Who saw that coming? Like many hugely successful, mass-consumer,
tech things, it had surprise on its side. Above all it created ‘buzz’ – it’s
the thing that everyone and the entire media, traditional and social, are
talking about. Imagine the power of that buzz if we could harness it in
learning. Maybe we can.
The genius of Pokemon Go, the Geo Catching app, is its use of
AR (Augmented Reality), which has, within a few weeks, become a global reality.
The melding of the real and non-real, through addictive gaming, has done what a
million ‘research’ projects failed to do – capture the imagination. And this is
just the start. AR through smartphones makes the real word come alive with augmented possibilities, wait until this is available through your glasses or straight to your retina. This may revolutionise consumer computing.
At the risk of being accused of being a bandwagon jumper, I
have been writing about the impending AR/VR revolution for years, so cut me
some slack on this. Quite simply, this opens up immense possibilities and
opportunities for learning. If we could take some of that AR ‘magic dust’ and
sprinkle it on learning, we may, at last, lift and augment tasks that were
traditionally passive, static and 2D into activities that are active, dynamic
and 3D. The real world, in which we live, learn and participate is, after all,
active, dynamic and 3D. You can literally superimpose anything on anything,
anywhere at anytime for anyone. It is personalised learning in the extreme,
with a huge does of curiosity, motivation and addiction thrown in.
Blended realities and
But it is more than a game – it’s a beautiful blend of
different realities. Without getting into the several thousand-year-old
philosophical problem of appearance and reality, this really (sic) does take AR
from a tiny tech tributary into the mainstream. Its cleverness is in its layers
of reality; consciousness (in itself a complete re-presentation of reality), maps
(an idealised mapped representation of reality), the camera view (a
photographic representation of reality), Pokemon and all the other imagery
(superimposed upon the other realities), all eventually framed within your
conscious view of these realities. In addition, it uses the internet (itself a
created reality) and GPS (a created dynamic co-ordination path within both the
virtual and real). One could add a social reality. Confused – don’t worry, your
mind simply brings them altogether into one conscious, blended reality.
Rather than look at isolated examples of AR in learning,
let’s identify some species
learning that can be enhanced or augmented by AR.
When we move beyond facts into explanations, causes, rules,
processes and so on, text and even 2D images often fall short. Explanations, in
varying degrees of depth, in physics, chemistry, biology, hydraulics,
pneumatics, maths etc, can all be brought to life through the superimposition
of explanatory diagrams, arrows, flows and explanations that are beyond text.
This ‘contextual’ learning not only makes understanding easier and quicker, it
is also likely to result in increased retention and recall. That’s what Pokemon
Go and Augmented Reality have to teach us about learning.
Take physics. Explaining Newton’s Laws and many other
concepts in physics is not easy, as they take place in 3D and on a scale that
is often impractical even in a lab. Allowing one to experience the laws of
physics in the real world through the superimposition of augmented explanations
certainly enhances and accelerates learning. Show the forces at work in a real
situation when a bicycle is moving, aeroplane flying and so on. Augment the
image of a real tree with augmented transpiration and photosynthesis. The fact that PokeStops are placed (by algorithms) at significant places, especially local landmarks, means that many report uncovering local knowledge and finding places and stories they never knew existed.
Pokemon Go, as you play it, becomes quite a complex realtime
strategy game, where you learn the rules and have to problem solve in terms of
decisions you have to make as a trainer. It’s a problem solving app.
So, the idea that learners have to explore real environments
to find out things they need to know, and apply that knowledge in those
environments, is now possible. Education in a museum, art gallery, ecological
location, virtual excursion, virtual experience, seems now very real and
possible. The layers of meaning we can apply, conditionally upon any real-world
object or place, in realtime, opens up all sorts of possibilities. One can
solve maths, scientific, language, historical, architectural and natural
environment problems with this approach. Learning a new language by getting out
and doing things in the real world, gives immersion, context and retention
value. What teacher couldn’t imagine a problem-based AR app for their subject?
Pokemon Go taps into an instinctive, hunter instinct. Call
it curiosity, whatever it is, it gets you out and about. You not only have to catch
the damn things, you also have to hatch eggs. This works, not by motion sensing
but GPS, so you can’t fool it easily. You have to be on the move – and not in a
car or bus, as it knows you’re moving too fast.
We largely learn by doing but are largely taught while
doing little or nothing. To learn by doing is to move beyond our overly
‘talk-and-text’ or ‘chalk and talk’ education and training. This return to more
appropriate forms of learning for things that we actually learn by doing, now
in the real world, will be a welcome brake on the absurdity of the lecture,
flipchart, page-turning e-learning and classroom, as the delivery channel for almost all learning. To actually DO experiments in science, practical tasks and learn skills,
could revolutionise vocational learning, giving it a cool kudos on par with its
academic partner. Google has already opened up its Virtual Field Trips to
teachers but AR may prove more powerful at a local level or when on a school
The social dimension in learning can be enhanced, not by the predictably dull sitting at a round table with some mints in a bowl, but by actively
learning in groups. Augmented Reality, in Pokemon Go, has seen groups (Pokemobs) of all
shapes and sizes out in the real world, search and complete tasks. There is
even the suggestion that it has helped with social anxiety and depression. This
app brings people out of their homes and out of themselves. It requires active,
social behaviour and there are tales galore of it bringing people together,
friendships and other social benefits. It’s not just a few nerdy types
wandering about, it’s families and herds of folk on the move, talking,
comparing, helping each other. If this can be harnessed for learning, let’s do
it. Group tasks, even crowd-sourced tasks, are all possible. Interestingly,
Pokemon Go has had all of its massive success without being able to trade or
battle with friends, except when battling for a Gym. Although, one would expect
that this will be possible in time.
It won’t be long before tutors appear, to help you with your
AR learning tasks. So, on your AR learning journey you may have, either a real or created tutor (AI-driven bot or avatar). That adaptivity may even be hidden from
view, a sort of invisible helping hand. Adaptive learning in an AR learning
environment makes sense, as one wants to make the learning more efficient,
tailored to each and every learner. It means educating everyone uniquely with
technology-enhanced teaching. You augment reality with either a real or virtual
teacher, who acts like a teacherly satnav (in US, GPS).
William James and others set great store by habits in
learning. Mobile behaviour is highly habitual. Imagine learning driven by powerful
habit, addiction if you will. Imagine language learning where you combine the
gamification, real world interaction and personalised delivery that an AR
driven Duolingo could provide, all into one package. Imagine how superior that
would be to classroom learning, that great catastrophe in learning, years of
language learning in classrooms with a failure rate that makes MOOCs look
positively utopian on completion rates.
We know that learning is enhanced, or forgetting slowed, by
deliberate practice, over time. AR gives us the opportunity to practice, again
and again, wherever we are. Spaced, timed practice may be possible with
time-windowed practice routines. Repeating, with the intent to improve, may be
offered at specific contexts to further enhance retention. Repeating a skill in
different contexts, may also enhance that skill, and retention. Navigating
streets as a way to learn geometry and then trigonometry, even more advanced
maths, may prove motivating and efficient.
Who would deny that we now live with unpredictable public acts of violence and terror? Critical services training for the police, fire and
ambulance services could be fully simulated in real environments using AR to
create realistic augmentation of bombs, fires, damage and casualties. With
control layers, it can be used to test and train simultaneously, learning
lessons about optimal tactics. AR’s realtime component is fascinating, similar
to the excitement created by Real Time Strategy (RTS) games. It drives
participation. You don’t want to lose out. Things may appear in a certain
timeframe. Open World games like GTS may also spawn some exciting AR spin-offs.
Pokemon Go is a complex set of tasks. You have to understand
the rules of the game, play it well and navigate a created world within the
real world. In gaming lingo, you are in an open simulation. Imagine being able
to test learners (uniquely identified) in tasks in real time, to test actual
performance in a chosen environment. I can imagine a Pokemon Go-like induction
or on-boarding programme, where the task is to get round the company or
workplace, learning as you go, being tested as you go, doing actual things,
virtually, in the real world or both. Your assessment is not separate from
performance, it is simply completion of the tactical and strategic tasks.
One last thing. Remember the phrase ‘m-learning’? The next
big thing – that never actually happened. All of that money spent on
‘responsive’ e-learning but few ever really take a course on their smartphone.
Now there’s a reason to use your phone. It’s a powerful, personal and portable
device that goes with you, in your own time, on your own personal learning
journey. It is AR that may open the floodgates to new and fascinating forms of
m-learning, that transcend the flat, page-turning e-learning content that is so
often thought to be the solution.
Nothing lasts forever and Pokemon Go, like Angry Birds and
Candy Crush, will have a lifespan and will start to fade – the only question is
how quickly. Nevertheless, it is the deeper implications of AR in terms of
adoption, mainstreaming and behaviours, that we want to watch. They signal a future
where AR and VR are not just games and gadgets but new media in themselves. AR
and VR are two new mediums, not toys or gadgets. Online learning brought us the
democratisation of knowledge, AR brings us the democratisation of virtual
learning in the real world and VR the democratisation of experience.