Virtual Learning literally opens up new worlds in STEM education. Students walk through magnetic fields, fly through cell phone touchscreens, and witness the elusive Higgs Boson. A consistent acknowledged flaw of STEM learning is reliance on theory and lack of concrete experiences. How do educators now take advantage of students’ newfound abilities to explore the inside of a human cell or fly through a black hole? With 3D technologies, the abstract becomes real. STEM ideas come to life. Abstract concepts like gravity and the Big Bang Theory become experiences to be explored.
Virtual Learning programs serve as an experiential learning reference across the STEM curriculum. It is designed to be a first stop, an engaging overview of a subject to create a cognitive map and initial understanding of STEM ideas. As a supplement to traditional schoolwork it helps students to see, experience, and understand abstract ideas. The abstract becomes obvious. Virtual Learning provides an immediate understanding of complex ideas, and inspires students to construct new STEM models and meaning.
No special equipment is needed; students simply use the keyboard/mouse or touchscreen to navigate through the virtual environment. Seconds later programs open into STEM virtual environments to become a seamless part of the learning experience. Educators can harness these unparalleled learning experiences to build student mental models and understanding of STEM ideas with the equipment already in their classrooms.
Assumptions about student abilities in STEM recede when abstract concepts like time and the Cartesian Plane become experiences to be explored, accessible to every student. NASA’s Software Technology Branch declared; “By using virtual reality in education material now considered too difficult for many students and taught even to advanced learners only at the college level could be mastered by most students in middle school and high school.”