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VR in Schools and Why Educational Content Suppliers Should Care?

Major educational ICT providers are promoting VR solutions to K-12 education, typically partnering short form, supplementary content experiences with low grade hardware. This strategy is expected to result in significant levels of VR headset ownership in the school systems of markets including the US & China. This install base will serve up potential users for publishers seeking to provide VR content but while many potential use cases exist the model for deploying paid for VR content to schools at scale remains unproven with usage expected to be limited to freemium content in most instances. Despite this, the inclusion of VR experiences within courseware will provide a point of differentiation for publishers and an early mover advantage for those quick to embrace the new technology.

It’s no secret that the performance of VR technology in consumer markets has fallen below expectations. As with many new technologies, the possibility of what could be achieved has a habit of taking precedence over the realities of utilisation and deployment, inflating projected adoption curves. In these cases, providers heavily invested in the space are quick to explore opportunities in vertical markets, forging partnerships with sector focused suppliers and investing in content development to raise awareness and create use-cases. For the VR industry, K-12 education is just one of the vertical markets on which suppliers are now betting, but one that offers a large potential audience and real opportunities for the technology to cut costs, increase student safety and improve learning outcomes.

There are two major players (both with a hand in the consumer VR space) heavily investing in K-12 focused VR programs.  

Google has partnered with hundreds of content creators, developing over 600 free to access Expeditions (learning focused virtual tours). Google resells low-end all-in-one mobile VR hardware kits for classrooms through its channel partners. Increasingly, these kits will be offered as additional value adds to school districts buying mobile PC devices and used as loss leaders to support larger ICT product and service deployments. This is expected to boost adoption in the US (Google Chromebooks account for close to 60% of US K-12 education PC shipments) where Futuresource forecasts 100’s of thousands of these low-end VR devices will be in use in schools by 2021.

In China, games developer Net Dragon is heavily investing in VR technologies for both gaming and education. Following its acquisition of interactive whiteboard manufacturer Promethean, the company has increased focus on the education market and has been running VR trials in schools since 2016. With special funding made available for schools to support the deployment of “innovative technologies” and a use it or lose it attitude to these programs adoption is forecast to be significant in the mid to long-term. While Net Dragons business model for deployment remains unclear at this time, a combined hardware/content proposition seems likely.

This development poses a number of questions for content publishers servicing the education market. What threats and opportunities will this growing install base of VR hardware present?  What percentage of schools that invest in a VR hardware package will then seek additional content, and will this create a revenue opportunity?   

The use cases for VR technology in education are as varied as the curriculum. Virtual school trips to enhance learning in subjects like history and geography, digital lab experiments, the exploration of anatomy to enrich the sciences and the transportation of students to restaurants and markets in foreign lands to provide more authentic language learning experiences. Despite a wealth of potential applications concerns around the management and extended usage of VR hardware is expected to limit the adoption of VR to short form supplementary experiences in most education settings, restricting the ability of publishers to directly monetise VR content.  

Futuresource’s latest report on immersive technologies in the education market provides analysis of trends and forecasts for five core VR content categories, assessing the business models supporting the deployment of this content to students. As the categorisation below highlights, the majority of VR content will be provided to schools either without charge or as part of broader courseware offerings, without differentiation in pricing at the point of sale to end-users.

So, while user numbers of VR in K-12 education environments are expected to rise, the majority of users will only be exposed to content that is not directly monetised. Most users may only access a 10 minute VR experience, no more than a few times a year.  Schools will not seek to purchase additional premium content, relying solely on freemium solutions that are typically provided with the VR hardware or as a value add to core curriculum courseware.

For educational content suppliers, the revenue opportunities from VR in the mid-term are likely to be limited. What VR will present is an opportunity to differentiate products through the inclusion of VR and 360 video content. As an example, leading educational publisher Pearson is currently developing over 200 VR experiences for incorporation into its robust range of courseware’s.  Other providers across areas like STEM, language learning and subscription video on demand are following suit, creating an early mover advantage and a clear point of differentiation in established product categories. While the value future end-users will place in VR enabled solutions is yet to be determined, there is enough investment in the space for educational publishers and content providers across a spectrum of categories to take note of these developments.

About the author

Ben Davis

About Us

Here at Futuresource Consulting we deliver specialist research and consulting services, providing market forecasts and intelligence reports. Since the 1980s we have supported a range of industry sectors, which has grown to include: CE, Broadcast, Entertainment Content, EdTech and many more.