In the past, I’ve alluded to why I like Augmented Reality (AR) over Virtual Reality. And in a conversation this past week, I talked about realities a bit more, and I thought I’d share. Don’t get me wrong, I like VR alot, but I think AR has the bigger potential impact. You may or may not agree, but here’s my thinking.
In VR, you create a completely artificial context (maybe mimicking a real one). And you can explore or act on these worlds. And the immersiveness has demonstrably improved outcomes over a non-immersive experience. Put to uses for learning, where the affordances are leveraged appropriately, they can support deep practice. That is, you can minimize transfer to the real world, particularly where 3D is natural. For situations where the costs of failure are high (e.g. lives), this is the best practice before mentored live performance. And, we can do it for scales that are hard to do in flat screens: navigating molecules or microchips at one end, or large physical plants or astronomical scales at the other. And, of course, they can be completely fantastic, as well.
AR, on the other hand, layers additional information on top of our existing reality. Whether with special glasses, or just through our mobile devices, we can elaborate on top of our visual and auditory world. The context exists, so it’s a matter of extrapolating on it, rather than creating it whole. On the other hand, recognizing and aligning with existing context is hard. Yet, being able to make the invisible visible where you already are, and presumably are for a reason that makes it intrinsically motivating, strikes me as a big win.
First, I think that the learning outcomes from VR are great, and I don’t mean to diminish them. However, I wonder how general they are, versus being specific to inherently spatial, and potentially social, learning. Instead, I think there’s a longer term value proposition for AR. There’s less physical overhead in having your world annotated versus having to enter another one. While I’m not sure which will end up having greater technical overhead, the ability to add information to a setting to make it a learning one strikes me as a more generalizable capability. And I could be wrong.
Another aspect is of interest to me, too. So my colleague was talking about mixed reality, and I honestly wondered what that was. His definition sounded like alternate reality, as in alternate reality games. And that, to me, is also a potentially powerful learning opportunity. You can create a separate, fake but appearing real, set of experiences that are bound by story and consequences of action that can facilitate learning. We did it once with a sales training game that intruded into your world with email and voicemail. Or other situations where you have situations and consequences that intrude into your world and require decisions and actions. They don’t have real consequences, but they do impact the outcomes. And these could be learning experiences too.
At core, to me, it’s about providing either deep practice or information at the ‘teachable moment’. Both are doable and valuable. Maybe it’s my own curiosity that wants to have information on tap, and that’s increasingly possible. Of course, I love a good experience, too. Maybe what’s really driving me is that if we facilitate meta-learning so people are good self-learners, having an annotated world will spark more ubiquitous learning. Regardless, both realities are good, and are either at the cusp or already doable. So here’s to real learning!