In the 14th Century, Laurentius de Voltolina’s paintbrush captured this image of a medieval lecture at the University of Bologna. Imagine his reaction if Laurentius were to peek inside a university today.

A digital revolution is transforming the ways in which student engage with learning.

Virtual (VR), mixed (MR), augmented (AR) and eXtended (XR) reality technologies allow learners to experience immersive learning experiences. In health sciences, students can see an animated augmented reality 3D beating heart simply using their mobile device. Fancy conducting your own simulated knee reconstruction or appendectomy? Check out an augmented reality app like Touch Surgery to choose from one of over 1000 surgeries. Theatrical set designers can create a visualisation from their imagination. Astronomy students can watch holographic stars form before their very eyes.

Analytics technologies allow educators to create customised learning for better progression and success. In maths education, for example, artificial intelligence can adjust curriculum to a learner’s level of comprehension, such as Squirrel AI in China. Blockchain can revolutionise student records and credentialing, providing a secure way to collect and share students’ skills, competencies and knowledge, such as blockchain-enabled badges. Local edtech startup RocketShoes gives students the power to take ownership of their own learning. Even robotics can play a part. Meet “Yuki”, a humanoid robot lecturer in Germany.

Learning technologies can be dismissed as gimmicks or distractions. Yet, there is significant evidence that technology can improve, support and extend learning in higher education, such as from the annual Horizon Report.

However, it’s equally as important not to romanticise technology’s role. Humans are social beings and learn from each other, whether in person or on-line. Regardless of how immersive, visually stunning, clever or robotic it gets, technology is always just a tool to set the conditions for learner engagement.

Professor Claire Macken

Deputy PVC Learning and Teaching, RMIT Online, RMIT University

[email protected]


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