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Where are we now with AR for learning?

2018 may be the year in which we see the education sector fully embrace the potentialities of augmented reality, says Jeremy Bradley

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | March 01, 2018 | Technology

It has been virtual reality (VR), rather than its younger sibling augmented reality (AR), which has perhaps captured the public imagination the most over the last two decades. Although VR hasn't had quite the seismic impact on society some had predicted, it has slowly extended its influence into people's homes, mainly in the form of a gaming accessory. 

AR has also made inroads into people's entertainment arsenal with many smartphone apps having embraced the technology to create reality-altering games and puzzles. However, the term AR still doesn't have as much gravitas as VR when talking tech with the layman. 

To distinguish between the two - VR is an entirely computer-generated simulation of a user’s physical presence in a ‘virtual’ environment. AR, by contrast, is a live view of the physical environment, with elements that have been ‘augmented’ by overlaid computer-generated information.

Virtual and augmented reality probably shouldn't be compared explicitly; both offer impressive and distinct entertainment value, and both have the potential to alter how we engage with solving certain problems. However, ask professionals in the most advanced fields of human understanding, where the technology has already been utilised, and most would sooner celebrate the innovations made in AR. It has already been used in such fields as medicine, military, engineering, and robotics for many years, and there’s a range of AR apps that can be used by architects and interior designers to visualise their designs in the real world.

We've seen the edtech landscape grow dramatically over the past two decades, and the ability to learn just about anything, from just about anywhere, is one of the most acclaimed developments of the 21st century

In short, AR is exciting a lot of people in a lot of industries. We know the tech foundations are solid and can be used for a variety purposes. So how can we use augmented reality in other important fields?

Education is a sector which is inextricably linked with technology. We've seen the edtech landscape grow dramatically over the past two decades, and the ability to learn just about anything, from just about anywhere, is one of the most acclaimed developments of the 21st century.

This technological thrust has not only opened up opportunities for more people to learn in more interesting ways, but also coincided with our understanding of the human mind. In the edtech realm, it has given us the ability to develop learning programs using technology to most efficiently embed the desired information in our minds.

Few would deny that the internet has changed the way the modern mind works. As a result, it could be argued that it has made traditional learning routes more difficult, as attention spans seem to be diminishing. Reading a book for hours on end, or attending long monotonous lectures simply isn’t as effective on the vast majority of people as it once was, and perhaps ever will be again. 

Maybe as a result of our broadening understanding of the mind, as well as shrinking attention spans, learning theorists have come to conclude that learning deepens not just through reading and listening, but also through creating and interacting. This seems to be the case for both children and adults. While it must be acknowledged that individuals' capacities for learning vary, creative and interactive elements within the process are always effective.

So how could these ideas be explored through AR? Progressive pedagogues have already started to introduce elements of AR into classrooms – entrapping children's attention by harnessing their inevitable fascination with the latest tech. There's a growing number of excellent AR companies innovating in this field, such as Wikitude, Aug That!, and CARE. 

Language learning is a nice hypothetical example of how we could use AR to enhance our learning experience even beyond the classroom. Apps like Memrise and Duolingo already build on the current scientific developments of how the mind learns and works, to build the most effective structures to their language programmes. Learning a language can, and should be, an immersive experience, and most would have at some point been advised that the best way to learn a language is through 'immersion' – i.e. going to the country. There can be no doubt this is a well-proven method. However, augmented reality offers us a chance to have the immersive experience without the obvious complications of packing up and moving one's life abroad.

Imagine, for example, an app that allowed you to point to buildings, objects, and the immediate environment, and through your screen you could see those words in your specified language. Utilising the smartphone or any digital device with a camera, pointing it at certain buildings could perhaps identify the architecture, architect, design, and maybe draw some comparisons with other buildings in the city. 

There are numerous AR initiatives already in action which allow students to explore the human body in medical detail, go on geographical explorations around the world, and interact with their immediate environment through a new lens. 

There are endless exciting possibilities to making use of AR for progressive education companies looking to enhance people’s learning experiences inside and outside of the classroom. With the technology tried and tested, 2018 may be the year in which we see the education sector fully embrace its potentialities, and enlighten a wider audience with the wonders of AR.

Jeremy C Bradley is the Executive Director at Edology. He’s an EdTech industry expert, organisational strategist, and noted speaker and writer. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycbradley. 

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