoption has also given a fillip to the online training industry that is now moving into the Metaverse space to provide users with more engaging educational experiences. We never predicted what the 2D internet did to our economies and our society. With Metaverse, a 3D internet offers endless opportunities.
The education landscape in Asia and Europe is changing rapidly, and embracing Metaverse could provide a fillip to the evolving education delivery and learning experience in the two regions. ASEM, an informal intergovernmental forum, and other similar organizations could play a pivotal role in harnessing this technology that could further foster dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe.
Although the term Metaverse first appeared in the early 1990s, it has evolved quickly since the start of the 21st century. In the 2000s, massively multiplayer role-playing online games made it possible for users to don a certain avatar and interact with others. Metaverse has since come a long way from being a science fiction to reality. The group of technologies that give this virtual experience are complex and evolving and hold immense potential for how we would experience our world and go about our day-to-day activities.
In the education sector, Metaverse may hold special significance, as the interactive and immersive nature of the platform could provide a more engaging and personalized learning environment to users. Although the current application of Metaverse in education is limited, it has immense potential to impact this space. Several companies such Meta, Microsoft, Roblox Corporation and NVIDIA are developing the necessary software and hardware of these virtual worlds for both entertainment and educational purposes. As more content developers enter this platform, education at both the K-12 and secondary levels could be transformed significantly. Metaverse, with the suite of technologies, have the capability to make realistic simulations of historical places and events, geographical locations, or scientific facts, making learning more engaging and interesting. Complex concepts could thus be grasped and retained better by the students. Moreover, AI algorithms can analyse learners’ weaknesses, strengths, and learning styles to provide more self-paced learning conducive to the level and temperament of the learner.
Therefore, how can international organizations such as ASEM leverage this technology to enhance educational collaboration? Learning the language of other nations is a great tool to foster deeper appreciation of other cultures. Virtual language learning and cultural centres in the Metaverse could offer immersive language courses and cultural experiences. These virtual spaces would be a great collaborative ground where learners from different regions would come together, making the learning faster, more interactive and fun. Few of the aspects that are hitherto unexplored may be possible in the future. I believe these would also create new employment opportunities and new skills will be needed to cater to the specific job needs and requirements. Hence, like language learning and cultural centres, this collaborative and immersive feature of the technology could provide avenues for inclusive education, joint curriculum development and different categories of skill development.
There have been some shining examples of educational campuses from America to southeast Asia launching virtual campuses as a new way for the faculty and students to connect to one another. While the University of Michigan launched its virtual campus on the metaverse some two years back, in 2022, the University of Texas at Austin collaborated with a company named Decentraland to do the same. In Malaysia, SeGi University launched its Metacampus, which offers immersive virtual 3D learning experiences to users.
Real-world scenarios and high-pressure situations could be effectively simulated and used as experiential case studies. The European Union has been discussing the opportunities and policy implications of Metaverse for quite some time now. A recent plan, titled “People, technology, and infrastructure- Europe’s plan to thrive in the Metaverse’ presented by EU Commissioners of the Internal Market, expounds confidence in EU laws on Metaverse issues and opportunities. The EU wants Metaverse to embed European values from the outset, and every citizen needs to feel safe in the virtual world in the same way as they feel in the real world. Regulatory tools such as the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act make the EU well prepared to face the challenge.
In Asia, China has already taken a giant leap into Metaverse, with several companies involved in the space. In South Korea, companies are developing games for the Metaverse. In Southeast Asia, some countries, including Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore, have made noteworthy progress in the areas of NFTs, digital identity and Metaverse. Nonetheless, there are several issues related to misuse, interoperability, ownership, etc., of Metaverse and differing views as to how this technology will be involved in the future. Thus, policy makers and enterprises must work hand in glove to harness this technology effectively to propel humanity’s learning experience to the next level.
Dr. Sameer Kumar, Associate Professor, Asia-Europe Institute, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur