Thanks to leading start-up companies, such as Vancouver-based ImagineAR, augmented reality (AR) is set to transform online learning in three significant ways.
First, it creates an immersive experience for a learner they will never forget.
Second, it enables all sorts of knowledge and information to be shared in creative and dynamic integrated ways - fun animation and effective video.
Third, it creates a physical engagement between the learner and their environment, which in a period of self-isolation, ends the sense of isolation many learners now feel. In the era of pandemic, engaged and authentic learning is shifting the experience of learning resulting in higher retention and completion rates and the potential of dramatically increasing learner satisfaction.
For many college and university faculty and instructors who create courses, it is difficult to imagine how they can provide a rich learning experience to students. But a number of opportunities are developing in this fast-growing industry that may make this easier than it once was. The key development is the idea of augmented reality as a service (ARasS). ImagineAR is pioneering this approach. Using a desktop application, instructors or teams with no programming or technology experience can create basic AR resources quickly and efficiently. The resultant “products” can be embedded in courses, shared on a learning management system, or made available in other ways, such as video or as part of a simulation or game.
Imagine a learner touring the National Museum of Singapore’s The Story of the Forest, and exploring the way plants and animals of the forest interact to create sustainable forests. For their architecture studies, imagine using an Augmented Reality app that helps the learner see how an initial design for a building might actually look when they are built in the location they are intended for. When coupled with another app that combined geographic information (GIS) and building information modelling (BIM) data, learners are able to improve their design at a level of detail it would take weeks to find using more traditional methods.
Students can do all of this during lockdown from their homes. They are using augmented and virtual reality to engage in effective learning and it is transforming their understanding of the key constructs and skills they are required to learn but it is also connecting their learning to the real world. It is authentic learning in real time in an era of a pandemic and much more engaging than sitting in a classroom trying to imagine what they can now actually see.
Augmented reality combines real world images – forests, animals, roads, bridges, buildings, paintings – with other information to create a truly immersive experience. For example, in the walk around the forest, learners can hear wind, birds, or an animal scurrying away. In looking at a building in the City of London, learners can hear traffic, see a fire hydrant and the piping it is connected to or a manhole in the street and then look at the underground sewer system it is connected to, including indicators of distances and dangers. They can see images, look at data and hear sounds all at the same time.
For an art student to see and tour a museum or art gallery or for a history student to use virtual reality has been possible for some time. But by adding augmented reality, instructors creating online learning can now offer much more. For example, the Holocaust Memorial Exhibition in Spokane, Washington, partnered with others to explore what happened in the Lithuanian town of Eisiskes, which once had a thriving Jewish community. Using photographs, the team behind this project now provides detailed information as to what happened to each of the people in the photographs. By holding a smartphone over the photograph, the detailed history of each person is revealed.
This same kind of technology is going a step further by ImagineAR, which is partnering with SlapItOn, to produce interactive sports cards and decals that, when a smartphone or smart glasses are used to view them, provides significant information and different views of the athlete, their history and performance. A sports card becomes an action card that triggers a deep dive into the person’s life.
Imagine a chemistry textbook that is equally interactive and engaging. Each page has an image, which when viewed with an tablet or smartphone, brings the ideas on the page to life and shows multidimensional images of chemical processes or video simulations of chemical reactions under different conditions where the student can change the conditions being studied.
By wearing advanced glasses, such as the Epson Moverio or the Eversight Raptor, linked to the Internet through a tablet, desktop or smartphone, a student can explore either planned experiences – a lesson, a set of objects an experiment, a book – or the real world with added layers of data. The experience feels so real because several senses (sounds, sights, mind) are engaged.
AR can also be added to PowerPoint, using a free mobile app called EyeJack. Again, you do not need a lot of technical skill, though you do need to spend some time to make it work.
Watch for way more augmented reality in the near future. In 2019, AR was a $10.7 billion industry worldwide, but is forecast to grow to over $72 billion by 2024. The potential for it to be a significant feature of education has been spoken of for some time, especially in relation to “fact”-based learning, technical education, skills and competency-based learning and apprenticeship. A growing number of colleges and universities are experimenting with AR in these areas and deploying this technology to support the delivery of their curriculum. The more recent developments include creative and imaginative uses of AR in a variety of fields from medicine and biology to art, geography and music.
The best predictor of student learning outcomes is student engagement. AR engages the student’s senses and heightens learning because it immerses them in a world rich in both information and experience: it provides a learning experience the student is unlikely to forget.