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How Elearning Practitioners can Find Value in Augmented and Virtual Reality Technology
Book Review: Practical Augmented Reality: A Guide to the Technologies, Applications and Human Factors for AR and VR by Steve Aukstakalnis

By Jeremy Manjorin / August 2017

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As practitioners of learning and development (L&D), at the heart of what we do, we are constantly looking to increase engagement and retention of the materials we develop. We're firmly entrenched in an age of heightened interactivity, vast increases in distance learning programs, and unprecedented demands on our and our learners' time and attention. As we see new generations enter our training programs with different sets of expectations, it is understandable that we turn to new technologies to help us design and develop to these demands. And it is through the lens of these pressures that Practical Augmented Reality: A Guide to the Technologies, Applications and Human Factors for AR and VR by Steve Aukstakalnis provides the greatest benefit to the reader.

The author set out on a courageous task in the overarching goal of the book: to provide a mechanism to understand not only the history of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), but to also present a primer on understanding the sensory implications within the input and output of AR and VR devices. Through this baseline understanding of the mechanics of sight, hearing, and touch, Aukstakalnis labored on the complexities of how synchronizing an experience across those senses is a herculean task in itself. Instead of resting upon volumes of research, Aukstakalnis went much further to investigate real-world applications of AR and VR in a variety of different environments, with carefully laid-out case studies across a large variety of industries, including: gaming and entertainment, architecture and construction, health and medicine, science and engineering, defense, education, and more. This is where the book left the realm of information on technology and research data, and provided a wealth of practical case studies already proven throughout an impressive list of industries. And this is where the book has the greatest value to the developer and the practitioner.

Aukstakalnis' greatest strength is in the volume and variety of research on use cases for both AR and VR. Examples provided in the book run the gamut: The most obvious, where gaming is a clear beneficiary of VR technology, cited examples of first-person shooters that place the participant at the heart of the action. More esoteric examples, where the user actively takes part in movement and exploration of content and interactivity, cited examples of an arena that allows teams to engage in missions in a relatively sparse physical environment, but in an amazingly robust and interactive mixed-reality experience.

Additionally, some of the more interesting case studies on the current uses of AR and VR were included in the later chapters, where the author went into great detail about piloted programs in the medical field (AR glasses that let practitioners see an enhanced view of a patient's veins), architecture (providing full 3-D, immersive VR mockups of planned physical environments to perform walkthroughs with clients before ground has been broken), and education (both trade and technical as well as K-12, which includes details around the Google Expeditions program). From an eLearning or L&D practitioner's standpoint, this was by far the greatest value the book provided, helping non-technical designers and developers gain understanding of the variety of uses for AR and VR and help provide further details to allow readers to continue their education in the applications of the field and apply it to their own circumstances.

The opening chapters of the book may, however, discourage some readers. Providing a brief history of the technology is valuable, as is a brief guide to the senses and complexities therein. But the length and details of the very technical aspects of the human senses and the development complexities found in integration with these senses was at best overwhelming, and at worst an impedance to the valuable content relevant to a larger audience found in the latter pages. If the intent was to provide technical details to programmers in the field, those who will do the actual coding of software, I would venture to state the book is not focused enough on the details needed to provide structured guidance in this area. It is far better served as a review of case studies and pilot programs, which are the end result of complex and technical programming.

The final section of the book was focused on social and legal considerations as well as what is to come in the near future of AR and VR development. This provided a stark reminder to the reader that while there is amazing potential in the field, and some incredibly successful pilot programs and use cases have already presented themselves and made strong cases for increased development in these fields, there is also much to consider in the broader context of the impact of these tools and development efforts on the audience, gamer, learner, etc. Aukstakalnis brought the book full circle by referencing how far we have come and how quickly, but warned:

"Hype is good. Hype motivates, encourages, fosters creative thought, and gets people excited. Hype often lifts the heavy hands of venture capitalists to make investments they would, under other circumstances, never consider. But at some point, the hype needs to be dialed back and the hard work performed, converting the promises to reality and tangible offerings [1]."

The value of the application developer, the eLearning designer, and the L&D program lead cannot be ignored if one expects successful integration of the technology. Ultimately, this book reminds the reader successful adoption and expansion of AR and VR hinges on exploring and examining its practical applications in unique and creative ways.


[1] Aukstakalnis, S. Practical Augmented Reality: A guide to the technologies, applications, and human factors for AR and VR. Addison-Wesley, Boston, 2017, 360.

About the Author

Jeremy Manjorin is the Director of Learning Innovation for KPMG, LLP's U.S. audit function. He has been involved in instructional design and development for more than 17 years. He has a master's in organizational leadership with a concentration in instructional design from Colorado State University and is currently working on his doctorate in educational technology from Boise St. University.

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2017 Copyright held by the Owner/Author. 1535-394X/17/08-3133321 $15.00


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