Every decade or so, a new technology emerges that fundamentally changes the landscape of learning. In the 80s it was the desktop computer, in the 90s it was the Internet, and in the 00s it was powerful authoring software. This decade has seen the explosive growth of mobile devices – phones, tablets, and even wearables. Within the next few years, we will be experiencing the next seismic shift in the landscape of learning- and it will be Augmented Reality (AR).
With the recent launch of ARKit by Apple and ARCore by Android, AR will be available on over 2 billion devices in a matter of a few months. AR works by overlaying content on a mobile or wearable device so that what you experience in your environment is augmented with digital content. For the learner, this means some fundamental shifts in the way learning happens. Let’s explore three of these shifts.
Shift 1: Moving Learning from the Desk to the Work Location
Most online learning currently takes place with the learner sitting at a desk, using a laptop or desktop computer. Since AR is used with mobile devices, the learning experience can take place within the context of where it actually will be used, which can make the material more relevant and likely to be recalled.
For example, a nurse needs to learn which specific supplies are needed to suture a wound. Using AR, the nurse can be in the actual room where he will be performing the procedure and look at the actual equipment he will be using. In the AR learning experience, he will receive prompts, support, and feedback as he selects the correct supplies.
Shift 2: Transform Existing Books and Printed Material into Dynamic Content
Printed material (such as books, posters, handouts, or labels) has been viewed as static and unchanging, because printed material can’t be changed without printing it again – that’s an obvious statement. However, with AR, printed material can be changed and be transformed into something completely new. Through object recognition, AR can recognize a printed page and automatically enhance it with digital content.
For example, a student learning about magnetism refers to a page in a printed workbook. Holding a mobile device to the page, she can watch a video in AR that demonstrates how magnetism works. Next, she touches the printed images of different types of magnets and then in AR sees their lines of magnetic force floating in 3D above the page. As she moves the mobile device around and over the image on the page, she can view multiple perspectives. Through such rich experiences, she explores and engages with the content with multiple representations and for longer periods of time, which will then deepen her learning and retention.
Shift 3: Incorporate Muscle Memory
In most learning situations, you are sitting down- whether you are at a desk taking an online course or in a classroom interacting with the instructor. The most movement you are typically doing is either moving a mouse or writing with a pen or pencil. AR experiences encourage you to get up and move around to interact with objects in the environment. In doing so you are using and moving your body while you’re learning – this is called muscle memory. A large body of research has shown that incorporating movement into learning increases learning outcomes.
For example, during a New Employee Orientation, new hires can go on an AR scavenger hunt to familiarize themselves with their new work environment. Using a mobile device and an app, they can walk around to find specific rooms (i.e., lunchroom, bathroom), objects (i.e., office printer, supply cabinet), and people (manager’s office, reception). This can even turn into a gamified experience in which they get points or earn digital badges for completing tasks. Rather than just reading or hearing about where these people, places, and objects are, new hires build muscle memory through these experiences.
This is just the beginning of how AR will transform the landscape of learning. As more companies start incorporating these experiences, we will discover even more ways to leverage this technology to enhance our learning.