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29 Apr 2024

Using augmented reality to transport learners into careers

Using augmented reality to transport learners into careers

As educators, we’re all navigating the digital revolution, finding our way into a new era of smart education. As part of this, today’s educators are already very engaged in creating personalised, immersive learning experiences using augmented, virtual, and extended reality (AR, VR, and XR).

These X-Reality technologies are immensely powerful tools because they allow us to create hybrid spaces where we digitally enhance the learner’s surroundings. For educators, this means constructing scaffolds to help people understand and learn within an environment. Take the use of VR in surgical education: surgeons-in-training can practice and perfect techniques ahead of their first real operation. In this lower pressure environment, virtual lessons can build confidence and skills in new doctors, while also decreasing the risk to future patients.

Even without the high stakes of an operating table, AR, VR and XR can construct experiences where students are challenged enough to be engaged, without pushing them so far that they become overwhelmed and frustrated. This zone of proximal development is the sweet spot for educators, where students can meaningfully develop and enhance their skills. AR, VR and XR help teachers create that space through heightened engagement and immersive learning.

Leaping into new realities

When many people hear ‘virtual reality’ and ‘augmented reality’, they still think of audio-visual technology. These new tools span a much greater spectrum, and the learning outcomes are arguably boundless. Virtual and augmented realities can transcend across the senses, while devices, platforms and experiences stretch far beyond just VR headsets.

You can find wearables like the Apple Vision Pro or the Microsoft HoloLens, with more affordable alternatives becoming increasingly available on the market. Their usage even extends to fields such as fitness, where magic mirrors can help train viewers to hold a yoga pose correctly, for example.

Outside of education, this technology is being used and developed for everyday use – for example, head-mounted technologies that project images in front of you as you work. Another exciting development is enhanced contact lenses, which are on the far distant horizon and something we could possibly see in our lifetimes.

The right technology at the right time

Many may not recognise it, but these technologies have been in use, in one way or another, for decades. Think of Active Worlds or Second Life, for example. These earlier innovations paved the way for where we are today, without ever really breaking through to the mainstream. But today, with significant advances in technology and our ability to use it, AR, VR and XR tools are set to play a significant role in digitally transforming education.

The knowledge and attitudes to help this new technology thrive are now a given within many institutions. To illustrate this in practical terms, a decade ago, collaboration with teachers required significant support. Even as recently as five years ago, workshops would be designed to gradually immerse users in the basics of using these technologies, before introducing them to the main activity. Now, the public’s familiarity with the technology and their levels of comfort using it allows for meaningful engagement with tasks much more quickly.

AR, VR, XR and learning outcomes

When it comes to the actual impact of AR, VR and XR on learning outcomes as a whole, the research is promising.

We have seen very promising effects on engagement, user satisfaction, and technology acceptance. The body of research on this is growing; Google Scholar shows thousands of studies, spanning ages, geographies and subjects, conducted about AR/VR/XR in education in the last two years alone. Much of it shows that, when used appropriately, these technologies can work very well in education.

For example, one 2023 study of Mexican college students found that both VR and AR approaches showed a significant improvement in learning and motivation compared to traditional methods. Another 2022 study of chemical engineering undergraduate classes found that 82% of participants found AR lessons helpful compared to conventional lessons. In primary schools, one 2022 study suggested that a four-week VR project among third and fourth-grade students led to overall improvements in spatial reasoning. More importantly, research is also helping to identify flaws and barriers, so that developers can work to resolve them.

Today, we have some of the smartest minds on the planet working to build educational platforms and solutions that harness their potential. With research, support and experiences learned from pilot projects, we will continue to see new developments that will improve real learning performance.

However, it is important to keep in mind that, with learning technology in general, the aim should not necessarily be to surpass other tools. It should not matter what technology we use – whether we learn with the help of a tutor, a web-based tool, or a book. Ideally, all learning technology would be implemented with the same goal.

Skilling up for the future

In the context of the future of work, AR, VR and XR are the tools of choice for modern societies, which help prepare learners of all ages for the evolving world of work.

During the last century, we moved away from retaining the same skill set throughout one’s entire working life. We are rapidly progressing toward a world in which people change careers multiple times.

The demand for adaptable skills and expertise, such as technology literacy and creativity, are gaining momentum. It is crucial that we prepare students by creating learning opportunities that are more attuned to the realities of the job market that awaits them. Augmented reality is the perfect medium for this transition, as it offers learners a dual advantage: the safety of a learning environment and the effectiveness of hands-on learning.

While real-world experience remains important, these immersive technologies can equip learners with the transferable skills they need to perform, faster and more effectively. Compare this to the current model, in which workers must leave the workforce, go into formal education to retrain, and then pivot their career in a new direction. This model is rapidly becoming outdated as it affects people’s morale and economic wellbeing and arguably limits their potential.

The importance of this shift is widely recognised. Developers, teaching institutions and even companies are making an effort to ease the transition between work life and education through better training. Using AR, VR and XR, we can align education more closely with the real skills learners need to adapt, work and engage in today’s dynamic learning environment, and succeed on any pathway their career follows.

Professor Dr. Fridolin Wild is a member of the Ahead by Bett Advisory Board and professor at the Institute of Educational Technology of The Open University, leading the Performance Augmentation Lab (PAL). Fridolin is and has been leading numerous research projects funded by the EU, European Space Agency, and nationally. He chairs various professional and standards working groups in IEEE, ISO, BSI, CEN, EA-TEL.


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