There’s a lot of chatter around Web3 technologies, and the metaverse is one of the most heavily marketed use cases in the next iteration of digital innovation.
The metaverse is a digital destination, a fully rendered 3D immersive space where users can explore new experiences for fun or practical reasons. The complexity layers on top of that but think of the metaverse as a world for a digital user to enter, interact, learn, transact, create and experience.
With so much innovation—and opportunity—happening around the metaverse, it makes sense why Facebook rebranded to Meta in order to support their metaverse-focused strategy. With that in mind, here are six reasons why we’re ready for the metaverse—and you should be as well.
1. Social Media at an Inflection Point
I first began my social media journey on Myspace. Myspace was a fun place for myself and my friends: We had our Top 8 lists, our HTML-tiled backgrounds, our profile page song, emo poetry, etc. It was simply a place to be young and have fun.
Next came Facebook, which was first accessible to Ivy League schools and then subsequently colleges with strong engineering departments, and then all collegiate domains. We poked each other and posted silly photographs. Eventually Facebook opened its doors to any registered and verified email address. Fast forward to omnipresence, controversy, acquisitions, Hollywood films and the story continues to be written.
Then LinkedIn changed everything. Suddenly users who weren’t interested in social media found a reason to join a social network. LinkedIn keeps you close to your working peers, helps you find a job and educates you with targeted professional content. An entire audience of users who weren’t interested in having fun on a social network found a grown-up reason to get involved.
This is the inflection point we are at with the metaverse going into 2023. Social media has reached a terminal state, with the only variation between platforms now being the format: Text and/or video and the length allowed or incentivized by the social media platform itself. The way a user interacts with social media has not changed since the proliferation of the smartphone. And if social media continues to tether itself to smart phones, it will become less important over time.
2. Smartphones at a Terminal State
The metaverse is only as enriching as the devices that we use to access it. And while the metaverse is blossoming, it is currently being held back by the massive market adoption cycle of the smartphone and the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that create them. The smartphone is a dead end in terms of innovation. You can make it smaller or bigger, add a stylus, make it fold, add better cameras, memory, etc., but at the end of the day it’s a touchscreen slab that ties back to app stores. Because smart phones are essentially done iterating upon the way that we interact with them, the door is open to something new. The smartphone is simply an input terminal like the keyboard and mouse or the punch card before it. There will be a new way forward.
3. Wearable Technology at a Maturation Point
Have you ever talked to someone about their smart watch? Chances are they are obsessed with it. And it’s clear to see why. Smart watches are stylish, sleek and practical. Are VR headsets there yet? No, but we are starting to see stratification and affordability make an impact in the wearable headset market. Did you know you can buy a headset for $5, load in your smartphone (which now has a reinvented purpose), tether a $2 Bluetooth controller and enter the metaverse? This will be the method most users adopt as Oculus/Meta Quest style headsets are still too expensive and quite frankly, overkill for most use cases and applications.
This newly burgeoning industry is at an interesting maturation point as we wait for a major player to enter the space: Apple. In the American market especially, Apple is responsible for driving smartphone, smart watch and Bluetooth headphone adoption. Apple is, in fact, the largest headphone manufacturer in the world, which many do not realize.
Many in the industry expect a 2023 announcement and release for an Apple AR and VR headset, which could spur mass adoption as the company has done in other categories.
4. Education: The Commerce of the 21st Century
Human beings are experiential learners, but the science of education (pedagogy) is still deeply misunderstood and unexplored. Why does this matter to the metaverse?
As an education professional, I am familiar with the 80/20 rule as it applies to learning. This means that if I train someone in a lecture with traditional audio-visual (AV) support (slideshows, videos, graphics), they will retain 20% of what I say. This leads to the practice of interval training. Interval training consists of brief and consistent reinforcement of the training material over time in order to drive that knowledge retention number higher.
Fortune conducted a study of medical professionals using VR training and traditional AV training as a control group. They then tested the students one year later to see what knowledge retention looked like. The traditional AV training had predictable results with around 20% retention after a year.
The users who adopted VR training had an 80% knowledge retention rate a year later. There is a dollar and workforce impact in hands-on experiential learning that can’t be ignored.
5. Videoconference Education a Band Aid
If you have kids of schooling age or took educational courses during the pandemic, you probably aren’t a huge fan of virtual education. This can be for a variety of reasons, but once you extract value vs. cost and opinions vs. politics, the simple fact remains that audio-visual training is not optimal from a learning impact standpoint.
If students can fully immerse themselves with classmates, be themselves, interact with shared objects that are spatially tethered and collaborate in real time, this removes some of the largest barriers to education that exist in our systems today. This is the promise of the metaverse.
Add in the benefits of democratizing information for diverse cultures and people around the world, curated learning, assistance for those with disabilities, and a centric model for those who experience challenges leaving their home and you have an inescapable model of decentralized learning where the institution is no longer the focal point but the user themselves.
This means educational institutions are in for some turbulent times ahead unless they begin forging their own path within the metaverse and AR/VR technologies to prepare for the students of the future.
For the record, these students of the future are already here. They are already tired of outdated learning management systems (LMS). I used them when I went to college two decades ago, and I have built multiple LMS instances in my professional career. Like the smartphone, they are at a terminal state, where the only updates are content and APIs vs. the updates to interaction and endpoints.
The true obstacle here is educational institutions and their understanding of how knowledge is gained. We still use multiple choice scantron style tests in high schools. This isn’t because it’s how students learn best, its simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” When funding is tied to these antiquated evaluation methods, the real opponent becomes the decoupling of dollars from outdated methodologies that are not student or learning outcome centric.
6. Demographic Waves of Change
In 20 years, there will be more gamers on the planet than there are today. This is simple demographics as many older generations were not native to video games and do not play them. These older generations will pass away and be replaced with younger generations who game to have fun and have social interactions.
It’s not uncommon to find a gamer who learned more about history from Assassin’s Creed than they did from high school history, and this is for a very good reason: They experienced it. They walked the streets of Jerusalem or jumped rooftops in Revolutionary Paris taking in an immersive world that taught them about the culture of those people and times.
This is why Microsoft has agreed to make the largest acquisition in the history of their entire organization—for a video game studio, Activision/Blizzard. Microsoft was not purchasing Call of Duty. They were entering a talent war for 3D rendering artists to build their own metaverse, and now they have one of the most accomplished video game design teams on the planet.
Metaverse is Now, Extended Reality is Future
Like all new technology movements, the first rung of the strategy is to normalize the foreign experience of the technology. This is why you see so much marketing of metaverse before seeing high adoption rates into the ecosystem. The goal is to make the term “metaverse” as ubiquitous as possible, so it won’t be abnormal when your child comes home from the first day of school with a headset instead of an iPad.
Players and users are already spending massive amounts of time inside of ecosystems like Second Life or massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). While these ecosystems don’t have a specific business or educational component to them, they are tangible proof that people will spend large amounts of time in a virtual world if the experience caters to their specific needs and gives them a communal aspect of play and relationship building.
It's clear to see that building an open and distributed ecosystem is easier to write out than it is to execute with private and public companies vying for their postage stamp of turf. That’s why, once again, the user is the crux of making this entire Web3 movement a reality.
Users will need the true realization of extended reality (XR). XR is a merging of AR and VR technologies into one seamless experience with the user driving the type of experience and the engagement level required. This would mean that a user could opt into the AR or VR experience depending on their preference or the hardware that they possess on hand. Think of it as being somewhat akin to a hybrid vehicle that allows you to select battery or combustion engine, or both. This power of choice will drive the greatest number of users provided that the economics to opt in passed down to the user are fair.
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David Landsberger is the Director of Training and Events at TBI, delivering dynamic training across the country.