The metaverse and education: key factors for a change of paradigm

As in the case of the previous industrial revolutions, there is no time to wait, observe and temporize. It is time to make decisions, however uncertain the future may be

Marc Cortés

In April 2020, the American rapper Travis Scott performed live in the popular video game Fortnite. He gave 5 performances watched by nearly 28 million spectators. To be precise, Scott invited players to join him in one area of the game on a particular day at a certain time; he created an avatar (a virtual representation of himself), he went to some multimedia studios, and he put on a suit full of sensors to transmit his movements to the avatar. And nearly 28 million people ended up watching his performances live.  

Just when the best-known artists of today had become accustomed to thinking about the limitations of a physical space holding 50,000 or a maximum of 100,000 people for their live performances, Travis Scott presents us with a possible change of paradigm in the live shows and leisure sector

This potential change of paradigm appears at a time when we are constantly wondering whether a particular technology is really here to stay and whether it will transform a particular field. And the metaverse, together with its applications in the world of education, is one such technology.  

We are constantly wondering whether a particular technology is really here to stay

But to put things in context, let us go back a moment and try to learn from the past. Simplifying considerably, the 4 industrial revolutions we have experienced to date have all shown the same pattern of behavior. First, a technology is created and developed that is so powerful and disruptive that not only does it change the way goods and services are produced and/or delivered, it also transforms social models.  

When this industrial revolution has passed (for example, in the case of the first, with steam, and the second, with electricity), only two types of organization remain: those that have adapted to these new technologies and those that have been formed ex novo with them. The third type – that is to say, those that have done nothing – have simply ceased to exist, since at the very least they are not competitive in the sector. 

Organizations that do not adapt to new technologies are no longer competitive

Now, once again, we find ourselves in a situation in which exponential technologies (the metaverse being one of these) may potentially cause disruption, bringing a change of paradigm that will force organizations to adapt or to re-establish themselves, while "not doing anything" is simply not an option.  

And as in the case of the previous industrial revolutions – although this one is unfolding more rapidly – there is no time to wait, observe, temporize and then decide. It is time to make decisions, even when the present and future scenario is uncertain and it is not known for sure which technologies, such as the metaverse and virtual reality, are really going to lead to a change of paradigm. 

The 6 Ds of exponential technology  

At this moment of decision-making, we can turn to Peter Diamandis, co-founder of the Singularity University and an expert on the exponential growth of organizations through the use of technologies. Diamandis has looked at past behaviors of technology in order to try and identify patterns which may serve as a guide for inferring the future evolution of today's technologies.  

According to Diamandis, it is not a question of predicting whether or not an exponential technology is going to work, but of identifying its disruptive capacity for a sector and its potential degree of adoption, which will enable us to make decisions earlier. These patterns are expressed through the 6 Ds

  1. Digitization: a technology becomes potentially exponential and disruptive when it is digitized. That is to say, it is represented in ones and zeros. Once this occurs, it becomes an information-based technology and hops on an exponential growth curve. The pandemic digitized executive education, and we saw how we could complement or even replace a face-to-face (analog) format with a digital format. 
  2. Deception: when these technologies are introduced, some of them become widely known, but the majority fall into a deceptive period in which, despite the renown they have gained, their disruptive impact is very limited. This was the case with artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and now it is occurring with the metaverse… We have all heard about this technology, but we are not seeing many things that have a genuinely significant effect. 
  3. Disruption: in this third evolutionary phase, technologies finally find the space or the channel for generating a disruption, a change in the game rules of pre-existing businesses. For example, this disruption was generated by digital photography in the photography sector and by shared mobility platforms in the passenger transport sector.  
  4. Dematerialization: just think how many technologies have become dematerialized and made the transition from their previous form to integration, for example, in a mobile phone. Surely the best example here is the digital camera: we take photos on a daily basis, despite the fact that we haven't bought a camera for years. And this has repercussions, in that the photography sector is no longer led by Nikon, Kodak and Minolta, but it is Apple and Samsung that we find at the top of the pyramid. 
  5. Demonetization: continuing with the example of photography, how much did we pay to snap and store the last photo we took? In all certainty, nothing; this is clearly a sector in which money has been removed from the equation. Users are no longer prepared to pay to take a photo or to store it (or even upload it to Instagram). What would happen if no one wanted to pay to gain access to executive education? 
  6. Democratization: one of the consequences of the evolution we have observed is a reduction in costs and therefore improved access to these technologies. The lower the cost and the greater the access, the more democratic the use of these technologies will be. 

Education is not immune to this process and, as Professor Esteve Almirall explains, the metaverse “is clearly going to change education, and this change will transform our society, because it is going to democratize knowledge”. Thus we can already say that, following the patterns defined by Diamandis, the metaverse has a very high potential impact on the education sector, even leading to a change of paradigm.  

The challenges of the educational metaverse 

We are emerging from the context of a pandemic in which we have standardized the use of technologies, in order to be able to transfer part or all of the educational process to a digital format at every age level (from primary and secondary education through to university and executive education), but this has left many of us in a deceptive phase, since the replacement of the analog/face-to-face format with a virtual/digital format is still not sufficient.  

In the search to plug this gap, we can already visualize inspiring projects where the aim is that the metaverse will play a disruptive role in the educational process. Examples here include faculties of medicine which use virtual reality to teach subjects such as orthopedic surgery, or several Chinese universities that have created totally virtual campuses on which it is even possible to make academic transactions using blockchain. Esade itself has launched the first campus of a Business School in Europe that is 100% located in the metaverse. 

Ahead of us lie three potential challenges which many universities and business schools are tackling right now: 

1. Dematerializing this technology

The first challenge lies in how to integrate the use of the metaverse into academic programs, not with the aim of achieving a WOW effect, or of offering the entire program in this format, but with the intention of realizing its maximum potential (for example, for a human physiology class it will make sense to enter a human body).  

2. Offering additional value

In line with previous patterns, participants will want to be offered a value in addition to the technology itself at zero cost. Therefore, this will involve focusing on other elements of value, such as designing learning processes with different parameters, redesigning educational environments, transforming the role of students (so they may lead the process) and of professors (so they may facilitate the process), or creating everything from models based on ecosystems (with partners outside the sector, for example). 

3. Leading a democratization process

Finally, the challenge that is surely most relevant to the change of paradigm lies in being able to take advantage of these technologies, in order to lead a process of democratizing access to executive education and its development. The metaverse will cause the disappearance of geographical limits, and so it should be possible to reduce economic gaps and usher in universal access to this type of education. 

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