Virtual Reality for Kids: The Future of Learning

Parents know: Kids live in their own worlds. Worlds enti­rely made of pink and fairy dust. Worlds full of fantasy crea­tures bashing each other’s heads in. Worlds revol­ving around that one beloved cele­brity whose name you keep forget­ting. This raises the ques­tion: Don’t children need a stronger connec­tion to the real world – instead of Virtual Reality?


Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR were not recom­mended for young children. However, Mattel has laun­ched the first Virtual Reality headset specia­lized for kids: the View­Master. In colla­bo­ra­tion with Google, the toy company offers a “card­board” version in solid red plastic. Instead of fantasy worlds and fairy dust, however, Mattel takes kids to real places: Outer space, distant coun­tries or the animal kingdom. View­Master started with Expe­ri­ence Packs – a combi­na­tion of AR and VR – created in colla­bo­ra­tion with National Geogra­phic. True to the motto “Learn by expe­ri­ence”, children get 360 degrees of playful educa­tion. But do children really like to learn in VR?

Virtual Reality Kids

As often, there is no black or white: my 5-year old son likes expe­ri­en­cing virtual zoos or under­water worlds with VR. On the other hand, he spends the same time disco­vering jurassic worlds in tradi­tional books. It seems that for kids VR is the same as books, apps and tv were for us as we grew up: In a study by Dubit (a game deve­lop­ment and rese­arch company), the parti­ci­pa­ting children appre­ciated the poten­tial for VR educa­tion. They wanted to use it at school, for example, to explore a jungle or travel through the human body.


With twelve parti­ci­pants, Dubit’s study is, of course, far from repre­sen­ta­tive. However, it still offers a glimpse into the poten­tial kids see in VR. Most exci­te­ment was – unsur­pri­singly – not stirred by virtual educa­tion but by the possi­bi­li­ties for games and enter­tain­ment. While the younger children were fine with being a passive observer on roller coaster rides or flight simu­la­tions, older kids wanted to actively shape virtual worlds – “like buil­ding a school or a castle”. The huge popu­la­rity of Mine­craft – a game that allows players to build and explore envi­ron­ments made from blocks – might have to do with that wish. Mine­craft was among the games that the kids in the study would have loved to play in Virtual Reality. Now, their wish is about to come true: The world has just been offered a first glance at Mine­craft in VR. However, since it requires an Oculus Rift and a pretty powerful computer, the expe­ri­ence will be reserved to only a few children – those with very tech­s­avvy or extra­or­di­na­rily generous parents.


Jan Heitger, VR early-adopter at RE’FLEKT, under­lines the impor­t­ance of Mine­craft: “It is hard to over­state the impor­t­ance of Mine­craft for the young gene­ra­tion of digital natives. ‘Digital Lego’ is one way to describe Mine­craft, which makes it sound fami­liar and maybe a bit boring. Another defi­ni­tion would be ‘Virtual World Engine’, which is a more fitting descrip­tion for the power of this appli­ca­tion”. It allows its young inha­bi­tants to create whole worlds out of nothing but their thoughts and crea­ti­vity. And millions of kids are doing it, colla­bo­ra­ting on their own servers with friends from their neigh­bour­hood or from a diffe­rent conti­nent. “Virtual Reality allows them to physi­cally enter these crea­tions and walk through imagi­nary castles with their friends. Some­thing that will be common­place sooner than we think”, says Heitger.


Mine­craft, however, is not the only thing that lets kids create virtual envi­ron­ments. One of the first appli­ca­tions that focuses on easy VR crea­tion for kids is CoSpaces. The tool doesn’t come from one of the big players, but a startup called Delightex. In the browser app, users create 3D content. The elements are simply dragged onto the stage from an object library. A few mouse clicks change color, size, opacity or eleva­tion. Ever­y­thing created in the studio, can be viewed later on mobile devices or VR head­sets. This is a pretty cool and easy way for kids to step into the scenes they created using their smart­phones. Here you see what I’ve created in few minutes. Of course, kids have much more fantasy.

Dirks VR world

You want to play with it? Delightex is curr­ently offe­ring Early Access – open to anyone who is inte­rested – in order to test and improve their product. The first testers already enjoyed them­selves: “When we invited some kids to the office and let them play with CoSpaces, they didn’t want to stop. It wasn’t easy to call it a day”, Thomas Gläser, Head of UX and co-founder of Push Confe­rence, says. Where does this fasci­na­tion come from? To Gläser it’s pretty clear: “I think we all wanted to be able to become a part of the world we were drea­ming of when we were little. Kids have a lot of crea­tive energy and love fantasy worlds. Virtual Reality gives them the oppor­tu­nity to use the first in order to build the latter“.

Young people are natives in the digital realm. Now that virtual reality is getting easier and easier to access, it seems likely that they are soon going to put down roots here too. They grow up with smart­phones and 24/7 access to the internet. For them, new tech­no­lo­gies aren’t some­thing to ques­tion. “We  are all explo­rers”, Thomas Gläser says. Despite this, VR deve­l­oper Jan Heitger addresses a stark reality of the ‘kids in VR realm’ (please excuse the pun): “Ease of use will be important, but so will secu­rity aspects and a working parental control systems. Micro­soft, the new owners of Mine­craft, are surely working on their own ideas as well. It will be inte­res­ting to see what vision for “kid friendly VR” will ulti­mately emerge from this”.

Find more infor­ma­tion about Virtual Reality for kids in the info graphic.

Credits: http://touchstoneresearch.com

Image sources: Delightex, Gadgets 360

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