A few years back, we were unwittingly caught in a ritual that trended virally the world over - throngs of people (kids, teenagers, adults alike) running around parks, shopping malls, museums and other public spaces with their smartphones looking out for “Pokemon.” For most of us who didn’t play this game, all you need to understand is that the players in this blockbuster game called “Pokemon Go” are required to interact with reality in order to play. “Pokemon Go” accomplished this by making millions of people run around outside looking for cute little monsters sitting at sundry places, like park benches, rocks, and train stations, that they could only see through their smartphone or tablet.
Part of the magic stems from the fact that this game presents a novel concept and format, superimposing objects from the game library – little monsters and objects – into the real-world environment to present a real, 3-Dimensional context. For those of you who can’t relate to this game, just think of the simple Instagram filters – flowers, dog ears, fancy noses, etc. – that you superimpose on your favorite videos. Makes them fun and exciting, isn’t it? In essence, the real magic lies in how the game integrates digital content into specific geographic locations based on the GPS coordinates of the participants – this makes the participant feel a real player in the game, directing and coordinating the moves. The ability to immerse oneself inside a game and becoming part of it makes the game challenging.
In technical terms, the immersive technology behind this game is labeled as Augmented Reality (AR), a cutting-edge technology that interacts directly with real-world situations and scenarios using GPS coordinates and real-time camera footages and then supplementing them with new forms of content. This technology widens our physical world, layering it with digital information. This is different from Virtual Reality (VR), because it does not create entire artificial environments to replace real-world environments.
When AR adds digital imagery and data (say, by adding graphics and media) to enrich the views of the real world, it provides users more information about their environments, and effectively integrates the real and virtual worlds, thereby enhancing and enriching the end-user experience. As a result, this changes the end user perception of reality. To summarize, AR can be broadly defined by three primary characteristics: (1) blending virtual images and objects with the real world, (2) registering digital data in a three-dimensional context, and (3) offering interactivity with these objects in real time.
AR in Organizational Learning
While the AR technology could have several potential applications across a host of functional domains, the one domain where this could be applied right away, leading to meaningful outcomes is Organizational Learning. In order to understand the application of AR in the Organizational Learning domain, it is important to first understand the Organizational Learning process, comprising four key phases:
The first phase, Curiosity, is what stokes the learner’s interest to embark on his/her learning journey. It is the reason why the learner is motivated to pick up a learning roadmap. The second phase, Exploration, sets the ball rolling in terms of egging the learner to search for and pick the most appropriate learning roadmap, one that takes the learner through various stages of learning the subject of his/her choice in a lockstep manner. Immersion, the third phase, is where most of the learning happens – the learner participates in the learning process via the delivery mode of choice – whether it’s virtual learning, e-learning, traditional classroom-based learning, or social learning. This is the phase where Augmented Reality (AR) can make a significant difference to the learning process.
The problem with most traditional learning methods is with 'learning transfer' more often than not, learners face the problem of transferring the concepts learned from learning settings to real-life settings
The final phase in the learning journey, Adoption, involves the application of the learning to real-world contexts. These final two phases – Immersion and Adoption – could clearly be influenced by the incorporation of AR. Traditional forms of learning might be effective for simple, procedural and behavioral learning scenarios, but are ridden with adoption inhibitors for more complex learning scenarios. The reality is that most of life’s skills are continuous and complex, and therefore, require the learner to understand a multitude of integrated concepts and how they work together in real life. As an example, Psychomotor learning, which involves hand-and-eye coordination tasks, such as driving a car, catching a ball, shooting a target, or operating a lathe machine, cannot be addressed by mere classroom or virtual learning contexts. To imbibe these skills, learning has to be grounded in a real-life context, where, by the end of the learning activity, the learner will be able to apply the skills into real-life scenarios right away. This is where AR comes in – by embedding the learning in the learner’s immediate environment (using GPS coordinates and camera visuals, and overlaying them with digital cues and aids inside the learner’s environment). Additionally, AR-based learning models can be used for any kind of subject that is difficult to conceptualize and learn by turning those concepts/objects into 3D models, thus making it easier to grasp abstract and difficult content. This can be especially good for learners who use visual cues for learning and, for that matter, anyone to translate theoretical concepts into real world adaptations.
Other potential applications for having an AR-based Learning model could be:
- Books with Codes: Books with codes, such as the QR, make it possible to visualize three-dimensional objects and watch videos with the help of an application installed in a technological device.
- Object Modeling: Object Modeling empowers users, amongst other things, to create virtual objects in order to manipulate them, detect anomalies, explore their properties, and interact with other objects.
- Use of standard applications for teaching purposes: A clear example of this is Google Skymap, an open source application that not only allows the learner to view the stars by focusing the camera of a mobile device on them but also overlays relevant digital information onto their physical image.
Benefits of AR-based Learning models
AR offers accessible learning materials anytime, anywhere with portable and less expensive learning materials, and makes learning content become accessible and mobile. Interactive, gamified AR-Learning can have a significant positive impact on learning as it keeps the learners engaged and makes learning fun, effortless and improve collaboration capabilities. The problem with most traditional learning methods is with ‘learning transfer’. More often than not, learners face the problem of transferring the concepts learned from learning settings to real-life settings. This can be addressed effectively through an AR-based learning model since it offers accurate reproduction of in-field conditions. This, in turn, can help master the practical skills required for a certain job, and adapting to the learner’s needs by providing personalized training, thereby making the workplace training more efficient and effective. As an example, plant maintenance trainees can learn more about routine maintenance operations, by simply holding their AR-equipped smartphone on equipment, such as a turbine or compressor, and the relevant job aids and learning videos could pop up showing how to do maintenance for the selected equipment, thereby enabling the plant maintenance trainees to accelerate their learning on the job.
AR offers accessible learning materials anytime, anywhere with portable and less expensive learning materials, and makes learning content become accessible and mobile
Innovations that turn out to be truly disruptive and require changes in deeply entrenched habits are difficult to address via AR-based learning compared to those that simply involve changes we already familiar with. This is because AR demands a whole new way of visualizing the world around us, accessing information, and, by extension, of learning and knowing. Thus, the potential downside of having an AR-based Learning model could be that technologies for supporting AR-based Learning model are still in an early phase despite recent developments. For example, the rapid prototyping tools to design low and high-fidelity prototypes are still lacking, which can be deterrent for creating AR content more easily. Too much attention is paid to virtual information due to the novelty of this technology, which may cause loss of interest when the novelty factor wears off and may affect the emotions experienced by the learner. Learners who use AR applications frequently may also become cognitively overloaded due to the vast amount of information they have to process, the multiple technological devices and platforms they may have to use, and the complex tasks they have to perform.
AR technology has been used as a learning tool for decades, albeit in a very basic and crude way. What’s new is its affordability – with players like Microsoft, Google, Samsung, Facebook, etc. jumping onto the bandwagon – and the exciting range of uses in business. This is not to say that AR systems will replace traditional organizational training, but when it comes to training workforce to perform complex operations on the field or providing them with the experiencing of real-life situations over a virtual environment, AR technology can help with the additional contextual information and operating procedures, getting them ready for the job.