VR and AR Promise Big Benefits for eLearning

Advances in technology over the last decade have had a huge impact in the consumer world. Reality-altering innovations hit the scene in the 90’s but soon fizzled out. Now back on the playing field, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) concepts are changing the training and education fields in both primary education and the corporate world. These two major players are causing shifts in how and where learning takes place.

VR and AR- The Differences

Virtual reality is a computer-simulated reality. Users “travel” to a different real or imaginary time and location. Artificial sensory input including sight, touch, sound, and smell are simulated for the experience.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is the integration of digital technology in the user’s current environment. Computer generated sensory information is transmitted and blended with the real-time world, altering the user’s environment in some way.

VR Applications for eLearning

One compelling example of how virtual reality is being used to augment education is the WoofbertVR app. Designed to work with Samsung VR Gear, it is used by the Museum of Modern Art to bring art history and education to the masses.

Currently, students can use the VR Gear with the app to get an up close, personal look at many of the exhibits. Development will not stop there. Phillip Moses, lead developer, plans to introduce new functionality that will allow a more immersive experience, including the ability to have live tour guides interact with users in the VR world.

It’s easy to see the implications for this sort of technology for almost any sort of education and training. High school, college and university students could utilize it for almost anything, up to and including medical training. The implications for professional training are just as impressive – imagine being able to complete IT training with a hands-on application, without ever touching a server.

The New York Times is also getting in on the virtual reality action. Recently, the NYT Virtual Reality Team used Google Cardboard to showcase proprietary technology. The demonstration took place at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts in early February, 2016 and gave students in the Refugees: A Twentieth Century History class the chance to watch The Displaced.

The Displaced  is a made-for-VR movie that follows three refugee children and chronicles their daily struggles. Although only 11 minutes long, it was an immense hit with students and faculty. The emotional impact on students truly stood out. “It was different than the emotional reaction from a film,” explained one of the students. “You felt in the middle of it, as opposed to being a spectator.”

AR Applications for eLearning

GPS mapping is probably the most widely used consumer AR application and lays the foundation for other AR concepts because of the necessity for tracking the user’s current location and data. Digital information is superimposed onto real-life objects resulting in an altered experience.

The impact of AR technology on the eLearning world is limitless in terms of possibilities. For example, Augmented Reality Development Lab has partnered with companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Logitech to provide 3-D exploration kits for classrooms. These interactive sets come in a range of prices and allow students to create and explore 3-D models.

Smartphones with a QR code app allow users to participate in AR scavenger hunts. This offers the potential for employers to send employees on a mystery voyage through their workplace as a way to encounter and solve problems first hand.

AR technology will eventually slim down to the point that users only need tiny strips of glass over their eyes in order to experience all that a bulky headset can provide today. The ramifications for education and training on all levels are incredible.

The Future of VR and AR

Both VR and AR are technically still in their infancy. The hardware is not all that sophisticated and most of what’s on the market or currently in development must be connected to a PC or laptop. Don’t expect things to remain that way for long, though. Promises to free users from the screen entirely are near with innovations such as Google Class and Microsoft HoloLens.

That is perhaps the most important takeaway for designers and developers. Both VR and AR have the ability to make eLearners active participants rather than passive observers.

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