by Alice Bonasio

Augmented education isn’t just for children

Mar 03, 2017
Smart HomeVirtual Reality

Visual, interactive and dynamic learning powered by augmented reality (AR) is being adopted across industries, and in future will become the standard for education and training within the global workforce and across all professions.

For a child, technology just makes sense. You only need to glance at the comfortably possessive way a toddler handles their parent’s iPhone to realize that they are the true digital natives, and the rest of us are merely catching up.

I grew up with the concept that you had to earn “screen time,” but limiting children’s access to digital devices is increasingly becoming an alien concept as we all become ever more reliant on gadgets.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many of those technologies have the power to supercharge the way kids learn and to engage them in new ways. An example of that is the increasing trend towards augmented reality books.

There is a rather universal appeal to the tactile pleasure that comes with reading a book, but if you grew up in a world full of screens, you might expect more from that experience than regular print allows for. Most of us learn better with dynamic visual prompts, so for a child learning how to read, having an animated character popping up out of your book’s pages accelerates and enhances that learning curve.

That concept of augmented education is what Alfred Espidol is developing with Hello Alice. Although he looks impossibly young himself, Spidol is the CEO of Launchable, an Florida-based company that has already developed several successful augmented reality apps. When I met him at the Canvs co-working space where they are based in downtown Orlando, he told me that his ambition was to make the enormous potential of augmented reality learning available to children everywhere, without the price tag that comes with expensive devices such as the HoloLens.

The concept is indeed very simple, in that you have a visual “anchor” which is printed on a page (it doesn’t even need to be a book, it could be, for example, an exercise sheet a teacher or parent prepares) which, when you point a device such as a phone or tablet at it, triggers dynamic content that interacts with the real-world background in a dynamic way. In this case, we have the “Alice” character popping up to bring the words on the page to life with her actions — so that instead of just reading the word “jump” we actually see Alice jumping, for example.

It might not be as slick as what you get with the top-of-the-range 3D holographic devices such as the HoloLens, but it’s surprisingly effective. I later caught up with Spidol and his team at the Orlando Science Center where they had a stand at their yearly Interactive Entertainment Convention — Otronicon, and there was a big line of children eager to meet Alice, even though she’s currently just a prototype.

But they are far from the only ones exploring the power of augmented reality for education and training. There are a whole range of commercially available AR books out there, and people can even create personalized ones — such as those offered by My Kingdom Books — or use apps such as Blippar or Zappar to construct their own experiences.

The benefits that the fun and engagement that this technology offers isn’t something that’s reserved for children, however. Going forward we will increasingly see augmented reality being adopted as an educational tool for older students, as well as adults for all manner of professional training. It’s not just children that learn better by seeing, experiencing and interacting with objects (both real and virtual) we all do.

Augmented reality also has the advantage over other immersive technologies such as virtual reality in that it enables collaboration. The user is not shut away from the surrounding environment and their peers, and that interactivity also serves to enhance learning and retention.

AR has been around for quite a while now, and the pervasiveness of smartphone and tablet technologies has made it inherently affordable and reliable. This means that while we will surely continue to be wowed by the slickness of mixed reality — and we previously wrote about how we’re already seeing this in the classroom — there is huge potential in exploring this more mature technology that is already out there and which most of us are familiar with.

In a not-to-distant future, whether you’re an engineer, chef, a doctor, an astronaut or even an office worker, your training will involve some form of augmented reality technology. And if companies like Launchable have any say in it, by the time the current generation of kids join the workforce, that will seem like the most natural thing in the world.