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Unity and Meta Immersive Learning Partner to Expand VR Education and Inspire Creators

When the internet was first recognised as being more than a bit of a technical novelty and the potential behind it had started to become apparent, it slowly gained the interest of different areas of the community. Commercial people saw that they could conduct at least some kind of truncated business activities, creative people could generate and share their more artistic creations, and sociable people could, well, send emails to each other. 

Web 2.0 made it all better with the interactive elements that the internet needed to make it a proper tool. Being able to actually interact with previously dumb web-pages and the potential for people to interact grew from emails-only to social media and the ability to interact in virtual worlds. Gaming became big business. The reason behind this accelerated uptake was that people were more prepared for Web 2.0, because the groundwork had been done with the original internet; people could now see the possibilities, while that hadn’t been so easy with the emerging internet.

Now we are looking at the next iteration of on-line life in the form of the Metaverse, and a greater number of people are already engaged with it, making take-up a much smoother and inspiring process. Key to this is the fact that so many people are now engaged with the notion of an on-line existence, and know what a benefit it can be as well as a huge source of entertainment. The world is now gearing up for the advent of the Metaverse – it’s already out there and a growing force, but has yet to go mainstream – and some of the biggest tech companies are already at the helm and driving it forward.

Whether it’s virtual reality or augmented reality, the market for extended reality is rapidly rising, as is the need for expertise to develop these immersive digital experiences. This has been fuelled in large part by the introduction of very low-cost gadgets that are making virtual reality experiences more accessible to a rising number of individuals. Because of this, a bigger quantity of extended reality – or XR, a blanket term for all synthetic realities – material is becoming accessible, necessitating the creation of more content by individuals. According to the Burning Glass website, occupations in augmented reality and virtual reality are expected to expand by 172% and 170%, respectively over the next decade. The expansion of the XR employment market puts educational institutions in the position of having to train the next generation of workers. Despite the fact that many schools have quickly embraced virtual reality technology, allowing their pupils to create and learn in new ways, equity disparities continue to widen. 

The major impediments to accessing the potential of XR remain in place for most schools, particularly those serving marginalised and low-income populations, with cost and preparedness being the most prominent issues. This has led to a collaboration between Unity Social Impact and Meta Immersive Learning, which will enhance access to augmented/virtual reality gear, high-quality educational material, and tools to train educators to teach.

In order to plug this technology gap, major innovators in Unity are joining with Meta to encourage innovation in this fast-moving field with the introduction of the joint Create with VR Grant and Higher Ed XR Innovation Grant, which is set to help potential developers get a foot on the XR ladder.

Announcing the partnership, Jessica Lindl, Vice President of Social Impact at Unity said “At Unity, we believe the world is a better place with more creators in it. This partnership brings that belief to life by ensuring education is accessible to all, regardless of zip code. Every student should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential. As we all know, there has been a major shift not only in the global labour market but also in how we work. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to connect young people with the skills needed for future jobs, as these help chart a clear path from learning to earning opportunities.”

Meanwhile, over at Meta, John Cantarella, Vice President of Community and Impact Partnerships agreed. “As part of our commitment to support the next generation of creators through the Meta Immersive Learning initiative, we’re excited to partner with Unity, a trusted and innovative name in the XR industry. Together, we can empower aspiring creators to learn and grow in the metaverse – removing barriers to immersive technologies and unlocking new opportunities.”

In addition to providing free Meta Quest 2 VR headsets to qualified schools, the Create with VR Grant will also give free training and materials for teaching virtual reality creativity. Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headsets were available for distribution to secondary and post-secondary educational institutions beginning on April 22nd, 2022. On that date, all teachers and educators throughout the world were able to register for professional development courses. Registration was recommended for school representatives, instructors, information technology administrators, and laboratory managers, but they had to get in there fast, because this allocation was taken up quickly.

The Tides Foundation’s Unity Charitable Fund will distribute the Higher Ed XR Innovation Grant. Higher education institutions that use real-time 3D and immersive technologies to produce advancements in teaching and learning, virtual reality production, and workforce development will be eligible to receive grants totalling $1,000,000 from the programme. To encourage applications from all sorts of higher education/post-secondary institutions, particularly those with programmes that benefit students from historically underprivileged backgrounds, this was promoted on the website. The deadline for applications closed on June 15th, 2022.

While these two initiatives are aimed fairly squarely at the American education system, it is open to teachers and students around the world. However, undoubtedly the benefits will be felt worldwide as a growing number of young innovators become involved in developing XR content and the Metaverse in general.