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The Brain 

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The Learning Technology

This is the first generation to grow up digital—coming of age in a world where computers, the Internet, video games, and cell phones are common, and where expressing themselves through these tools is the norm. Given how embedded these technologies are in their lives, do young people act, think and learn differently today? And what are the implications for education and for society?”

Jonathan Fanton President, MacArthur Foundation

It is a common refrain that new technologies bring new societal advances- but there is an important caveat- only if leveraged correctly.  Unfortunately, to date the promise and engagement of 3D technologies and visualization tools have been the exclusive domain of games and entertainment.  Great movies are enjoyed and great games are played, but great minds are not stimulated. If the test scores of American children in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) are an indication, there is clearly a great unfulfilled promise in the learning potential of these powerful technologies.

Kids today are different.

Technology is everywhere, driving our home life, community life, and work life. Yet learning always seems to lag far behind the technology curve.  The classroom is the one facet of our society that would be easily recognized by a visitor from the 19th Century.

Outside school, kids have access to PCs, laptops, videogames, PDAs, smartphones, texting, social networking, and video.  Because of the disconnect between school life and non-school life, quite simply, many kids are bored in school.  The Lucas Foundation reports: “Teachers in every strata of education are increasingly dealing with a student population that is not only more wired than they are but also grew up in a techno-drenched atmosphere that has trained them to absorb and process information in fundamentally different ways.”

Kids today are different.  According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “Today’s youth get news online, make online purchases, and create their own content for the Internet.” Eighty-seven percent of U.S. teens aged 12-17 now use the Internet. Half of those teen internet users go online every day.

The New Possibilities

Faced with the challenge of engaging students who think in fundamentally different ways than previous generations, parents and educators need the appropriate new tools to engage these new minds.  Virtual learning is an effort to make learning more relevant and engaging to today’s technology-savvy kids. The Center for Educational Technology reports “With the help of three-dimensional graphics software, educators are building a new visual language that bridges the gap between the concrete world of nature and the abstract world of concepts and models.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF), concludes “as a general principle that VR improves learning; when it does, by providing the learners with new, direct experiences of phenomena they could not have experienced before, either in direct interaction with the real world or using other technologies.

Learning is much more effective when it is an active discovery process. Virtual learning gives children free, on demand access to powerful scientific visualization systems based on their schoolwork. Kids enter. a virtual model of Ancient Egypt or the human cell. This type of exploration-based engaged learning is a powerful learning experience, and as a supplement to traditional schoolwork, it helps kids to understand abstract or complex issues.  Such visualization and experiential tools greatly aid comprehension of a subject.

Virtual learning is challenging assumptions about how we can learn, and may even signal a fundamental shift in the possibilities of learning. At its core, it is about creating new models of understanding and educational excellence. It is about taking the best of existing educational pedagogy and pairing it with the world’s most powerful visualization tools. Imagine what learning can become.