augmented learning

Augmented learning (AL) is the use of real-life experiences, objects and elements that have been recreated on a computer or mobile device to enhance specific educational concepts. An important goal of augmented learning is to align the instructional platform with each learner's individual needs. Augmented learning is considered to be the next step in the evolution of distance learning -- also known as e-learning.

Instead of providing students with a static online platform where they can complete coursework and attend virtual lectures, an augmented learning platform provides the user with an interactive environment that is aligned with the subject being studied.

Teachers and corporate trainers are using augmented learning technology to create lesson plans that students and employees find useful and engaging. The addition of interactive technology is expected to increase the likelihood that users will understand and retain the information because the content is connected to real life.

Augmented learning key ideas

Instead of providing generalized content, successful augmented learning platforms are context-sensitive and can create learning examples and simulations that are relevant to each user and their specific learning needs.

The key ideas behind augmented learning include the following:

  • the production of short, interactive learning content that is easy to understand and reinforces lengthier core learning materials;
  • a move away from traditional just-in-case learning strategies that emphasize repetition and memorization; and
  • a move toward just-in-time, on-demand learning practices that help the learner address specific skills gaps in real time.

How augmented learning works

In augmented learning, the learning environment is not restricted to a physical location -- such as a classroom -- but can instead be accessed from a laptop, smartphone or virtual reality headset.

Augmented learning applications use inputs -- including voice recognition, touch recognition and optical character recognition (OCR) -- and interactions as triggers that signal the delivery of specific, related learning content to the end user. The learning content is then displayed as simple text and videos or as a three-dimensional (3D) virtual world, which students can interact with to discover more details on their topic and enhance their overall learning experience.

The rise of mobile devices -- such as smartphones, tablets and virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift -- as well as continuous access to the internet, GPS location, improved hardware and audio and video recording capabilities have made augmented learning possible and increased the ability to provide accurate input to applications and access to the appropriate information. Users simply download augmented reality e-learning applications onto their devices and then use them to explore and learn.

Augmented reality, mixed reality and augmented intelligence

Augmented learning is closely associated with three emerging topics: augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and augmented intelligence. The four concepts can be summarized in the following way:

  • Augmented reality integrates digital information with the user's environment in real time.
  • Mixed reality combines physical and digital content, allowing digital objects to interact with physical objects and people to interact with digital objects as if they are physical.
  • Augmented intelligence extends the normal processing capabilities of the human mind through the use of artificial intelligence.
  • Augmented learning uses location, context and the user's input to display relevant, educational materials.

Examples of augmented learning

Augmented learning has several beneficial uses, especially in academic and training classrooms. For example, fire rescue personnel can use augmented learning programs to understand and train in different rescue situations. Through augmented learning, fire rescue personnel can view a live operation and learn everything they would if they were physically in that moment.

Other examples include the following:

  • creation of augmented learning environments for safer training when dealing with hazardous substances, which assist in the discovery of their characteristics and behaviors as well as best practices for handling them;
  • instruction on how to deal with hazardous waste materials in factories and how to react to specific situations, such as a biological chemical leak;
  • RFID tags embedded into designated work areas in order to provide just-in-time training to employees, especially in factories where employees are expected to learn on-the-go and dynamically adapt to challenges on the factory floor; and
  • enhanced remote training with the creation of an augmented learning environment that provides localized content to remote employees.

How augmented learning is created

Instructional designers create content for augmented learning by taking specific learning context into consideration -- such as a location, situation or student. They then use software development tools, such as Windows Mixed Reality, to superimpose specific learning materials into the core teaching content that is already available.

Augmented learning modules can combine augmented reality with motion capture and haptic feedback to provide users with the ability to virtually touch, manipulate and interact with objects.

The ability to incorporate virtual reality in lesson plans creates additional uses for education as well as workplace training. For example, augmented learning could be used to create simulations that teach users how to operate heavy machinery, perform physics experiments, interact with chemical molecule models and even perform surgeries.

Augmented reality platforms

Developers can choose from a variety of augmented reality software development kits (SDKs) when creating their augmented learning environments. Some of the best available platforms include the following:

  • Google ARCore, which enables designers to develop AR apps for compatible Google smartphones and tablets;
  • Apple ARKit, which allows users to design and create augmented reality experiences for compatible iPhone and iPad devices;
  • Amazon Sumerian, which lets developers without specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise feasibly build virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D applications;
  • Vuforia Engine, which enables designers to quickly create mobile-centric, immersive, AR experiences using computer vision technology to track images and 3D objects in real time; and
  • EasyAR, which supports AR application development with Windows OS, Apple Swift and the Java API.

Advantages of augmented learning

The biggest advantage of augmented learning is the customized environment it creates for users. Since every student learns in a different way -- based on factors such as their personal preferences, abilities, location and desires -- then their learning environment will provide activities for constructive and analytical learning that are specifically tailored to their needs. A deeper understanding amongst the learning audience will result in increased engagement and higher retention rates.

In addition, users are able to manipulate their learning environment in order to gain deeper understandings and fill the gap between theoretical and practical learning. Students pursuing formal degree programs will be able to take what they learn through lectures and combine it with the practical experience they need to excel in the real world.

Other advantages include the following:

  • Learning becomes interactive and engaging through the augmentation of real-life objects and situations.
  • Users are inspired to explore and discover more learning content and information than they would in a traditional classroom.
  • There are no consequences to the user interactions in the virtual world; therefore, there are no additional costs whenever a user makes a mistake or error.
  • Augmented learning can be applied to various domains, including industries, classrooms, commercial use and the simulation of high cost training.
  • Learning focuses on the collection of facts and the application of the acquired information in real time, instead of reading and memorizing content.
  • Depending on the sophistication level of the augmented learning program that is being used, students can still interact with instructors and peers in a learning context.

Furthermore, the rich media content provided by augmented learning programs creates a safer learning environment for students. Users who are optimally stimulated and engaged in this learning environment will build a greater confidence in their real-world work.

Concerns about augmented learning

While augmented learning provides numerous benefits to its users, it also possesses several concerns. For example, there is a lack of established standards for developing augmented learning applications. Also, the learning experience is entirely dependent on the performance of the available devices.

Some people also argue that the ease of augmented learning -- such as the simplification it provides through automatic translation -- can be detrimental to education and training, causing users to forget important lessons or information they would have gained in a traditional classroom. A similar concern was voiced when some people complained that calculators would make students forget their multiplication tables.

Types of augmented learning applications for the classroom

Some popular augmented learning applications include the following:

  • Arloon Mental Math
  • PBS Fetch! Lunch Rush
  • Anatomy 4D
  • Aurasma
  • Chromville Science
  • NASA Spacecraft 3D

Students can use Arloon Mental Math on their devices by scanning an augmented reality card provided by the company. Once users have gained access, they will be actively immersed in a 3D learning environment in which they can work alone or with peers to solve math problems in an adventure-based game. Teachers can also use the app to enhance their classroom experience by using a tablet-based projector to display the game to the entire class. Furthermore, students who require additional help or time learning can use the app at home to continue the learning process at their own pace.

PBS Fetch! Lunch Rush is a free app provided by the PBS Kids brand. Users simply download the app to their mobile devices and then use their device's camera to allow the app to superimpose graphics on top of the environment they are already in. The application is designed for kids between the ages of 6 and 8 and focuses on using augmented learning technology to create an interactive and engaging math learning experience.

Anatomy 4D is an app developed by DAQRI, an American augmented reality company whose primary product, the DAQRI Smart Glasses, is an augmented reality wearable technology. Like the name suggests, Anatomy 4D provides users with the chance to explore human anatomy in 4D. It is especially useful for high school and college students. Instead of learning the different parts of the human body in 3D, from different angles, students can explore and understand the size and space relationships between different organs and structures. Students first download the app, and then print a target image provided by the app. They then use Anatomy 4D to turn each target image into a 4D model of a different body part or system.

Aurasma is a free suite that instructors can use to create auras which are triggered whenever a user views a specific object through their smartphone camera and the Aurasma app. The potential applications of Aurasma within the classroom are limitless. For example, teachers could program an image of a textbook page to trigger an aura which displays a video of the teacher clarifying information or providing further instruction about a specific problem on the page.

Chromville Science is an app that requires users to pay a subscription fee if they want to utilize the entire application. However, the cost is often worthwhile because it provides instructors and students with 2D classroom materials, 3D printing materials and an augmented reality app that can be used in a traditional classroom to make science more interactive.

Finally, the NASA Spacecraft 3D app allows students to explore many of the spacecrafts that have been used to make discoveries on the moon, Mars and around the galaxy. To do so, students with access to smart devices must download the app and snap a picture of a printed target image, similar to the Anatomy 4D app. NASA continues to update and enhance this application, so students are able to constantly come back to the app for more valuable educational content.

The future of augmented learning

Augmented learning has become more and more of a reality as a result of the emergence of powerful mobile devices -- such as smartphones -- and the various high-performing capabilities they provide. Consequently, augmented learning is expected to grow in use and popularity as these technologies and devices continue to advance. Furthermore, rapid developments in virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D content creation will encourage increased learning innovation.

Facebook recently paid $2 billion to acquire Oculus VR -- a virtual reality hardware and application developer -- and Google continues to work on its Google Glass platform. Improvements by both companies are expected to provide augmented learning students with 3D, lifelike experiences of their learning environments. Instructional designers will need to adapt their skill sets in order to produce content that supports these innovations and enhanced learning environments.

Watch this video to see how augmented reality can be used to create just-in-time product training:

This was last updated in November 2019

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