Microsoft’s Dan Ayoub Explains How AR/VR Can Produce Measurable Results in Learning
Welcome to the xR in EDU podcast series. EdTech Times and Boston University have joined together to co-host xR in EDU, an event to explore augmented and virtual realities’ impact on learning across the full spectrum of education. Listen in to our interviews with featured speakers from the event in this series, and join us October 22 to learn more about augmented and virtual reality in education and training today. Visit edtechtimes.com/xrinedu for details.
Over the past couple of decades, virtual reality has evolved from a fun idea to a platform for endless possibilities. As augmented and virtual reality become more affordable and accessible, educators are starting to explore ways that they can implement immersive learning technologies into their lesson plans.
Can this technology actually reinvent the way that students learn? According to Dan Ayoub, general manager of mixed reality education at Microsoft, virtual reality has the potential to transform education as we know it.
“These experiences are just really engaging,” says Dan. “Everything from grades go up, engagement goes up, retention goes up. It’s not just something that’s shiny and flashy. It’s showing very real outcomes for students.”
As with all new technologies, it takes some time for educators to acclimate to using augmented and virtual reality in the classroom. Yet Dan says there are many benefits for educators to take the leap to incorporate immersive tech in their teaching.
“The big challenge everybody in this space faces, and the questions everyone gets when I talk to educators is, ‘will this actually help in the classroom?’ ‘Is this going to help me prepare my students and get them ready for what they need?’ And the simple answer to that is, yes.”
Listen in to our interview with Dan Ayoub to learn more about how AR/VR can accommodate all types of learners, and get a glimpse of what Dan will be speaking about at xR in EDU.
Hannah Nyren: Hi this is Hannah Nyren with EdTech Times, and today I am speaking with Dan Ayoub from Microsoft. Hi Dan, how’s it going?
Dan Ayoub: Hey, good morning. Doing great.
Hannah Nyren: Great. So Dan, really difficult question, to start off. What do you do at Microsoft?
Dan Ayoub: So, I am the general manager of mixed reality education at Microsoft. And I mean—for that, it means a number of things. Which just shows how large and powerful the space is. It includes everything we do around the head mounted devices. So think about the augmented reality device with the HoloLens and the VR devices that we launched last fall. So using all of those devices in classroom scenarios. But it also includes any kind of 3D on 2D devices. So, you know, think of a mixed reality viewer, where you can hold up one of the Microsoft laptops and see augmented reality through the camera, or things like 3D paint and even using 3D imagery in PowerPoint.
Dan Ayoub: So what we do with our team here is work with educational institutions, curriculum developers, everyone interested in the technology who might be looking at implementing these into their classrooms to basically help people take advantage of what is really a magnificent tool for education.
Hannah Nyren: It seems like Microsoft has a lot of VR tools these days.
Dan Ayoub: Yeah. It’s really fascinating. I think that the space is getting a lot of attention, which is great to see. And I think it’s just based on the fact that these experiences are just really engaging.
Dan Ayoub: But we’ve also done a bunch of research that shows how effective they are in the classroom. We just finished a pretty large round of research and it was really fascinating for us to see how powerful a tool it was. Like everything from grades go up, engagement goes up, retention goes up. And where I think I get really motivated by this technology is, it’s not just something that’s shiny and flashy. It’s showing very real outcomes for students. And so that’s kind of like the reason we’re all excited about this and why we’re investing so much into it and we’re so interested in the space is we’re seeing very real benefits for all kinds of learners. Everything from traditional learners to nontraditional learners, visual learners. You name it—pretty much everybody can benefit from using this kind of technology in the classroom. And I think the wide spectrum we talked about earlier is just a number of different ways and shows how committed we are to making sure that this technology stays accessible to everyone.
Hannah Nyren: So, we do have you listed as a speaker for our event that’s coming up, xR in EDU. Can you tell me a little bit about what you will be speaking about at the event?
Dan Ayoub: Yes! I’m actually really excited to get out there. I missed the first one that was held on the west coast. So I was really, really thrilled to get a chance to come out to this one. So I mentioned some of the research we had done. What we’re going to be talking about at the actual conference is going into a bit more detail into some of that research…which I think is going to be really fascinating for people, because I think the big question and the big challenge everybody in this space faces, and the questions everyone gets when I talk to educators is, ‘Will this actually help in the classroom? Is this going to help me prepare my students and you know get them ready for what they need?’ And the simple answer to that is, yes. So we’re going to open with that. Dig into that research a little bit. And then we’ll talk about some best practices for actually implementing it into the classroom.
Dan Ayoub: And then finally, just talk about some of the things we’re doing and what people can expect coming down the line. Where I get really excited about this conference is, it sounds like it’s going to be very discussion-based, rather than presentation-based. So all of the discussions and presentations are going to be really, really interactive, which I’m excited about, because that’s certainly what I’m most interested in, is not only sharing what we’ve learned but learning from the other people who are going to be there as well.
Hannah Nyren: A lot of educators have been confused because they think, okay, that’s great. That’s a great technology, VR’s cool, but how can it possibly be used for educational purposes? So what is Microsoft trying to do to dispel that idea that VR is a fun tool or a fun toy, but not necessarily practical for educational purposes?
Dan Ayoub: You’ve probably hit on one of the core challenges for the space, right? And I expect we’ll have some good discussion about this at the conference. Yeah, that’s probably the number one question I get when when we talk to educators. And I think there’s a few answers to that. And I would say that’s why we’ve spent so much time doing research into it. And I should point out that we didn’t go out and fund research because we wanted to actually dip from research that had already been there. So we looked at over 200 peer reviewed studies on the topic of using virtual reality, augmented reality in the classroom and how it works. So this is not something that we went and did to try and prove a point. We actually pulled from research that was already there.
Effectively what it comes down to is it’s backed by a lot of science, which is where I think it gets really exciting. From a neuroscience standpoint, learning with VR and AR has a reduced cognitive load. So simply speaking, it takes less brain power for students to absorb certain concepts concepts.
Hannah Nyren: Wow.
Dan Ayoub: And where I think the rubber really meets the road on this, is it’s backed by classical educational theory as well, right? Learning by doing. So just imagine, rather than a classic lecture-based approach where, you know, the teacher can spend some time going over the subject and then put students into a simulated environment where they can actually practice what they’ve learned. And the retention and the engagement is going to be so much higher versus just classical passive learning. So I think that’s certainly one way to look at it. And I think the second is just the different types of educational scenarios that it starts to open up for students with dyslexia, autism—distance learning becomes a really big potential for it as well.
Dan Ayoub: I do think we need to acknowledge that the technology is at an early stage. And a lot of teachers I’ve spoken to go to the scenario of 40 kids in a classroom with these devices on their heads and just imagine all kinds of chaos and bedlam and like how do you manage that. Which is why I think we have certainly been having conversations with people around starting in school libraries, makerspaces, computer labs, things like that. And just letting the teachers start to experiment with what works for them. Because at the end of the day, this is a tool for educators. This is for them. Nothing is ever going to replace a brilliant teacher. This is meant to give them another way to engage with their students and a way to help them—help their students—grow.
Hannah Nyren: Well, I’m sure you’ll talk a lot more about that at the event, because that’s a conversation that could go on.
Dan Ayoub: I could talk for days about this.
Hannah Nyren: That’s fantastic. So, what advice do you have for educators out there who are interested in VR, but don’t really know how to get started?
Dan Ayoub: Yeah.I would say a few things. In terms of trying it out—don’t think that you need to go from zero to 100 with it. Start with one device and look at ways that you can potentially implement that. Also, get out there and try one. We recently launched this Limitless Libraries Program. We seated a number of school libraries and public libraries across the United States with this hardware for a number of reasons. One, because we want to make sure that this technology remains accessible. But also to allow schools and educators to start to experiment with the best way to implement these in their own classrooms. So I would say, go out there, try one out, get your hands on it. And just start to think about ways you could implement it in small groups. Again, I don’t think you need to immediately start thinking about scenarios of 40 students using this thing. Think of groups of two or three working together, and how to get going.
Dan Ayoub: And I would also say there’s a lot of great literature out there that educators can get their hands on. And finally, reach out to us. That’s a lot of what we do. We work and talk to educators all the time. I spend a good portion of my time talking to educators who are curious about the technology, skeptical about the technology, and working with them to figure out what could potentially work best in their situation. Because really, they’re the experts, right? Like we have this fantastic technology and great ways of implementing it. But they are really the experts in what it is that they’re trying to do. So I think it’s a very flexible technology. So it’s just really finding the best way to work with it for your classroom.
Hannah Nyren: Wow, I don’t think a lot of educators were thinking that they could just jump on the phone and call Microsoft.
Dan Ayoub: Well, I mean that’s one of the benefits of…you know, I would love to be able to give people my number and tell them to call me but that probably wouldn’t work out.
Dan Ayoub: But we have a number of resources across the organization that people can reach out to for more information. One of the great things about this company is just our ability to scale. Go into a Microsoft store. I would also say that. If people are curious to try it out, walk into one of our many Microsoft stores and say you’re interested in a demo and try it out there. That’s another great way to get there and start using the technology and getting a feel for it.
Hannah Nyren: Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, I still know a lot of people who haven’t used any VR technologies. And I think that, you know, just walking into a store that’s in a lot of malls these days is a pretty easy way to get a grasp on what kind of technology is out there.
Dan Ayoub: Yeah, I agree, I think it’s a great way to do it…in a nice, you know, controlled environment. Because for a lot of people, like any new technology, right, it can be a little bit intimidating. And the ability to walk in and have someone help you, and it’s already set up, you don’t have to worry about it. You can just get a very curated experience and off you go, is a great way to jump in.
Hannah Nyren: Ok, well, that’s really interesting. I can’t wait to see what you talk about at our event.
Dan Ayoub: Thank you. I’m really excited to get out there. You can probably tell it’s an area I’m very, very passionate about. And I truly believe this is going to be the future of education. And I can’t wait to just talk with and learn from all the really smart people that are going to be out there.
Hannah Nyren: Well, thanks a ton, Dan.
Dan Ayoub: No, thank you.
Want to learn more about the benefits of virtual reality in education? Come to xR in EDU.
Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.