How the Metaverse can bring distance learning to the next level. A student-centered approach.

Published on June 23, 2022


An article published by Kiana Weiss on May 5th, 2022.

What is distance teaching?

In contrast to the traditional method of teaching in the sense of face-to-face teaching in the physical presence of lecturers and students in a classroom or similar, distance teaching is defined as taking place at a physical distance between lecturers and students. As a rule, it does not matter where lecturers and students are located at the time of teaching. Electronic means are used to ensure communication between the parties involved.

For students, online teaching results in increased flexibility in space and time (Sadeghi, 2019). Along with this, teaching has become more accessible (Sadeghi, 2019; Wannemacher et al., 2016). In addition to students who enjoy working on the computer and choose online teaching for this reason (Xu & Xu, 2020), those students who have work or family commitments in addition to their studies especially appreciate the flexibility enabled in online teaching and name it as the main reason they choose distance teaching (Xu & Xu, 2020). Those students value the ability to independently schedule their study time and pace (Sadeghi, 2019; Xu & Xu, 2020). The demand for study programs from those “non-typical students” (part-time students, students in continuing distance education programs) has been steadily increasing recently (Wannemacher et al., 2016). Distance teaching brings savings of various kinds for students. In addition to time savings due to the elimination of commuting time, there are often monetary savings due to lowered course fees. In addition, there is the elimination of the need to reside in the city of the teaching institution (Sadeghi, 2019).

This is contrasted with the need to learn how to use, as well as acquire, complicated technology — including computers, webcams, microphones, stable internet connections, etc. In such an environment, there is a higher-than-average dependence on technology (Sadeghi, 2019). Students may also lack social contact with fellow students. This is accompanied by possible mental problems, such as feelings of isolation. Real social contact is difficult to replace despite communication via chat rooms, email, discussion forums, and video conferencing. This is because the satisfaction of a communication depends largely on the degree to which the counterpart is perceived as a real person — the degree of social presence. A related problem is that of absent faculty, fellow students, or lecturers who can be directly approached and asked for help — thus, no immediate response can be expected (Xu & Xu, 2020).

The meta-analysis evaluated by Xu & Xu (2020) suggests that students’ course outcomes are negatively affected by online teaching. This result was obtained by three out of four studies. Course outcomes in this case are measured in the final course grade, passing course completion, and a standardized post-test score. Studies show that students in online courses are between three and 15 percentage points more likely to drop a course than an equivalent face-to-face course. Accumulated negative impressions in courses could possibly lead to dropping a course. Accordingly, the achievement gap between online and traditional face-to- face teaching is of concern, as successful completion of a degree contributes significantly to economic opportunities-particularly among disadvantaged populations (Xu & Xu, 2020).

Students seem to feel more comfortable in distance learning environments when they are in contact with instructors, according to Baker et al. (2020). For example, it has been noted that students feel uncomfortable turning on their web cameras in synchronous teaching because video conferencing platforms are an unfamiliar environment where students constantly see themselves. In addition, it is unclear to students who can see them (Fabriz et al., 2021). In addition, Kim and Freberg (2018) found that students find it helpful when instructors intentionally seek contact with students on their own initiative. When opportunities are provided for students to interact through learning activities and to interact with the instructor and course materials, feelings of isolation and distance are minimized (Baker et al., 2020). According to Chen et al. (2010), it is almost impossible to replace the incidental moments of learning, such as the spontaneous discussion during overheard remarks or the conversations during breaks, which often take place in a face-to-face environment. Therefore, most participants in the study of Kamysbayeva et al. (2021), desire face-to-face interaction with fellow students and lecturers.

Distance teaching during Covid-19

Not only due to the rapid development of technologies (Sadeghi, 2019) in the 21st century, but most recently due to the added circumstances of the Covid-19 virus, distance teaching rose to become the most widely used method in any kind of teaching in the recent past. While classrooms had been independently accessible in both time and place for years due to said advancement in technology, distance teaching has taken on a new meaning since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is no longer exclusively about the accessibility of education, but the preservation of it. Along with measures to keep the Covid-19 pandemic under control, and in addition to recommendations to wash hands thoroughly, wear masks, etc., a new way of living had to be learned — social distancing.

Classroom instruction, accordingly, would simply not have been possible in the interim (Ali, 2020). Societies that were temporarily in a “lockdown” were thus forced to pool resources to continue to make teaching at all possible (Schneider et al., 2020).
With the rapid development of the Covid-19 virus, teachers had few days to weeks to develop a concept for online teaching in February 2020. Accordingly, rapid adaptation was not only desirable, but necessary (Gewin, 2020). Unlike “normal” distance learning — that which is intentionally set up as such by institutions and chosen by students based on personal preferences — distance learning necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing is not designed for the long term, but as a short-term stopgap during a crisis, where the primary strategy is to find a platform that is fast and as reliable as possible (Hodges et al., 2020). The platform that is currently best suited for this is the Internet (especially videoconference platforms (Schumacher et al., 2021)) — nowadays widely operational and easy to use for the broad mass of the population. This “immediacy and functionality” of learning on the Internet manages to make those the first choice in distance learning (Sadeghi, 2019).

In general, new technologies promote better communication (Sadeghi, 2019). Building on this, it is conceivable that additional technologies, such as the metaverse, will be enabled for distance learning in the near future.

The Metaverse

The term metaverse was first coined by Neal Stephenson in his science fiction novel “Snow Crash” in 1992. He described a persistent, immersive 3D virtual environment in which any user worldwide with access to a terminal could do essentially anything imaginable, from business to entertainment (Collins, 2008). Those components are extensions of reality. Accordingly, the avatars in the metaverse are identifiable with oneself in a way that these avatars and oneself might even co-evolve. The metaverse is still considered today as a virtual reality, beyond reality — “a digitized earth as a new world” (Kye et al., 2021). The term is a compound of the words “meta” (transcendence/virtuality) and “universe” (world/universe).

Kye et al. (2021) define four types of the metaverse: augmented reality, lifelogging, mirror world, and virtual worlds. These can be represented on two axes. A distinction is made between “augmentation versus simulation” and “internal versus external”. The technology of augmentation is defined by a function that adds an additional physical information to the human sensation in reality. The technology of simulation contrasts the latter. It merely models reality and in the process creates a unique environment. At the same time, the metaverse is divided into an internal, as well as external world. The internal world revolves around the identity of an individual who is guided within the metaverse by a real person. The external world deals with the virtual environment of the individual, for example, representing information (Kye et al., 2021).

Figure 1 (Own illustration based on Kye et al., 2021)

Augmented Reality (AR)
Augmented reality, as the term suggests, is an “augmentation” of an individual’s real external world through environment-sensing systems and network information visualized on top of them. Accordingly, real environments can be mixed with virtual graphics in real time. Simulation in AR makes it possible to project abstract visualizations onto objects. AR is proving to be particularly effective in practical areas of teaching that are very costly or risky in the real world. For example, it is often used in teaching medicine.

Lifelogging is understood as a kind of “augmentation” of the inner world. Accordingly, people use smart devices to document their daily activities. This is already happening on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok…). Health data can also be collected and analyzed by smart devices like smart watches. In teaching, it is conceivable to record the learning successes of students and offer individualized teaching based on the data collected.

Mirror World
The Mirror World mirrors a real world with the add-on of increased efficiency. Thus, all activities that are possible in the real world can also be performed in such a metaverse — and in a more pleasant and efficient way. Examples in teaching are digital labs and virtual classrooms. Particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for virtual teaching spaces arose in teaching, as social distancing meant that those courses that normally took place in face-to-face classes had to be shifted to an online format. This was accompanied by a sense of isolation among students (Xu & Xu, 2020). Due to the short transition time, the most common virtual teaching spaces currently used in synchronous distance education are video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc. Their main functions consist of chat and video capabilities. In the long term, instead of videoconference platforms, there is also the possibility of using better suited platforms, such as the Metaverse.

Virtual Worlds
Virtual worlds, also called “virtual reality” is an internal simulation of the metaverse. The main functions are non-real 3D graphics (despite flat image), avatars performing (real) tasks and real-time communication.
In teaching, among many other scenarios, it is possible for teachers to select a classroom in the virtual world, invite students to it, and interact there with voice or chat messages.

Blockchain in the Metaverse

For developing the metaverse based on a fair, transparent, stable, and sustainable system, Duan et al. (2021) state that multimedia technology is needed on the one hand for visualizations but more importantly, blockchain related technology needs to be included. Other than economies today, which are based on centralized system (e.g., the finance sector), blockchain technology could ensure digital properties to be unique, persistent, and tradable. Building a society in the metaverse based on blockchain brings benefits regarding accessibility, diversity and equality. Accessibility is — through globalization — already widely applicable in our real society. However, geographical distance is an obstacle to real-time communication amongst boarders. Also, due to the spread of Covid-19, travel restriction had to be implemented. As recent examples of virtual graduation ceremonies or concerts in online games have shown, the metaverse can be used as an extension to our real world in that travel costs are lower. Closely linked to accessibility is the aspect of diversity — there are no boarders or limitations for transformations and actions of any kind. Equality is increasingly available in the metaverse as factors like race, gender and disabilities may be made invisible to others through the design of avatars. The real and virtual world would intersect as can be seen in Figure 2. In the vision of Duan et al. (2021), the ecosystem, interaction and infrastructure linked to virtual and real world, as well as their intersection, are also the three layers on which the metaverse architecture should be built in their macro perspective approach.

Figure 2 (Own illustration based on Duan et al., 2021)

The Blockchain will be implemented in the infrastructure layer. Through smart contract (e.g., the public blockchain Ethereum), operations including storing enormous amount of data in a decentralized and fair manner, can be made feasible in the metaverse.
The ecosystem benefits from the blockchain in that the content is strictly user-generated, rather than developers creating the contents. Blockchain-based Non-Fungible Token (NFT) provide an approach to make digital assets created by users unique in the metaverse. NFT’s can consequently be traded through smart contracts. Creation and trade of NFT’s will operate as an incentive to motivate users to be active and innovative within the metaverse.

Evaluation of Student’s Opinions

…after a Campus Tour in the Metaverse

In the first chapters of this paper, the benefits and disadvantages of distance learning have been identified. The main benefits are flexibility in time and space (allowing for side activities such as jobs and family and flexible time management), students enjoying to work on a computer and cost savings. Referencing the vision of distance education in the metaverse, it is safe to say that these benefits will be perpetuated with the use of a virtual reality.

The main disadvantages in distance teaching were identified as the use of complicated technology and the lack of social contact.

While the use of complicated technology will most probably be a pain point of equal or greater amount for students struggling with the use of a computer, there is a huge possibility for investing in workshops to learn how to navigate virtual realities. That way, it will not only be beneficial for participating in online classes, but also to learn a new way of living, which is most probably going to be widely used by most of the population for more than just education in the next years. Therefore, students do not only learn for university, but for the future way of living. 40% of students expect that — after watching a short introductory video including a campus tour in the Metaverse — technical skills needed for navigating the metaverse are not significantly higher than acquiring the technical skills needed for videoconference tools. Meanwhile, 30% of students expect technical skills to be more expansive.

Another, more significant disadvantage of online teaching is the lack of social contact. Students complain about not getting an immediate response from both teachers and other students. As the lack of social contact causes students to be more likely to get demotivated, studies show negative course outcomes related to online teaching, as well as higher drop-out rates. Even with the intention of creating a higher degree of social presence in online teaching through videoconference tolls by turning on the camera, students claim that they feel uncomfortable as it is unclear who can see or even record them. It seems this is a too big interference with students’ privacy. In the students’ questionnaire, 100% of participating students voted that they feel a “lack of social contact” in distance teaching during Covid-19. 70% voted that they feel uncomfortable turning on their video as it is unclear who can see them.

Therefore, it seems like the social contact factor is the highest obstacle to adequate online education. According to the findings of student’s opinions after visiting a campus tour in the metaverse, they feel moderately confident (50%) that the metaverse will create a higher social presence. If that is the case, the lack of social contact and the consequential damages of negative course outcomes and higher drop-out rates could possibly be addressed and improved with education in the metaverse.
In general, the questionnaire suggests that 60% of students feel rather confident with the metaverse as a substitute to online teaching, whereas 80% feel “not at all comfortable” with the metaverse substituting face-to-face courses.

Limitations of Education in the Metaverse

Latest didactics in education are more and more based on inverted classroom and collaborative approaches with students in the center (Díaz, 2020). With the resources the virtual world has for student in conjunction with the university’s implemented digital learning platforms, it facilitates their learning not only through the use of a computer, but also through flexible, dynamic, participatory, and collaborative learning approaches.

Education in the Metaverse is subject to the following challenges and limitations:

(1) Design and planning of digital resources to be implemented in the metaverse by teacher or administrator

(2) Need for adequate internet connectivity to prevent disconnection

(3) The virtual environment where student interact will continue to develop even when they are not connected. Therefore, rules of digital coexistence must be established. (Díaz, 2020).

(4) Need for extensive research on possible negative effects on addiction

Outlook — Implementations of Education in the Metaverse

A first approach of implementing education in the metaverse is conducted by Kwangwoon University. From mid-October 2021, the innovation initiative of Kwangwoon University is planning to expand classes of approximately 1,200 students using the “Metaverse Lecture Platform”, which simulates real-life learning environments and collaboration of students and teachers. The university sees their endeavor as a coping mechanism for the ongoing spread of Covid-19 and to overcome concomitant limitations of remote education. For example, students asking questions, and performing team activities in a virtual space using one’s avatar are actively enhancing, which has the advantage of reviving realism and direct sharing of content.

Comparing lectures on the metaverse with distance learning on classic videoconferencing tools like Zoom, MS Teams or Google Meets, the university hopes to improve communication between professors and students and therefore achieve an increasingly differential education effect, approximating face-to-face classes (Ji, K. M, n.y.).

Picture 1 (source:

Not only blockchain, but also the metaverse show immense investments from big companies in the recent past — among them Facebook (recently re-named to Meta), Oculus, etc. Consequently, the vision of moving educational endeavors to the metaverse is on the pulse of the times with current products and technologies.

Duan et al. (2021) state that academia has — in light of the undiscovered problems and risk that the metaverse brings — a responsibility to study these problems and instruct on a safe implementation of the metaverse. In the last decade, a few studies have been published on 3D virtual worlds, however “with rapid development […] many novel metaverse applications have matured” (Duan et al., 2021). There is a clear need for further research in this topic area.


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