A previous article gave an overview of immersive learning. That article was mainly concerned with immersive learning that uses virtual reality (VR). In this article, I will overview another approach to immersive learning, augmented reality (AR).

AR is different from virtual reality (VR). Of the two, VR is probably more familiar to most learning designers, due to its use in entertainment-oriented games. While VR immerses you into a completely digital world, AR is more about overlaying digital content onto our real-world experiences. It takes the physical world and enhances it with computer-generated elements such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

AR technology applications

Generally, a user interacts with an AR application on a device, such as a smartphone, tablet, or a device designed for geolocation. The device can use the camera and microphone on a smartphone or tablet to capture real-world images and sound. The AR user’s device will not interfere with seeing, hearing, or otherwise receiving real sensory information from the environment (a device used for employing VR generally completely shuts out real sensory information). The AR application combines real sensory information (usually visual and possibly audible or haptic information) with computer-generated digital content to create an interactive experience for the user. For example, an AR app may recognize a physical object and display relevant information about the object on the user’s device.

Augmented reality technology is becoming increasingly popular to support interaction and engagement between users and digital content. It has been used in many industries such as retail, education, tourism, entertainment, health care and navigation. Although it has been around since the late 1980’s, it is only recently that AR has become mainstream. The advances in technology such as smartphones and tablets have made AR more accessible to consumers and businesses alike.

Adding AR to training and support

Is augmented reality effective for training and support? The answer is an enthusiastic "yes!" for appropriate outcomes. Augmented reality offers an intriguing way to experience digital and sensory content in a combined context. With its interactive capabilities and capacity to enhance learning experiences, AR is definitely here to stay!

An instructional designer’s view

I asked Debbie Richard for her thoughts on the uses of AR and immersive learning. Debbie is the founder and president of Creative Interactive Ideas, where she helps talent development professionals thrive and flourish in their careers.

Debbie offered this reply:

“Developing an augmented reality experience is a great way for instructional designers to get started with immersive learning. There are a number of AR development applications that require little to no programming skills. All the learner will need to access the experience is a smart device.

Some great examples of using augmented reality in immersive learning are:

Performance support: providing just in time text, video and/or conference calls where the information is overlayed over the physical world.

Language support: an AR app such as Google Translate can overlay translated text over the real text.

Visualizations: Overlaying virtual objects over physical ones such showing the inner working of a machine without opening it up.

Example 1

Example 2

New hire orientation: having learners discover information about a company through a gamified scavenger hunt.

As the technology continues to evolve, we can expect to see more applications of augmented reality in our everyday lives. We may soon live in a world where the physical and digital worlds merge seamlessly, creating entirely new experiences for us to explore.”

Some issues for AR developers

Researchers have identified some issues with AR applications that learning and performance support developers must consider. Research in identifying and handling these is ongoing and continues to resolve them. There are some relatively hard-and-fast principles that have emerged as a result. In other cases, there are guidelines but definitive answers are not proven beyond implications that apply generally to instructional design and learning with multimedia technology.

Cognitive load is one such area where research has helped to define the issues for instruction as well as helpful ways to deal with them. Using AR to segment learning lessons and provide just-in-time information are recommended by some researchers as a means to reduce cognitive load.

The effect of the learning environment on the learner’s engagement is another important factor. An immersive VR lab for some settings has been shown to distract learners, resulting in reduced learning outcomes compared to digital slides. At the same time, AR immersion that provides augmented digital content displaying location information increases cognitive engagement and learning gain.

The lesson is that developers must pay attention to research and make relevant decisions depending on the nature of the performance task and the learner characteristics involved. Be careful about unsupported hard-and-fast rules. Challenging assumptions by devising simple A/B tests is a good and useful strategy for developers to continue discovering potential paths for further research.

The path ahead

Augmented reality is not a brand-new technology. But it is certainly becoming a major part of our lives, as we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Overall, augmented reality is a technology that has the potential to revolutionize many industries and occupations and to enrich lives. It’s an exciting time to be part of this growing space and see how augmented reality can be used in new and innovative ways!

If you’re interested in learning more about AR and VR technology and their applications, check out the Learning Solutions and DevLearn conferences, as well as the Learning Guild’s online events for more information. The Learning Guild will continue to publish articles and eBooks about the latest developments in immersive technologies, the software you can use to create immersive environments and how they can be used to improve training and support. In these immersive environments, you can experience new ways of learning and engaging with digital content!