The future of e-learning



I have been recently prodded to take a look at the e-learning industry in the context of Virtual Reality. Very roughly, there seem to be two major areas where VR will have a powerful impact - simulations and remote presence.

Simulations are only as useful as useful are their underlying models. Spending 100 hours in front of a certified B373-NG simulator means probably you could fly one and land one in case of emergency. Spending 100 hours in front of a PC flight simulator… might give you much less credible skills. More, simulations are domain-specific - a model and procedures designed to represent one thing (say, heart operations) are useful only for that purpose. Naturally, over time this might change, and some common components may be identified and reused, but until that happens, quality simulations may appear only if they promise significant savings.

Not every skill learned in a simulated environment is equally useful in real world. Photo by
D-Echo, CC-BY-SA. BTW. This is a terrible landing. When a rear wheel touches the grass, it will slow down the glider, and the main wheel will hit the ground in very unpleasant way.

The other aspect of augmented learning VR, the remote presence, is far more interesting.

Traditional learning involves personal presence because only then a facilitator can manage and influence our emotions, and emotions are the aspect that defines our attitude to the course, and how much we will learn. Necessary fact transfer, the thing that we have mastered with the internet, is just a fraction of the learning experience.

The role of a teacher today is not really about replaying his knowledge, it is about nurturing discussion and nudging students in the right direction. Effective communication, also involving the non-verbal part, is a mandatory part of the effective learning.

Learning is something more beyond knowledge transfer

And here we get to the VR part. What we observe today, is the appearance of the solutions that let us be somewhere else. For example, I happen to live in quite a remote location, and I am not very fond of travelling. I would love to put on some hardware and appear in some other place, trading the usual in-motion time for something more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, existing solutions for remote presence seem to be a more or less advanced form of a simulation. They show the environment, let us interact with it, but they miss the non-verbal part of communication.

For me, this is a deal breaker. As a teacher, I cannot really figure out when to intervene, I have to guess. As a student, I have to be very conscious about my emotions and self-manage in that respect, even if it appears socially unacceptable. I think this is the reason why VR feels so ‘plastic’. The simulation of the immersive environment is not really enough.

Think of how existing approach will change

And now the exciting bits - there is ongoing work on transferring emotions, I have found a startup that does that. This is also why Apple Animoji are so important for the future of VR learning, and no other company seems to be doing emotion recording and transferring at such a scale.

Once that happens - there is a chance we will automate emotion management:

New skills will emerge

and we will be able to use AI, which will cater response (additional explanation, tasks, examples) to how we feel, delivering extraordinary learning experience. But that knowledge… has not yet been created. Once it happens, we will see true Massive Open Online Courses boom.


When the telephone was introduced in the 1870s, this form of long-distance verbal communication wasn’t immediately augmented with additional technology. People simply adapted to speaking over the telephone.

Current teaching methods will first need to evolve to adapt to VR. Innovation and development in more low-tech areas, like collaboration protocols, will result in a broader evolution of soft skills. At this point, I would imagine VR enabled online education may need something like emotion transfer technology to be more inclusive and effective.