Augmented Reality: A new way of augmented learning

By Xiangyu Wang / October 2012

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Augmented learning is defined as an on-demand learning technique where the learning environment adapts to the needs and inputs from learners [1]. Broadly speaking, "environment" here does not have to be constrained into the physical learning environment such as classroom, but could refer to such learning environment as digital learning environment, through which learners can stimulate discovery and gain greater understanding.

The technologies conventionally used for augmented learning incorporate touchscreens, voice recognition, and interaction, through which the learning contents can be geared toward learner's needs by displaying plain texts, images, audio and video output. For example, in mobile reality system, the annotation may appear on the learner's individual "heads-up display" or through headphones for audio instruction [2]. This system has been shown to improve life-time learning performance.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a novel way of superimposing digital contents into the real context, is impacting the mobile communications industry by providing a radical shift in human-computer interaction [3], AR has been foremost applied in the areas of entertainment, retail, travel, advertising, and social communication.

Augmented Reality has great potentials in education, and more excitingly, opens a novel realm for, and even redefines, eLearning. AR offers an innovative learning space by merging digital learning materials into the format of media with tools or objects, which are direct parts of the physical space, therefore creating "situated learning." Augmented Reality is well aligned with constructivist notions of education where learners control their own learning, through the active interactions with the real and virtual environments. AR-based eLearning can run on normal mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, smartphones, PC tablets, etc. using a downloadable application. AR is now revolutionizing the way we teach and learn, making these experiences more entertaining and rewarding.

Augmented Reality has entered into its mobile era through the emergence and advances of geo-tagging. A geo-tag is basically a GPS coordinate that can superimpose any digital information onto a specific location. AR can redefine the way of those geo-tags as information can be displayed into users' real-world view more cognition-effectively. As the emergence of advanced and affordable head-mounted display such as Google Glass, AR can be made more accessible and effective to the general public.

Implications of AR for Education

The contents of a virtual world can be as rich and diverse as human imagination can be. Augmented Reality can provide rich contextual customized learning environment and contents for each single individual. Learning activities vary with a broad diversity of learning processes underneath. These can be basically classified into two categories: constructive and analytical.

Augmented Reality is well aligned with constructive learning notions, as learners can control their own learning and manipulate objects that are not real in augmented environment to derive and acquire understanding and knowledge. It has been explored that AR abides by the primary tenets of constructivist learning theory [4]. The difference is AR does not trigger any consequence for their actions as would be the case in a behaviorist-learning environment [4]. There are proven benefits from interleaving theoretical and practical learning, and there is a growing need for innovative eLearning concepts and the associated enabling technologies, which can support such integration. From this specific perspective, AR can bridge this gap between the theoretical and practical, and focus on how the real and virtual can be combined together to fulfill different eLearning objectives, requirements, and even environments. For example, AR can be a link for connecting physical mock-up experience (from constructive activities) and abstract modeling (from analytical activities) in the context of eLearning in design.

Shameena Parveen, co-founder of Edutech, said

"For students to develop the needed skills, schools need to move from a rote learning concepts and an 'I teach-you listen methods to a more active and participatory learning method where learners take responsibility for learning and are engaged participants rather than passive observers. More importantly, the skill we need our students to have is 'learning to learn' as in today's knowledge economy, we are constantly required to learn, unlearn and relearn" [5].

As AR advances, there could be significant benefits from the perspective of pedagogical effectiveness of experiential and collaborative learning processes. Pedagogical principles that are addressed by AR include physicality, embodied cognition, situated learning, and mental action.

Another benefit with AR learning is there are no costs for making mistakes and errors, as they are not real. This is particularly promising in the training of laparoscopic surgery, heavy equipment operation, high-rise area operation, and firefighting. These types of training scenarios provide opportunities for more authentic learning with diverse learning types. The contents in Augmented Reality can be designed in advance and change according to the human's input into the AR system. For example, in an earth-moving training scenario with excavator, after each trial, the left over earth mess (virtual) can be cleared up by simply pressing a button "reset."

Augmented Reality applications can also make textbooks "alive," which is thus defined as AR books. They are normally accessed in front of your computer's webcam, with digital information appearing. Examples include Dragonology and Zooburstis. Martin-Gutierrez et al. explored how an AR book called AR-Dehaes helped students visualize and perform spatial engineering tasks [4]. The research showed the experience was easy to use and useful and the training had a measurable and positive impact on student's spatial ability.

Hou and Wang used the LEGO assembly tester task to compare the training effects of using 3-D manual print and AR among assembly novices [6, 7, 8]. The results revealed the learning curve of assembly novices was reduced (learn faster) and task performance relevant to working memory was increased when implementing AR training. Learning curve in this experiment was reflected by the assembly performance. When AR was used, the learning curve of trainees manifested a stark shortening and fewer errors were made. More specifically, AR reduces the time for the successful completion of an assembly and the number of errors relevant to working memory. AR also helps trainees to achieve higher performance with fewer trials and time, compared with traditional assembly. It was suggested AR could be used in guiding novices to carry out highly complex assembly tasks where training time is limited and errors are either dangerous or costly (e.g., large equipment operation training, or surgery and operation). The same conclusion is also found in similar assembly areas or tasks in construction and manufacturing industries.

The Potentials of Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality is impacting the mobile communications industry by providing a radical shift in human-computer interaction. Tons of commercials enterprises are starting to come out with AR or "AR like" elements such as Microsoft XNA and FLARToolkit. AR will revolutionize the way we live and work. ABI Research, a marketing intelligence company specializing in technology, predicts "The Augmented Reality market will diversify into multiple markets, which will generate nearly $190 million in mobile applications, games and customized Augmented-Reality revenue, and nearly $170 million in mobile Augmented-Reality advertising revenue, by 2014" [9]. This is further confirmed by the prediction from Juniper Research that the market for Augmented Reality services will reach USD $732 million by year 2014.

Leading global analyst firm Gartner releases its annual Gartner Hype Cycles, which provides a graphic representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications, and how they are potentially relevant to solving real business problems and exploiting new opportunities. Excitement about a new technology builds rapidly during the "Technology Trigger" phase, peaks at the "Peak of Inflated Expectations," descends into the "Trough of Disillusionment," rises slowly again on the "Slope of Enlightenment" then becomes mainstream at the "Plateau of Productivity." Maarten of SPRXMobile created his own Augmented Reality Hype Cycle Chart based on the Gartner model [10]. Taking a closer look, marker-based AR is moving from the technology trigger phase to just before the actual peak of inflated expectations. Considering the maturity of marker-based technology and its wide visibility and wide acceptance and the proved benefits, marker-based becomes popular and dominant. Many early proof-of-concept stories and media interest has already triggered significant publicity and there are already many usable products; the proven commercial viability means the marker-based AR has left the stage of technology trigger. There are a number of success stories, making it actually very close to the peak of inflated expectations. The next phase marker-based AR will get into soon is the "Trough of Disillusionment" where interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters. The great majority of AR is based on user markers. Markerless AR apparently has people excited about the future potentials and vision, while we are still crawling around with basic concepts and marker technology. Markerless AR is halfway the technology trigger. The advancement of markerless AR for mobile use is heavily dependent on the sophistication of GPS and compass features in the mobile devices. The promise and potential of AR should come from this level, which is ubiquitous, wireless, mobile, global, pervasive, and connected to everything.


Augmented Reality has great potentials in education, more specifically in eLearning. It expands the definition and scope of augmented learning, which is brought into a next level. Augmented Reality can create a new era for situated learning by integrating itself with mobile learning and other concepts and technologies. With AR, there would be no need to define the learning contexts and environments, as the real-world circumstances we are grounded define them. A comprehensive one-suit-all learning materials would no longer be useful as each individuals can be the teacher and learner for themselves.


[1] Klopfer, E. Augmented Learning: Research and design of mobile educational games. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2008.

[2] Doswell, J.T. Augmented Learning, Augmented Learning: Context-Aware Mobile Augmented Reality Architecture for Learning. In the Proceedings of the Sixth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies. IEEE Computer Society Washington, DC, 2006, 1182-1183

[3] Azuma, R. T. A Survey of Augmented Reality. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 6, 4 (1997), 355-385.

[4] Martin-Gutierrez, Saorin, Contero, Alcaniz, Perez-Lopez and Ortega. Education: Design and validation of an augmented book for spatial abilities development in engineering students. Journal of Computers and Graphics 34, 1 (2010), 77-91.

[5] Dyes, R.A. Gen-M education to transcend classrooms. Zawa. 2010;

[6] Hou, L. and Wang, X. A Novel Application in Guiding Assembly Task: Augmented Reality Animation. In Proceedings of the 2010 International Conference on Computing in Civil and Building Engineering (ISCCBE) and The XVII EG-ICE Workshop on Intelligent Computing in Engineering (June 30-July 2, 2010, Nottingham, UK).

[7] Hou, L. and Wang, X. Application of Augmented Reality Technology in Improving Assembly Task Proficiency. In CD Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Construction Applications of Virtual Reality (November 4-5, 2010, Sendai, Japan).

[8] Hou, L. and Wang, X. Experimental Framework for Evaluating Cognitive Workload of Using AR System for General Assembly Task. In Proceedings of the 28th International Symposium on Automation and Robotics in Construction (June 29 - July 2, 2011, Seoul, Korea).

[9] Harnick, C. Augmented reality set for major growth: ABI Research. Mobile Marketer. October 23, 2009;

[10] Lens-Fitzgerald, M. The Augmented Reality Hype Cycle. SPRXMobile. April 2009;

About the Author

Professor Xiangyu Wang is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Building Information Modelling (BIM). He co-directs the Australasian Joint Research Centre in BIM at Curtin University, where he is researching the construction of buildings in virtual settings. Professor Wang is also the Chair of the Australian National Committee for the International Society in Computing in Civil and Building Engineering (ISCCBE) and the secretary of BIM Technical Committee of ISCCBE. Professor Wang has been invited to give several keynote speeches at conferences in Asia-Pacific region, while his work has been published in more than 240 refereed books, book chapters, technical journals, and conference papers. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Visualization in Engineering by Springer Verlag. He is the winner of Runner-Up Award of 2012 Commercial Innovation Awards.

© 2012 ACM 1535-394X/12/10 $15.00

DOI: 10.1145/2380716.2380717


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