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Washington, D.C. – On May 29, 2024, the XR Association hosted the second webinar of their Charting the Future of Immersive Technology series focused on Safety and Well-Being for Youth in XR. Panelists shared insights into the tools and practices being employed by the industry to enhance learning and gaming experiences for young people.

Moderated by Stephanie Montgomery, Senior Vice President of Research and Best Practices at XRA, the panel featured Tommy Truong, Chief Product Officer at EmergeNET, Michael Preston, Executive Director at Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, and Dr. Todd P. Chang, Vice Chair for Education, Department of Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

As immersive tools continue to gain widespread adoption and integration in educational, medical and workforce settings, it becomes crucial to ensure their development is safe, inclusive and thriving for audiences of all ages. According to panelists, students expressed they want more, not less, experiences with immersive technology. However, limitations persist including cost barriers, accessibility requirements, and instructional support for beginners.

Panelists emphasized the importance of considering children’s best interests and involving students, teachers and parents in the design and development of immersive learning experiences. Truong shared how he’s noticed students build their empathy skills through VR’s perspective-taking experiences.  

“Where [students] are at right now is still learning to become better digital citizens,” Truong said. “They’re understanding it more but now with immersive technology, it takes that and makes it more literal. Once they see that they’re okay, they’re asking themselves, how can I mirror those same expectations, and what of these digital products?”

Throughout the discussion, experts unanimously agreed that XR technology is poised to enhance learning experiences and transform the classroom and medical experience. However, the collection and utilization of users’ data will need to be addressed.

Dr. Chang discussed how XR is a unique medium with versatile capabilities. He compared it to a phone which is easier to navigate and requires less time spent to learn. At CHLA, Dr. Chang said, they are exploring the use of VR for children, either as an escape or a useful tool, for extended periods or as a form of therapy. He shared how they are also considering VR as a training aid to help medical professionals improve their 3D visualization skills.

Beyond the tactical positive use cases for learning, the discussion also centered around XR technology’s ability to enhance emotional well-being for youth. Preston noted that the things critics call out as negatives for technology are protective and helpful to certain marginalized students for whom finding community online can be beneficial.

Montgomery also asked about the panelists’ views on regulation. Panelists agreed there was no “one-size fits all approach” to regulation, and discussed the need for regulations and safeguards in XR technology, with a focus on the Kid’s Online Safety Act (KOSA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) regulations, age assurance, privacy, and duty of care provisions. 

“The first thing that designers have to consider, is to ensure that children’s best interests are honored,” said Preston. “New and evolving legislation like COPPA and KOSA and even the age-appropriate design code, as it arrives here on our shores in the United States, has changed the conversation, even if sometimes the regulation and process is slow toward passing laws, and it doesn’t always satisfy every stakeholder. But it is a form of progress that we need, and the idea of thinking about children’s best interests is really important, and so we have to ensure that data and data privacy are attended to.”

The webinar series explores the 9 initiatives in XRA’s whitepaper, “Charting the Future of Immersive Technology,” intended to steer the industry over the next few years. The next webinar will focus on Privacy, another section of the whitepaper. To stay up to date on all things XRA make sure to subscribe to the XRAlert.