Bridging Physical And Virtual Worlds To Clear Path For Immersive Education
The advancement in Web3 technology is presenting immersive ideas that could affect the virtual educational experience. While some metaverse technologies may still need time to fully mature,…
The rising tuition costs and increasing debt in the United States are threatening the affordability of college education. Universities are now turning to online learning to offer alternative ways to obtain an education and streamline on-campus learning. Some institutions offer more courses online to help reduce costs, class sizes, and reduce the burden on university instructors. A Campus Technology article based on Educause's survey found that online learning preference has increased by 220% in the past decade. According to EdSurge data, 70% of students today prefer online learning or hybrid methods. Critics worry that online learning models and methods are less engaging and distracting, which could impact overall learning. Immersive ideas are being presented by Web3 technology, which could impact the virtual educational experience. Although some metaverse technologies are still in their infancy, there are many possibilities for schools and universities. Morehouse College was recently the first institution to host classes on the metaverse.
Individuals from the world of video gaming continue to innovate, with the metaverse as the landscape of possibilities. Alejandro Saez is the founder of eGoGames and the current executive director and CEO of Utopia, a development and consulting company accelerating metaverse ecosystems for major company brands and the education sector. Utopia offers metaverse education and certification at the individual and corporate levels through its subsidiary, Utopia Voyagers. In Saez's words, 'Utopia's mission is to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds to give users a more immersive and tactile experience. We are leveraging the innovative power of Web3 technology to offer a user-owned and user-controlled ecosystem of internet assets.' I sat with Mr. Saez to discuss his company's role in furthering the possibilities of the metaverse and his development of avatars in the space. He discusses how recent efforts contribute to an inevitable future, including more adoption inside education. Rod Berger: You are very vocal about attributing a great deal of Utopia's success to the team behind it. Can you share a little about your team?
Alejandro Saez: Yes, sometimes, the speed of your success can be determined by who you have on a project. Everyone on the executive team has a wealth of experience running different companies.
I'm what you'd call a serial entrepreneur. From starting a franchise when I was 19 to founding eGoGames in 2017, leading three financing rounds, and purchasing Virtual Voyagers, I've been at it for a while. Our executive vice president, Javier Garcia owns and runs Asterius VC, a venture capital company.
Maria Bravo and Eva Longoria are our connections to the entertainment world. Maria is our branding expert and founder of Global Gift Foundation, that's focused on branding high-profile celebrity events in the world of philanthropy. An outstanding group of leaders and people runs up and down the hierarchy.
Berger: What was the impetus as a company to develop the Utopia Avatars?
Saez: As a company already building robust virtual ecosystems for its clients, this felt like the next natural step to take. If you already have a detailed virtual world that mirrors all the elements and possibilities of the natural world, the next step is having people occupy it.
Utopia Avatars are high-quality 3D avatars that you can use to move around and experience the metaverse as you would in real life. Owning a Utopia Avatar will give anyone access to Utopia's metaverse ecosystem that will be accessible through any device. You would also be able to redeem the utilities through the non-fungible token (NFT) annually, taking the project beyond just art.
Berger: How have you managed to grow with all the uncertainty swirling around Web3? Were you early to enter the process?
Saez: We raised capital before building our Web3 community to execute our vision of providing long-term utilities to the project on a constant growth basis. Asterius Venture Capital led the round. They're a VC fund that loves to get involved in people-focused investments.
It says a lot to have a talented and scalable team structure to tackle broader possibilities of digital identities. The market hasn't been bullish since our incorporation. It is difficult to prove your products and projects will be in demand if uncertainty looms over the whole Web3 industry. We overcame those fears and raised funds before our Avatar product launched.
Berger: For the general audience to understand, what are the major differences between virtual reality (VR) and the metaverse? Can you describe the distinction?
Saez: The most straightforward way I can put it is that VR and the metaverse focus on bringing rich, virtual experiences, but their applications and scope differ. Virtual reality, as we know it, provides an experience limited by VR headsets and controllers. When using a VR headset, you never forget that a screen over your eyes allows you to explore a virtual area while controlling things with a laser or joystick.Utopia's venture into Web3 focuses on user representation through avatars.Utopia
The metaverse has no such restrictions. It's a 3D depiction of the internet that looks and feels like components from the real world.
And so, unlike VR, where the experience is defined by the brand that owns it, say, Oculus Rift, no one owns the metaverse, just like no one owns the internet. Your avatar can visit different metaverses and virtual environments across the internet the same way we browse various websites. This unlimited nature is why educators find these possibilities extremely attractive.
The metaverse is a confluence of VR, augmented reality, and other cutting-edge technology to create a fully-fledged digital world that allows you to live as you would in real life.
Berger: Do you see this metaverse evolution affecting the education sector and how our educational institutions execute their services?
Saez: I believe the metaverse is poised to affect every industry, but none is more suited for this disruption than the education industry. We are already amid a major disruption as online learning takes center stage. The shift from online learning as we know it today is similar to what would be obtainable in the metaverse. It would be a more immersive experience, but the original concept of learning without commuting would remain the same.
There are already a number of projects within the industry focused on creating metaverse-based learning platforms, so it's conceivable that this is nearer than most expect.
Berger: Where is Web3 and the metaverse headed?
Saez: The most significant value the metaverse brings is its limitless nature. People see it as a second chance at life to be anything, and everything they want to be or couldn't be in the real world. So a 5-foot-tall guy, for instance, could be a 6-foot-5 basketball player in the metaverse. But while some want to be completely different from what they are in the real world, others want an exact digital replica of themselves in the metaverse.
As for businesses, branding, marketing, and customer service opportunities are endless. I can see video conference meetings and college lectures replaced by meetings in the metaverse. Customer support staff could interface with customers in the metaverse, and more businesses would have fully functional metaverse ecosystems like the ones we already build for our clients. These ecosystems would be where customers and clients meet across different communication and transaction points.
There's a lot that could change in our world with the metaverse and metaverse-ready avatars. It's difficult for anyone now to know all the directions this evolution could take.
Berger: As innovation increases, where do you see Utopia in a few years?
Saez: There is already a lot of competition for places in this relatively new space. Big companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft are pouring in billions to secure a foothold in the metaverse's future, so I think it's a testament to the uniqueness of what we do that we were able to secure funding and keep pace with them. But of course, we still have a long way to go, but so does everyone else.
After the success of our seed funding, we're headed in the right direction. We're developing a tight-knit community that provides assets and activities that help members benefit from the digital and physical experiences we curate.
We want to keep growing our community by assisting them in building ecosystems, launching real-life (IRL) businesses, and propelling them toward altruistic activities. In a few years, the major difference is that we'll be doing all these on a larger scale.
As online learning models continue to expand inside education, so do the possibilities of the metaverse playing a part.
The recent inaugural adoption by Morehouse College to integrate the metaverse into active learning opportunities may represent the beginning of a new normal in education. Many issues still need ironing out to bring more understanding and acceptance of the metaverse.
Partnerships are part of the equation that provides greater long-term viability for an industry in its respective infancy. Alejandro Saez and his team recently launched the start of a collaboration with Deepak Chopra and Poonacha Machaiah's Seva.Love.
The NFT platform looks to empower global action that benefits society globally. Efforts such as these, with philanthropy at the root, provide helpful examples for a metaverse needing more positive public attention.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.