What is The Metaverse?

14 November

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What is The Metaverse?

What is the Metaverse?

If you are confused about the metaverse… that is not surprising as it is a phrase we are increasingly hearing, but it is ambiguous and being attached to many different ideas. Also, the metaverse does not fully exist yet so we have nothing to relate it to.

The metaverse doesn’t really refer to any one specific type of technology, but rather a broad (and often speculative) shift in how we interact with technology. (Ravenscraft, 2022)

In simple terms the metaverse is the next stage of the internet where we will be able to interact in a physical space. We will be able to walk through places and areas, interact formally with others and have spontaneous interactions as we would in real life, this is all part of Web 3.0 which is already emerging.

At the beginning of the internet Web 1.0, the internet was a static information provider, in Web 2.0 we saw the rise of online communities, social media and collaboration. The web moved from an online library to becoming a more interactive space where communities could grow and share information. Web 3.0 will take this to another level to a decentralised web, and the metaverse is part of this. Social networks will evolve to become places with their own virtual spaces, currencies and cultures, thereby more closely replicating how we interact with each other in real life. 

For example, you could in theory be accepted to Cambridge University and attend in the metaverse. The campus may be a digital simulation of the real-life campus, and you could attend lectures and you (represented by your avatar) would be able to stroll around campus, attend lectures and socialise with other students. You could also spend money in the on-campus shops and even wear a Cambridge University sweatshirt.

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The rise of the Multiverse

In its pursuit form there would be only one unified metaverse, but this relies heavily on the idea of interoperability, your avatar, currency and items would persist across platforms. In this  metaverse you would be able to build up your assets, be they online real estate or enchanted swords and move them with you. This vision of one metaverse is perhaps the furthest off, partly due to technological constraints, but also down to the realities of commercialism:

Despite this, the idea of a Ready Player One-like single unified place called “the metaverse” is still largely impossible. That is in part because such a world requires companies to cooperate in a way that simply isn’t profitable or desirable—Fortnite doesn’t have much motivation to give players a portal to jump straight over to World of Warcraft, even if it were easy to do so, for example—and partially because the raw computing power needed for such a concept could be much further away than we think. (Ravenscraft, 2022)

Currently what we have instead are areas where our real world and online worlds intersect, tools like augmented and virtual reality (AR & VR)  allow us to overlay virtual information on our physical world or with VR to immerse ourselves in a virtual space. 

So the metaverse might still be under construction, but we can already start to see different apps and platforms as having “metaverse-y traits” (Antonia R Forster), and I think this a helpful way to reduce the ambiguity around the phrase metaverse. Currently the metaverse sounds like it is a major shift and a sci-fi vision of our future when in actual fact it will happen in stages and is already underway, to the extent that in a few years we might wonder what all the fuss was about.

There are many examples of metaversey traits in our lives already. You probably have co-workers you have never met in real life, you may own and trade crypto currency or enjoy gaming, even a WhatsApp group or a snapchat filter can be seen as having metaversy traits but whilst we don’t have “The Metaverse” yet,  there are already actual metaverses (or multiverses if you prefer) that exist,  most of them are “crypto projects presented as a Metaverse and available on major exchanges. This means you can easily sign up on those platforms and purchase your chosen token”  (Sergey-Baloyan, 2021)

Here is a quick summary of some examples, you can read more here.

1. Axie Infinity (AXS)

Similar to Pokémon in terms of game mode, Axie Infinity is built on the Ethereum blockchain. It is an NFT online game in which players battle, trade its governance token called AXS in a play-to-earn model. Users can redeem their rewards and exchange their earned assets outside the platform in real time. As of August 2021, there are roughly 1 million players on the platform daily. 

2. Decentraland (MANA)

Also built on the Ethereum blockchain, Decentraland allows users access to virtual real estate to buy and sell real estate in a virtual world. Its users govern it through DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organisation).

While gaming on Decentraland, there are arrays of activities you can carry out. These include but are not limited to the following: Showcase your arts in the NFT gallery, Invest in virtual real estate, Buy and wear NFT wearables 

3. Enjin (ENJ)

Built on the Ethereum blockchain, Enjin allows users to chat, game, and create virtual collectibles. Through the integration with Enjin’s Software Development Kits (SDKs), users can create digital assets, games, and apps and integrate them all through the Ethereum network. These games and apps are tokenized. What this means is that when users unlock an item, not only can the items be used in-game but can also be traded, thus allowing the users to earn $ENJ. 

What will the Metaverse mean for learning?

The metaverse has huge potential for enhanced learning. Virtual reality is already being used to provide training simulations for work in high-pressure, high-risk environments like healthcare and construction; it allows for hands-on training to take place in a safe risk- free environment.

The metaverse will allow us to overcome boundaries to create an environment where things that would have been impossible become possible. 

The boundaries that can be overcome might be physical, geographical or environmental 

The immersive nature of the metaverse will expand possibilities for collaboration as it will allow for groups of people to share experiences together in real time.

 Hands-on learning already boosts student engagement, and the array of experiences within a unified metaverse opens doors to boost engagement even more dramatically. Think of taking a class to a museum or a historical landmark. In a virtual environment, students can interact with virtual objects that would have been off-limits to touch in the physical world. A group of students can have an experience all together, in real time (Apple, 2022) 

The metaverse could also be the answer to much of the debate around hybrid working as it could bridge some of the gap between online and in person. One of the negative aspects of hybrid working is that while many employees feel it has benefits for work life balance, they admitted it was harder to feel connected (Slack, 2020), however in the metaverse meeting online would involve inhabiting a shared virtual space in a way that more closely replicates  our physical world, this shift is starting already and Microsoft Teams is getting avatars, launching in VR and AR next year (Stein, 2021) 

The metaverse could improve the transition to hybrid working arrangements by providing people with virtual working environments that enhance interactions. Imagine virtual meetings where people show up via their avatars and engage in conversations that are more lifelike than current video conferencing capabilities allow. (Deloitte,2022) 

In the images below you can see our own students learning through a metaverse classroom.


One unified metaverse might not be here yet, but metaverses are here, if you still have doubts just follow the money

Metaverse-focused companies raised $10.4 billion across more than 600 venture capital deals in 2021, nearly double the amount raised in 2020.2 A recent Bloomberg analysis estimates global metaverse revenue opportunities could approach $800 billion in 2024.3 

It is estimated that by 2026, 25 percent of all people will spend at least one hour per day in the metaverse – for any reason at all, including school. (Deloitte,2022)

The metaverse presents us with a great opportunity to build a world that supports community, learning and collaboration. It offers the potential of a space which is accessible to all.

Of course, as with the first and current stage of the internet there will also be the possibility for harm so the next questions after “what is the metaverse?”  are “what should it be, and who should it benefit?”

The Learning and Development sector needs to be at the forefront of this discussion and take their place at the table at this building stage to ensure that the metaverse goes beyond marketing and business objectives to benefit us all as a place for continuous personal growth and development.

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