Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality: How to Know When They Are the Right Choice for Your Learning Projects?

JERRY: I want to begin by thanking you for your time and sharing your expertise with us Nick. You and Roundtable have been leaders in this space since its very beginning. I can’t think of anyone better for this conversation. 

NICK: I’m happy to join the discussion. We have learned a lot in applying these powerful technologies to organizational learning. 

JERRY: Let’s start with the basics. What are the differences between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)? 

NICK: I’ll begin with AR because it is the technology more familiar to more people. In corporate training, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) each offer distinct advantages. AR overlays digital content onto the real world, accessible through everyday devices like smartphones and also specialized equipment for more advanced use of the technology. AR’s portability and adaptability make it a great tool for decentralized training initiatives, allowing trainees to interact with contextual information overlaid onto physical objects. Some great uses of AR in training are on-the-job microlearning training, if some need a quick refresh on how to accomplish a task immediately, or more advanced scenarios like operating power industrial trucks (PIT) where you can put on AR goggles, still see your full environment, and be guided by AR overlays to help you accomplish the task at hand. 

JERRY: That’s helpful.  How about virtual reality? What is it and how does it work>

NICK: VR provides immersive experiences by transporting trainees to simulated environments, and is best utilized for scenarios that require hands-on practice in high-risk environments like safety training. Rather than taking the risk of putting a new hire on the job to test their skills in a high-risk environment like navigating a high-traffic airline runway, you could simulate the environment within VR and allow them to explore an identical replication of your runway with traffic to ensure they’re practicing the right procedures. 

While VR may require specialized equipment, its high level of immersion and interactivity can enhance learning retention. Both AR and VR can be tailored to specific learning objectives, offering unique opportunities for enhancing corporate training programs.

JERRY: How does learning science apply to AR and VR learning experiences?

NICK: The science of learning is deeply rooted in the effectiveness of AR and VR experiences. These technologies follow the important learning principles of cognitive load theory, constructivism, multimodal learning, spatial learning, active learning, personalization, feedback, motivation, and engagement, to make education better.

JERRY: Can you give us some examples of what you mean?

NICK: Certainly, AR and VR make learning easier by slowly introducing information, which prevents learners from experiencing cognitive overload – the feeling overwhelmed or overloaded with too much at once. It encourages active learning by allowing learners to gain hands-on experience, which is a key part of how people naturally learn. With AR and VR, learners can explore and discover things on their own within these virtual environments, which helps them understand and remember complex ideas better.

JERRY: You mentioned spatial learning. Give us a little more detail. 

NICK: When it comes to spatial learning, AR and VR provide 3D representations that help us understand space and complex structures. Learners can actually enter into the environment in which they will be working. These technologies also support multimodal learning, engaging different senses to make learning more interesting. Both AR and VR encourage learner participation, adapting content based on progress and preferences for a more personalized learning experience. They provide instant feedback, which is crucial for learning effectively. Overall, AR and VR use learning principles to create engaging educational environments that align with the science behind how our minds work, making learning more effective and enjoyable.

JERRY: There are obvious differences between augmented reality and virtual reality. So let’s focus on AR. In what circumstance is AR a great tool to consider in designing learning experiences?

NICK: We have been using augmented reality for many years in learning and applied it in many learning situations. These are my top three applications of AR:

1. On-demand or just-in-time training: AR is useful when you need to learn something quickly or right when you need it. AR saves time by providing instant access to the needed information. For example, instead of technicians going through entire manuals when stuck on a task, AR makes it possible to get quick and specific instructions in real-time. This could be in the form of short videos or object recognition guiding technicians through each part of a piece of equipment, ensuring employees stay productive while on the clock.

2. Interactive learning: AR can make hands-on learning even better. Custom equipment can be turned into 3D models, allowing learners to interact with these virtual versions. This interaction includes things like changing the size of the equipment, rotating objects, and exploring internal structures. This hands-on approach helps learners understand complex materials and processes better, making it easier to develop skills and remember what they’ve learned.

3. Remote assistance from experts: Wearable AR solutions, like smart glasses, let learners connect virtually with experts. They can get real-time instructions and guidance. This is especially useful when immediate help from experts is needed, like troubleshooting issues or doing complicated tasks. Learners benefit from the expertise of remote instructors, making the learning experience much better.

JERRY: That’s helpful. How about VR? In what circumstances is VR the right tool to consider in designing learning experiences?

NICK: VR is quite different in its applications and uses. It is an exceptional tool for designing learning experiences.  By immersing learners in sensory-rich learning environments, they can effectively hone tactile skills that improve confidence and increase productivity. Some of the better applications are:

1. When Muscle Memory Matters: VR stands out as an excellent tool for developing muscle memory in learning situations. Through immersive simulations, learners can practice specific actions repeatedly, reinforcing the neural pathways responsible for precise motor skills. For example, surgeons can refine their techniques in a virtual setting, improving their dexterity and accuracy. The realism of VR ensures a profound integration of muscle memory, applicable in real-world situations. This makes it particularly valuable for professions requiring hands-on skills, such as aviation or manufacturing.

2. When Situational Awareness Is Key to Learning: VR is an indispensable tool for enhancing role readiness through the learning process. By immersing learners in realistic virtual environments, VR boosts situational awareness, a crucial skill in safety-centric industries. Emergency responders can practice decision-making in simulated disaster scenarios, enhancing overall preparedness. In fields like construction or architecture, VR immerses learners in virtual walkthroughs, facilitating spatial understanding and furthering safety awareness. VR’s ability to simulate diverse scenarios enriches the learning experience, establishing it as a potent tool for safety awareness across various professions.

JERRY: What kind of impact can AI have in Immersive Learning and what role will it play in the long term?

NICK: AI has the potential to revolutionize immersive learning, making it more natural and personalized. In soft skills training, AI can enhance experiences by responding to learners’ genuine reactions, and offer intuitive guidance tailored to individual needs. AI-driven dialogue systems streamline interactions, providing dynamic conversations for personalized guidance. Generative AI responses allow for adaptive sequencing, dynamically adjusting training paths based on learners’ actions.

JERRY: Truly individualized learning seems like the holy grail for people in our industry. How close are we?

NICK: We are very early in the development of AI and its integration into technologies like AR and VR. It will only get better. In the long term, the integration of AI in immersive learning is expected to lead to highly individualized educational experiences, fostering increased engagement, improved retention, and the development of critical thinking skills. As AI technologies evolve, their role in immersive learning is likely to expand, bringing innovative and transformative educational methods.

JERRY: Let’s broaden the scope of our conversation. We do a lot of work with multinational companies and I know that Roundtable does the same. How does XR connect a global audience of learners?

NICK: The scalability of XR transcends borders and has the power to unify a global company with consistent training experiences regardless of location. With the help of an extended reality platform, organizations can also pinpoint performance deficits and compare the progress of multiple branches. Learning based on experiences moves learners beyond just words or images. It creates an experience that can transcend language.

JERRY: I am grateful to you for sharing your expertise and deeply appreciate you sharing it with us. I can only imagine where we will be in five years.

NICK: I wonder the same. I think we will look back in only a few years and be amazed at how learning has changed. Thanks for this conversation. I appreciate the opportunity to share some ideas and applications for these incredible technologies.