How the metaverse could impact the future of higher education

Do Better Team

In May 2022, Esade BAN — the investor network organized by Esade Alumni — staged its first Metaverse Investment Forum. Over 100 participants gathered in a virtual space created by Esade BAN, where they interacted with fellow investors and watched presentations.  

That’s not new for anyone who attended a virtual conference during the height of the pandemic, using one of the many video conferencing platforms that sprang up to take the place of in-person interaction. Sponsored hang-out spaces, virtual coffee break areas, and live Q&A sessions quickly became a staple of interactive online conferencing technology. 

However, the debate about the utility of these new virtual spaces is still raging. At a time when some are questioning whether the potential of the metaverse is real or exaggerated, education stands out as one of the areas in which the metaverse can be most disruptive. 

So what’s different about the metaverse, and why is it being heralded as the future of education and training? 

The future of education 

Esteve Almirall, associate professor in the Department of Operations, Innovation, and Data Sciences at Esade, believes that educators easily meet all of these criteria and that the metaverse is the future of online education. 

“Imagine an anatomy class in medicine where students can dive into realistic representations of the human body, a physics class where they can participate in virtual experiments, or in engineering where they can dive into motors or plan virtual installations,” he says.  

As well as providing an immersive experience, the metaverse boosts learning potential. A recent study from PwC found that classes in the metaverse are four times faster to train than in the classroom, students are 275 percent more confident to apply skills learned after training, they are 3.75 times more emotionally connected to content than classrooms learners, and four times more focused than their e-learning peers. 

Marc Correa, dean of Esade Executive Education, agrees. Speaking of the launch of Esade’s own virtual campus in the metaverse, he stated that “the added value professors provide should focus on understanding and controlling the process and the environment and facilitating the participant’s experience.” 

The value of real networks 

But despite the potential of teaching and training in the metaverse, seems unlikely that the metaverse replaces classroom-based learning completely. Frank Piller, one of the pioneers in the metaverse, states that for longer programs, like executive MBAs and full-time MBAs, the face-to-face component brings a really strong element.  
“For these kinds of programs, what we as professors teach is 50 percent of the value. Fifty percent of the value comes from the network – the exchange, the informal exchange between students, social life, sports, and so on. And I think we can't replace this with the metaverse”, he states. 

But while the metaverse may not fully replace personal interactions, Esteve Almirall believes it will transform education. 

“Clearly education is going to change,” he says. “And this transformation will change our society. With the metaverse, we will be able to enjoy a rich interaction with fellow students and professors from every corner of the world and this will change our world for the better.” 

Blurring the boundaries 

By putting on virtual reality headsets or augmented reality glasses, people can socialize, work, play, and worship in a context where the digital and physical are permeable. In the metaverse, these experiences are supposed to be seamless on- and off-line. 

However, there is an important caveat: does this convergence into the metaverse really add value to what is available through the individual elements? And even more, will be enough consumer appetite for such an all-encompassing virtual environment? 

According to Xavier Perez, Esade lecturer and CEO of Metaverse Consulting, the answer to that question is an emphatic “yes”. “We are now in a phase of emergence, which will be advanced in 2025," he told the virtual audience during his Esade BAN presentation on investment opportunities in the metaverse.  

Predictions made by the tech company Gartner, 25 % of people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse by 2026. In the opinion of Perez, the time for organizations to invest is now. However, the problem for many is that they don’t know what they’re actually investing in

Deciding when — and how —to engage 

Organizations of all kinds — especially consumer-facing businesses — are wondering when and how to engage. They even wonder if the metaverse should be treated as a distraction in which only specific elements are relevant to different aspects of business operations. 

Domingo Mirón, president of Accenture in Spain, Portugal, and Israel, pointed out while speaking at the March 2022 session of Matins Esade that the real potential of the metaverse is still unknown. 
“We do know the metaverse makes it easier to train people in industrial processes, enables talent scouting during immersion sessions, and permits the creation of new business models.", he said. 

However, he also urged caution in rushing to invest, suggesting companies should only implement technologies that meet three criteria: enabling better decision-making, optimizing relations with customers and stakeholders, and making everyday business run smoothly. 

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