Augmented reality is an amazing new technology for learning developers. Although the ability to access AR from mobile devices makes the barrier of entry to use AR low, as developers it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Understanding when to use AR, how to design quality AR experiences, and generating organizational buy-in are difficult hurdles to adoption.

I recently interviewed Destery Hildenbrand, a senior instructional designer with GP Strategies, about overcoming these hurdles.

BB: What types of things can we in eLearning do to make ourselves better prepared for the skills needed for immersive realities, virtual reality, and augmented reality?

DH: Be flexible. In our profession, we don't necessarily come from coding backgrounds. A lot of times we'll have design theory or some design background. But a lot of it is theory in learning and learning development. In my formal instructional technology education there were not a lot of technology options. There was discussion of tools, but there wasn't any formal training on how to use those tools. I think that's what a lot of us run into as we start to see these new technologies. Where do we get training on them? How do we even get better at that?

Now, you don't have to completely rewrite what you already know. The fundamental principles that we have in front of us as instructional designers, as learning practitioners, and as developers of learning experiences, those skills we've used up to this point all still apply. Having solid objectives, understanding your audience, and recognizing the best approach or blended solution, are going to be most beneficial in your design and development. These are all fundamental tenants that we follow..

Most important in my opinion is being flexible and willing to try new things that you know you are probably going to fail at in the beginning. We need to identify what the necessary skills are. We may need to understand more about coding. You don't have to sit down and be able to code an experience from start to finish. But you will have to be able to understand the flow of how code works. How are your storytelling skills? Immersive reality offers a new medium to really engage, entertain, and impart content in a way we haven’t been able to before. Don’t treat it like everything else because it’s not. These are just a few things that come to mind.

Now once you identify the skills, be honest with yourself and ask: Is this something I want to learn? We all can figure these things out. We are a resourceful group but if the desire is not there, it’s not going to work. Maybe we're not as interested in learning all the behind-the-scenes things, but we want to craft immersive stories. Maybe we just want to get under the hood and make cool things happen. Either way works—just be honest with yourself.

The next question is going to make or break it: Is this something you have time to learn? This is important. If you just don’t have time—no matter the desire—it will be a frustrating and less successful experience.

We have to recognize skills needed and create a plan around upskilling ourselves or growing skills on our team. We need to start having this conversation sooner than later, like a year ago sooner, if we are going to be prepared to use future tech to benefit our learning experiences.

BB: What if someone does not have the time or the interest or, in their situation, the need to do code? What are the steps needed to upskill, or the process to find out what you need to know to get started with augmented reality?

DH: There are some key steps that someone can do. Find existing tools that you can get started with, ones that fit what you’re willing to learn or do. Then build from there. Find as many different options as there are and pick one that fits you or your team. Look at the examples and identify things that you think you would like to learn more about. Look at the types of experiences that might fit within your organization and learning plan. Find some tutorials and start exploring. Then look at what it took to build those examples. What types of tools were used? Were the tools cloud-based, application based, what were the levels of interaction and immersion? Find an experience you like and explore what it took to build it.

If you do a little bit of research and find that they used Unity and they had some 3-D developers, you know what types of skills you need to get into that. Try to identify what skills are needed based on the types of experiences you're interested in. And there's a little bit of legwork that goes into that. You might have to reach out to some vendors or to some people who have built AR applications to recognize the skills needed to do this.

And then be honest with yourself and say, “I'm probably not going to be able to learn to do the programming; maybe I need to outsource, or we need to bring someone into our organization that has these skills."

BB: For outsourcing, where does the “build or buy or outsource” decision happen? How do you make that decision?

DH: It depends on your budget and on what your current team structure is. Suppose you’re the only one doing this project on the team. You have to recognize what your bandwidth is. What do you have in front of you? Can you take on something like this? Turnaround is important; how soon does your organization or your client need it? Are they willing to explore with you? Then great, you can form a partnership and build some pilots and work that way. But if you've got a client on the other end and they've got a three-week turnaround, and you're confident in your abilities but maybe not as skilled as you'd like to be, at that point you have to start looking around and really talking with other groups and vendors and possibly teams within your organization who have that kind of experience already.

Sometimes it's hard to let go of the individual pieces. I personally want to be a part of it all. We all lose a little bit of control when we hand it off, but we also have to really think about what's best for the customer. What's best for the learner? Think about what's best for the client.

BB: How far outside the box do we need to go?

DH: I'm not sure if being able to think outside the box is even worth saying anymore because we live outside the box most days, right? It's so true. But also so tired. It all depends on your box. At this point, it's almost just thinking outside of reality. What if your client could do “this” while sitting at their desk? What could make it easier for the client or the employee to do their job? If they had cues or instructions? Or, what elements could the technology create or call forth that would give more value to what the employee is doing in this moment? I think if we can find an answer, that's where augmented reality is going to bring us the most value. Right now, it’s a great piece to your blended solution.

I honestly think that once AR/VR becomes a boring technology it'll become much more useful to us. It's not there yet, it’s not boring enough, I guess. It's fun; it’s flashy. But then how do we bridge that gap between entertainment and learning? That’s where we must find the value. Trial and error are how we get there.

From the editor: Want to learn more about moving into AR?

Destery Hildenbrand will present "BYOD: Building Easy and Effective Augmented Reality in Your Training," a one-day workshop before the Learning Solutions Conference/Realities360 Conference on March 30, 2020 in Orlando, Florida.

In this workshop, Destery will take you on a deep dive into integrating augmented reality into your training and development process, including getting organizational buy-in and where to modify your existing workflow. You will explore user-friendly software and resources to begin developing and sharing. You will create a portfolio of AR experiences that can be used in your L&D projects, which include creating digital overlays, incorporating immersive 360 elements, adding 3-D models, and developing interaction. With this portfolio and his provided examples, you will be able to kickstart ideas and projects for your organization. This session is designed for all experience levels, providing everyone the opportunity to learn about, experience, design, and develop immersive AR.

Full conference registration is required for this workshop. Registration is open!