AR redefining the learning space

With every new year comes new technologies in the education sector. One such technology is augmented reality (AR)

By Kaan Aydogmus, founder of multi-disciplinary design agency and augmented reality specialists, Magnetic London

Not to be confused with virtual reality, which requires an immersive headset, AR uses a smartphone to bridge the gap between printed images and digital content. It literally brings surfaces, static text or images ‘to life’ for a more engaging experience.

Interest in augmented reality is snowballing due to the ever-growing popularity of smartphones, now owned by two thirds (66%) of UK adults, according to the UK communications regulator Ofcom. Meanwhile, downloads for the two biggest augmented reality apps – Layar and Blippar – have already exceeded 46 million on iOS and Android. Given the low starting costs of building AR campaigns, the possibilities for the education sector – and its many creative minds – are endless. 

Augmented reality can allow for a much more memorable and engaging learning experience. Assuming students are given license to use their smartphones in lessons, images in textbooks could be scanned by students to reveal a historian reporting from a battlefield, or a scientist demonstrating the reactions of group 1 metals with water. 

Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of interactive textbooks is their ability to extend learning beyond the classroom – particularly useful for homework or revision. But this goes beyond watching videos – much AR tech is interactive. For example, a 2D black and white drawing of a human heart isn’t the most memorable way for students to grasp its form and functionality. However, if a student was able to scan the 2D image to reveal a beating 3D heart that could be rotated simply by moving the phone, learning would be rather more enjoyable. 

Given the low starting costs of building AR campaigns, the possibilities for the education sector – and its many creative minds – are endless

Similarly, AR could also be a useful tool to explain molecular models in chemistry. Scan a graphical depiction and see how molecules come together in a 3D structure. The emerging technology can prove very useful in science labs. Lab safety posters and signs could be augmented to reveal the different safety procedures and protocols for using lab equipment before conducting an experiment. And, in geography, a student could scan sections of an augmented world map to ‘visit’ terrains, see the effects of deforestation, or follow a river from source to sea. 

Moving on to MFL, AR could assist by embedding pronunciation guides into a textbook. Imagine being able to scan text and hear a native speaker read it back to you – useful in the absence of a teacher. Scanning a page could also pull up a game that would help students memorise vocab and conjugations. AR can also bring literature to life. Penguin, for example, has augmented the covers of some of its classic novels, including Moby Dick and Great Expectations. The British publishing house embedded an array of digital content onto the cover of the books, including audio excerpts, animations and videos, allowing for a much more interactive reading experience.

Other examples include the non-fictional AR books iDinosaur and iSolarSystem. Both books are educational, teaching children the facts about the largest animals of all time and the objects – such as the moon, comets and asteroids – that orbit the Sun.

Publishing companies are not the only ones beginning to realise the power of AR, educational institutions are, too. For example, the University of Manchester launched the Scarlet Project which allowed students to access rare books and manuscripts using AR to enhance learning and teaching. Rather than venturing into the depths of the library, students could scan specially designed cards and read the material on their smartphone or tablet, as well as viewing additional images, web pages and online resources.

Imagine being able to scan text and hear a native speaker read it back to you – useful in the absence of a teacher

City University London went one step further by establishing The cARe (Creating Augmented Reality for Education) Project, aiming to promote the use of AR in the school of Health Sciences. The project explored how AR could be overlaid over essential clinical lab equipment, dummies and key areas within the lab. Following the success of this project the university went on to promote AR across all education disciplines in order to enhance learning for all students. AR proves particularly useful on educational school trips and has become a hot topic amongst the museum community.

The British Museum has employed the technology to transform the typical museum experience into one that is much more immersive and engaging. It created an augmented reality game that rewarded students when they identified certain statues around the museum by telling them more about the exhibit and unlocking the next level of the game.

Ultimately, augmented reality has the ability to make the whole learning experience far more memorable and interesting. It encourages student involvement rather than passive observation, which has not only been proven to enhance results, but also makes learning much more enjoyable.