Did you ever break a toy when you were little because you were curious about what’s inside it?

I did — more than once — and I was thrilled every time I learned about the inside of the toy. But immediately after that I was sad because I couldn’t play with it any more. So I’ve always wondered whether it could be possible to satisfy my curiosity AND keep the toy intact.

If you did the same, you’re not the only one. Curious kids grew up into smart adults who researched and created gadgets and technology that allows us to do just that — and more. This concept is called augmented reality.

What is augmented reality?

People have been dreaming about being able to scan a real life object and know more about it without actually touching it or breaking it:

How would it be to stand outside a hotel and see how many rooms are available, how expensive they are, what color are the sheets, or if a chocolate mint awaits you on the pillow?

Imagine going on a mountain trip and knowing the Latin name of every tree and plant you encounter?

Or what about seeing all parts of a car engine in action, or determining what’s wrong with a car by simply looking under the hood?

Augmented reality allows us to experience all these situations and countless more by creating digital layers of information on top of the physical world, thus connecting our digital lives with the real world around us.

Redefining the learning space

The recent advances of mobile devices and wearable technology have made augmented reality available not just in science labs, but also in your pockets. With a smartphone and an app (for example, Layar), anyone can create augmented reality content. More and more instructional designers show interest in the possibilities augmented reality has to offer to the learning environment, especially to the e-learning one.

Pedagogical experts around the world agree that the best way of teaching is not to push information, but to make the learners pull that information. When reading and listening about a subject, the learner is passive, but when writing and speaking is involved, the learner is active. Conversations usually attract questions and answers, making them interact, sharing their knowledge and explaining to others the things they have learned. Augmented reality encourages deep and insightful learning, making trainees pull all the information available on their subject of interest.

Augmented learning

The contents of an augmented learning environment can be as diverse as possible, providing a personalized learning experience for each and every individual learner. Learning is based on physical surroundings, enriched with digital layers of information. Instead of focusing on memorization, the learner experiences an adaptive learning experience based upon the current context.

Learners have control over their learning environment and manipulate virtual objects as they please. Doctors can make virtual surgeries and see how the muscles and internal organs react; engineers can see how an industrial pump works and which switch does what to it; astrophysicists can fly in the universe and study each component of a star. Every employee, new or experienced, can learn the processes and procedures of the company they work for with augmented reality.

Augmented learning merges digital learning materials (text and rich media) into the objects or tools that are part of the physical space, thus creating situational learning. What’s more, by offering just-in-time information, this learning technique increases engagement, boosts creativity and grows the ability to tackle complex problems.

Is everything about augmented learning positive?

At the dawns of the TV, people argued that no one would have time to stop and watch a talking box when they had radios that permitted them to do other chores while listening to it. We now know that the TV is one the most entertaining boxes people have and it didn’t make the radio go extinct either.

Just like with other previous technological advances, it can be argued that augmented learning will not turn out to be the perfect solution for learning and teaching. Maybe it makes things too easy for nowadays learners and they won’t be able to manage real things when they have to face them in different contexts. Maybe it will blend perfectly with the modern learner’s needs.

The only way to know for sure if augmented learning is the future in learning and development is to wait and see. For now it seems that it won’t fade away and technological advances support it more every day.

How would you like to use augmented reality in your online training? Are you excited by the technology? Tell us in the comments section.

Author: Livia M

Livia is the main online voice of MATRIX by CYPHER LEARNING. She writes about workplace learning and L&D strategies for businesses, as well as other training and e-learning related subjects.