21st Century Skills for Students: The Long-Term Benefits of Virtual Reality

Kai Frazier
September 29, 2022

Virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality are all phrases that might sound futuristic, but for today’s students, they could be some of the most in-demand career skills when they enter the workforce. This means educators need to be intentional about helping students develop these new 21st century skills. 

Whether or not you’ve ventured into the metaverse with a VR headset yourself, the technology continues to gain popularity, especially among young users. 

A PricewaterhouseCooper report from prior to the pandemic estimates that VR and AR have the potential to add up to $1.5 trillion to the global economy and enhance over 23 million jobs worldwide by 2030. The pandemic has only accelerated this push, with global spending increasing by 50% in 2020 compared to 2019. These numbers will only grow as more businesses and consumers continue to transition to AR- and VR-enhanced devices. 

That’s why your students should know about VR, AR, and XR—as in, yesterday. And that’s where Kai XR comes in.

Kai XR is the Future of Education. Our mission is to connect students to vital new technology and inspire them to create the world they’d like to see. How do we do this? With an extensive library of high-quality, kid-friendly virtual field trips–plus even more exciting VR platforms on the horizon.

At Kai XR, we provide the perfect entry point to extended reality through virtual field trips for kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms. With Kai XR, educators can easily teach 21st century student skills to their classes through fun, engaging lessons.

In this article, we’ll answer all your questions, including:

  • What are 21st century skills?
  • Why teach 21st century skills?
  • Is virtual reality a 21st century skill?
  • How can I teach virtual reality skills to students?

What Are Some 21st Century Skills?

So–first things first–what does “21st century skills” mean? 

At its most basic, this term encompasses a variety of abilities that will set students up for success throughout the current digital age of communication and exponential technological growth.

The organization “Future Problem Solving Program International” groups the 21st century skills into three broad groups. They include:

  • Learning and innovation skills
  • Information, media, and technology skills
  • Life and career skills

The first group–learning and innovation skills–is further broken down into:

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Communication and collaboration

The truth is, 21st century skills cover a lot of ground, and we can break them down into subcategories all day (especially since many of these capabilities intersect). 

This is great news, because it means that educators can help students develop multiple 21st century learning skills at the same time. 

For example, learning how to identify an advertisement or analyze a film both fall under information, media, and technology skills. However, they also help students develop critical thinking skills. Plus, by having children work together to analyze a video, they will practice communication and collaboration. 

What unites all 21st century skills is that they are meant to prepare students for their academic, professional, and personal futures. 

Woman wearing a VR headset is silhouetted in front of a window pouring golden light onto a cityscape.
Image source: unsplash.com

21st Century Technology Skills: A Quick History of VR 

While all 21st century skills are important, in this article, we’ll be honing in on the technology branch of skills 21st century learners need. 

Let’s start with a brief history of virtual reality.

Most histories of VR begin in 1838, when Sir Charles Wheatstone described binocular vision (stereopsis). Stereopsis is the process where the brain puts together two different 2-D images to create one 3-D picture. It’s pretty cool stuff, and it led to the creation of stereoscopes, an early form of virtual reality.

However, the VR that we know today wasn’t conceptualized until 1935, when Stanley Weinbaum published Pygmalion’s Spectacles. In this science fiction novel, the main character is able to explore a fictional world with goggles. Today, this is totally possible with modern VR headsets, but there was a long road to get here.   

The mid-20th century was a big time for VR.

  • In 1956, cinematographer Morton Heilig created Sensorama, which immersed viewers by combining stereoscopes and real-life sensory experiences, including smells and sounds.
  • In 1961, the company Philco created a motion-tracking headset that allowed military personnel to observe situations from afar.
  • In 1965, computer scientist Ivan Sutherland wrote about a virtual world so real that users could even interact with objects in it.
  • In 1968, Sutherland created a VR headset called “Sword of Damocles.” However, it never left the lab because it was too heavy for users to wear without support.

Plenty happened between 1970 and the early 2000s, but we’ll skip over that to land in 2010, the year Palmer Luckey created the Oculus VR headset prototype. In 2014, Facebook bought Luckey’s company, Oculus VR, for about $2 billion. 

And now, virtual reality is more lifelike and widespread than ever. 

In December 2021, the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicted that 9.7 million AR and VR headsets would ship by the end of the year. They projected sales would continue to grow, estimating around 45 million units will be sold in 2025. 

The Future of VR 

But what can users do with these headsets? Play games? Attend meetings? Enjoy concerts?

All of the above, and more.

Many companies are banking on the metaverse to become the next widespread iteration of the internet. Last year, Facebook even re-branded as “Meta,” signaling their transition to this new virtual space. 

NPR caught up with Vishal Shah, vice president of the metaverse at Meta (formerly Facebook), to learn more about the company's goals. While Shah made clear that the company wants to be part of the infrastructure of the metaverse, he clarified that they will not be able to control it. The digital realm is infinite, meaning it’s impossible for one corporation to run it alone. 

Shah also shared that the metaverse has gained traction specifically in areas including:

  • Gaming
  • Fitness
  • Education

For example, Roblox and Fortnite (online games you’ve likely heard your students or children discussing) have successfully ventured into the metaverse. Inside their digital worlds, young generations can hang out, play games, and even attend virtual concerts.

The metaverse can allow people to design experiences that are currently impossible in the physical world. Like hanging out with ogres and dinosaurs at an underwater concert. Flying. Or visiting the pyramids one minute and Big Ben the next.

But it’s all possible through virtual reality, augmented reality, and extended reality.

Child wearing a rainbow headband smiles down at a tablet on the table in front of her.
Image source: unsplash.com

Importance of 21st Century Skills in Education

At this early stage of metaverse adoption, it’s hard to say exactly what benefits virtual reality will bring students. However, there are sure to be many, including:

  • Broader worldviews
  • Deeper understandings of spatial concepts
  • Higher engagement with lessons
  • Higher digital literacy

But, before reaping these benefits in the VR classroom, educators will need to teach students how to use this new technology. This is easy to do with Kai XR’s quick “Intro to the Metaverse” course.

By implementing virtual reality experiences into educational environments, educators can augment their students’ 21st century skills, setting them up for lifelong success. Someday, navigating the metaverse will likely be a skill as in-demand as typing.

Plus, virtual reality can help students engage with lessons like never before.

Harvard Ph.D candidate, Eileen McGivney, studies how people learn through immersive technologies. The students she works with in her research report that they are more able to focus when using VR headsets. They are also more likely to be connected to the material they are learning. 

For example, students who recently immigrated to the U.S. are able to visit faraway places that are important to them, all through the metaverse. 

McGivney is not the only researcher investigating the metaverse as a teaching tool. In one literature review about immersive virtual reality in education, researchers shared that:

  • Most research on the educational value of VR experiences relates to science and engineering
  • Individuals were able to learn through VR once they were familiar with how to use the tech
  • VR can be a powerful teaching tool for subjects that require strong spatial understanding
  • VR seems to be promising to train individuals to do tasks in the real world (ex: surgery)

All in all, the researchers found that VR was unlikely to have a negative impact on learning, and often had a positive effect on learning compared with less immersive teaching methods. 

It’s time to start introducing VR to kids in the classroom.

Teenager in blue and red sweater wearing eyeglasses smiling and giving a thumbs up. Classmates sit behind him.
Image source: unsplash.com

How to Teach 21st Century Skills in Education and Technology

So, how can you bring VR to your classroom? Through Kai XR!

Our platform gives the next generation of scholars and thought leaders a safe, reliable pathway to AR, VR, and XR technologies that will help prepare them for the future, whatever it may hold. Kai XR provides an entryway into the exciting world of VR that allows students to dream big and explore the world around them—and beyond—by participating in our ever-growing selection of virtual field trips. 

First, we recommend that students complete an Kai XR’s Intro to the Metaverse curriculum course (Included in Kai XR’s Voyage subscription) to help them learn the building blocks of these technologies. 

Understanding how to use their headset to navigate the digital space is an important first step in bringing classrooms to the metaverse. Having students dive into VR lessons before they understand what to do will make it difficult for them to focus on the educational content.

That’s why our Intro to the Metaverse curriculum helps all students get comfortable with this cutting-edge tech and navigate it like a pro. Once students can use the metaverse with little assistance, it’s time to learn!

Students can explore all sorts of subjects with Kai XR. Our field trips allow them to: 

And that’s only a peek into our curated library of 100+ teacher-approved virtual experiences.

Many of our experiences can help students develop early versions of 21st century workplace skills they may need in their careers. 

For example, a 5th grader with dreams of becoming a doctor can learn about the human body by entering a digital rendition of it in our “Explore the Human Body” experience. 

In this quick field trip, students get a tour of the cardiovascular, digestive, and ocular systems. A witty narrator keeps kids engaged by weaving scientific info with interesting narratives about the giant whose insides they’re navigating. Post-workout pizza leads to a trip to the stomach. When blood vessels around the stomach start closing, the narrator brings students up to the giant’s eyes to investigate why he’s nervous. This creates a perfect opportunity to discuss how the eye processes images upside down, before the brain flips them right-side-up.

This is immersive learning at its finest.

However, while many of our experiences are lighthearted and get kids engaged with humor, we also believe that virtual reality can be a powerful tool for looping students into difficult discussions. We’ll discuss this more below.

21st Century Learning Skills: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Many of our experiences can help students practice critical thinking and problem solving, two important 21st century learner skills.

Through Kai XR, students in middle school and high school can find experiences that will introduce them to conflicts throughout history and current events. Immersing themselves in these lessons will create greater engagement with the subject matter, thereby generating interesting class discussions. Students can develop critical thinking and problem solving skills by:

  • Identifying history that led to current events
  • Exploring multiple perspectives and ideologies
  • Discussing ways to solve world problems
  • Brainstorming ways to create change in their own communities 
  • Sharing what they would do if they were a world leader

Those are just a few directions class discussions can go following a Kai XR virtual field trip. Of course, it all depends on the experience students explore in the metaverse. 

For example, as Black History Month begins, many Kai XR virtual field trips can generate classroom engagement around this topic. 

A good place to start may be our VR field trip to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr⁠ ⁠memorial. As students take in the memorial, pieces of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech play. Whether students are familiar with these words or not, they are likely to know a bit about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his positive posthumous legacy. However, this field trip can lead classrooms to explore this important figure further, by asking questions like:

  • How did people treat Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his lifetime?
  • What were his goals?
  • What did he do to achieve his goals?
  • Who created barriers to these goals?

Classes can also discuss what aspects of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream came true today, as well as what aspects didn’t. Plus, they can investigate the risks that many individuals took to make those dreams a reality. Other Kai XR field trips that could pair well with this discussion include our Ruby Bridges lesson and field trip to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Building 21st Century Work Skills

Extended reality is becoming a powerful tool of the future, and knowing how to use it will be an important 21st skill for students, teachers, and workers alike.

That’s because AR, VR, and XR will transform every sector of the American economy—from health care and telemedicine to manufacturing and transportation to education, entertainment, and even real estate. 

No matter what career path your students take, they’ll be better equipped for the journey with a background in these truly transformative technologies. Kai XR can help you put your students on the right track for success by connecting them with VR skills 21st century learners need. 

After learning the basics of the metaverse with our intro course, students can delve into topics including:

  • Arts & Culture
  • Animation
  • Career Exploration
  • Engineering & Tech
  • Health & Sciences
  • Narratives
  • Playground
  • Social Studies
  • Sports & Recreation
  • Travel & Geography

On our inclusive, high-quality platform, every student will be able to find a virtual experience that interests them. Plus, we are also adding more exciting features to our platform! In the near future, students will be able to hone their tech skills by creating their own VR adventures and worlds in our soon-to-be-released Makerspace. 

Kai XR is ushering educators and students into a new digital age. Our work is recognized by figures including Steve Harvey and NBC’s Shomari Stone. If you’re ready to join us in enriching children’s lives and preparing them with 21st century skills, you can get started here.
In the meantime, feel free to learn more about Kai XR, explore our pricing, or contact us with any questions you may have.

Featured Image: unsplash.com

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There’s so much for you and your students to explore. All you need to do is start. Try out Kai XR on your smart device, tablet, VR headset, or laptop. We’ll be your guide!

In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.