Augmented reality, despite its clear applications for education and training, has had a rocky start in EdTech. Various attempts have been made over the years to bring this revolutionary technology to the classroom, but none have stuck.
In 2018, that’s finally changed. Augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technologies are plainly here to stay, and the content is beginning to roll in to support them. School applications may have hung back at the beginning of the revolution, but they’re catching up fast.
In other words, the massive potential of these technologies are finally coming to fruition, and the benefits are starting to reach the real world. No longer just case studies and experiments. The future of EdTech is here.
The History of Augmented Reality Based Learning
It might be surprising to learn that the term “augmented reality” dates back to 1990, with Boeing researcher Tom Caudell. He used it to describe a theoretical plan to deliver instructions to assembly line workers.
Rather than continually referring to paper schematics, workers would wear a headset to superimpose directions onto plywood mounted in the assembly area. The plans could be swapped out electronically to create a dynamic instruction board, saving time and preventing error.
Although it would have been a revolutionary method of training workers, it was never implemented due to cost and technological hurdles.
AR as we know it today didn’t surface again until 2013, with the advent of Google Glass. The short-lived headset found a cult following, but was discontinued in 2015.
Around the same time, Volkswagen unveiled the MARTA iPad app. Essentially a digital owners’ manual for their cars, MARTA allows consumers to inspect various spots in their car for usage and maintenance instructions. In the digital space, text and graphics can be mapped directly onto the vehicle, eliminating misunderstandings and confusion on the part of the consumer.
The applications in education have always been obvious, but the financial hurdles remained until just recently. With modern technology, costs have plummeted as quality soars.
Today, educational AR is becoming more and more common, with the VR/AR industry as a whole projected to reach $108bn by 2021.
How Students Use AR Today
Today, the landscape is far different. Robust, full-featured AR solutions exist, both in the form of development platforms and classroom-ready content delivery systems.
On the development side, the release of Apple ARKit means that cutting-edge AR app development is open to anyone with the technical skills to create an iOS app.
The limiting factor for Apple is the lack of hardware. Peering at the world through a device screen is a start, but the real sea change will come when a dedicated AR headset is available.
Apple has filed for several patents related to this tech, and there are rumors that we may see an Apple headset sooner rather than later.
Dedicated educational solutions exist as well, most notably from Google. Their Expeditions AR program uses specialized mobile devices to deliver curated, highly polished AR experiences that bring the worlds of science, history, and geology to the classroom in amazing new ways.
It’s expensive with a per-student price as high as $400, but serves as an excellent marker of the upper limits of our present capabilities.
5 Proven Benefits of AR in the Classroom
The reason augmented reality is experiencing such a steady rise in EdTech application is that, simply put, it works. There’s been plenty of research to back up this statement, but common sense is an even better guide. Kids learn in different ways, and the more flexibility educators have in presenting information, the more likely they are to get through.
Here are just a few of the benefits AR brings:
As with any new technology, there’s an inherent “coolness factor” with AR.
It’s fun and thrilling to see the digital world come to life and interact with physical objects. Students are far more likely to remain engaged and attentive when they are genuinely interested in curriculum, and flashy new tech is an excellent way to maintain that interest.
Secondly, today’s students can hardly keep their hands off their devices. Rather than try to fight this trend, which shows no sign of going away, AR represents an opportunity to embrace it.
Enforcing a no-devices rule, or even taking students’ devices away, can easily build up resentment and hurt more than it helps. AR can easily use students’ own phones and tablets, letting them channel that energy to a more productive purpose.
One of the big challenges with traditional learning tools is how separate they are from the core lectures and textbooks. Students might enjoy a field trip, an experiment, or a model, but the notion that those experiences will translate to better performance on classroom exercises and tests is far from assured.
With AR, there is no such disconnect. Students interacting with a virtual object can quickly and easily pull up more information about it, using the same device and within the same paradigm.
This continuity of experience helps ensure that knowledge gained during the hands-on portions of class is retained throughout the curriculum.
Although the learning styles model of education has largely been debunked, there is still traction to the idea of varied methods of learning. Presenting information to students in as many ways as possible helps in both comprehension and retention, as it guides the student to look at information from new perspectives and in new contexts.
Simply put, being told a thing, then seeing that thing presented in a visual context, and then exploring it through an interactive exercise, is far more effective than any of those methods taken individually. It keeps the subject matter interesting for students, it fills in gaps in the presentation, and it helps make the experience more memorable, improving retention.
As well, augmented reality based education is a powerful supplement to a lecture or textbook. By allowing students to proceed at their own pace, exploring concepts in as much or little detail as required, each student can effectively have their own private tutor.
Vast Resources, Low Expense
Augmented reality can deliver an incredible range of experiences to students, many of which would be simply impossible in the classroom environment. Students can explore the biology of an elephant or whale, interact live with an educator thousands of miles away, or watch historical events unfold before their eyes from any angle. It goes far beyond a simple movie or model.
Best of all, it’s relatively cheap. After the initial outlay for headsets and computing hardware, AR is able to keep delivering new experiences just for the price of software. Unlike traditional learning aids like activity sets, models, flying in guest speakers, and so on, an augmented reality setup can keep providing new content without the costs of transport and maintenance.
A Portable World
One of the most compelling benefits of the technology is its portability. Most augmented reality applications use ordinary mobile devices that can be checked out to students if they do not already own them. This means that AR models and lessons need not stay in the classroom. They may be used at home, on the playground, or anywhere.
This presents an especially great opportunity on field trips. When visiting a museum, historical site, or other destination, students can instantly gain access to virtual objects, narration, or video that goes far beyond what a typical tour might provide.
The Future of Augmented Reality for Education
With the benefits of the technology well-established, innovators and producers are finally spreading their wings. EdTech companies leveraging AR no longer need to make a case for the technology’s mere existence. Instead, they can show their full creativity, dreaming up new experiences that expand horizons both in terms of technical wizardry and educational value.
As the industry matures, creators are quickly learning from early projects, mistakes, and triumphs. The entire community takes note of every success and failure, taking lessons away that ensure the next iteration will be even better.
In other words, a language of EdTech AR is beginning to emerge. Outsourced development houses, always an important factor in any new tech trend, are learning how to advise clients on how to best implement their ideas for maximum gains.
The pump is primed for a flood of amazing educational software and solutions. VR/AR has arrived in the mainstream public consciousness, and it’s only a matter of time before students the world over are enjoying the benefits of this technology.
For innovators and entrepreneurs, the time is now to get involved. For companies already involved in the software development space, the SDKs and hardware are available now to expand into this exciting new market.
For the rest, the people and organizations with big ideas but who are unsure how to implement, there’s still a clear path forward. Outsourced software development houses are ready and waiting to bring your vision to market, offering valuable services at every step of the process, from the initial consultation to post-launch support and service.