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Learning & Development Blog

Augmenting the Reality of Learning

An Introduction to Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR), as defined by the infallible Wikipedia, is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It differs from virtual reality in that it modifies the real world instead of replacing it with a simulated one.

Like many of you, my first look at augmented reality (AR) came via 80s action movies (e.g. Robocop and Terminator). These half-man, half-machines were seen to have superpowers, due in large part to their AR. They would simply look around and instantly get the identities of people close by, a description of their weapons if those people were armed, and detailed maps of their surroundings. Futuristic performance support, if you will.

At the time, this computer-generated reality was nothing less than fiction. It was a world so foreign, we could only attempt to emulate it with action figures and sound effects, wondering if a real cyborg would ever visit our planet.

Welcome to the 21st century! No cyborgs yet, which I view as a positive, but AR has become a reality (actually, the term augmented reality was coined by Thomas Caudell in 1990 to describe a new technology he was working on at Boeing, so it’s been around for some time). From sports telecasting (the yellow “first down line”) to mobile phone applications (Google Sky Map), AR is changing the way we live AND learn.

Using Augmented Reality in Learning

When it comes to learning, most people think Smartphones will provide the most effective delivery vehicle. Because Smartphones possess GPS, a camera, and fast graphic chips, they have all the necessary ingredients for a smooth AR experience. Some examples of effective AR using mobile phones include:

  • Google Sky Map – augments your view of the sky with a map of the brightest stars, constellations, and planets in that part of the sky.


  • Google Goggles – a search engine that uses pictures instead of words.


  • TwittARound – overlays live video of the world around you with tweets, showing where they are coming from and how far away they are.


  • Nearest Tube – helps you find the nearest subway station.


  • TAT Augmented ID – uses Flickr facial recognition technology to identify a person’s face and pull up info like their online profile and contact information.


  • Wikitude AR Travel Guide – hold up your phone and it brings up Wikipedia information on the point of interest you’re looking at.

I agree that Smartphones will play an important role in the development of augmented reality for learning, but they will not be the end all be all, if for no other reason than they require the use of at least one of your hands to hold the phone. Imagine eyepieces, glasses, or even contact lenses with the power to augment your reality with important information as you view your surroundings. Think about the time and money you would save if you put on a set of glasses that would lead you through complex everyday tasks, like installing a home entertainment system or learning how to use a new piece of software.

Honestly, you won’t have to imagine the possibilities much longer. Organizations like Vuzix and Columbia University’s Computer Graphics and User Interface Lab are already turning dreams to reality. Vuzix is making AR glasses that give soldiers instant access to maps, information, and the view from a tiny video feed mounted to their guns. Columbia University has created a system that guides you as you make auto repairs. The videos below should give you a better idea of what we’re working with now.



I hope this post gives you a taste of the unbelievable learning opportunities that lay ahead with the progression of augmented reality. 

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