AR in education: transforming the learning experience

AR in education: transforming the learning experience

February 16, 2022

Andrey Koptelov

Innovation Analyst

Education has significantly benefited from the technological advancements of the past few decades and the ensuing improved access to information. However, this abundance of available data doesn’t necessarily correlate with the quality of education. Conventional teaching methodology often implies a passive role for students, so in many cases their academic performance correlates to their ability to memorize information.

For the last decade, concerns about the quality of education have been steadily rising. According to a joint report by UNESCO, UNICEF, and World Bank, in low and middle income countries, the share of children living in learning poverty is about to reach 70%.

While there are a myriad of factors at play, the International Labour Organization cites students’ disinterest in education as one of the most significant reasons for the learning crisis. And with the impact of the pandemic, there is a growing threat for students to become even more disengaged and unenthusiastic about learning. 

This is why forward-looking educational institutions are now looking into eLearning software development and innovative technologies to transform learning experiences. One of these technologies is augmented reality, which is now at the forefront of education technology transformation.

The use of AR could make a big difference in terms of the student’s ability to engage, process and remember information.

Rosalina Oliva

Student Services Advisor at Oxford Learning College

While AR is not a novel technology, it has only recently managed to start attracting steady interest among educational institutions. According to the industry analysis published by Fact.MR, the global market for AR in education reached $1.5 billion in 2020 and will grow up to $85 billion by 2031.

The rapid proliferation of AR in education is hardly surprising as the barriers to AR development and technology access have been significantly lowered. Mobile devices are now as affordable and powerful as ever before, and AR applications have become user-friendly enough for both educators and students to use in the classroom. 

The benefits of AR in education

Augmented reality is a powerful educational tool that, along with other technologies such as AI in education, can significantly improve the learning experience by supplementing the real world with virtual objects in real-time.

For example, according to research from the University of Cape Town, even basic AR applications can increase students’ motivation. Researchers reveal that after undergraduate health science students were supplemented with AR mobile applications, their attention, confidence and satisfaction levels increased by 31%, 11%, and 13%, respectively. It’s critical to realize that in the educational context, this is an impressive growth.

Let’s discuss other important benefits of AR in education:

Increased engagement

With highly interactive learning experiences AR provides, educators can spark enthusiasm and curiosity among students, which leads to more effective learning.

Reduced cognitive load

AR significantly reduces the amount of cognitive resources needed to grasp abstract concepts, helping students to be more focused on the actual learning.

Improved academic performance

With the hands-on learning approach provided by AR, students can achieve better knowledge retention and deepen their understanding of a specific subject.

Enhanced learning experience

AR enables students to safely conduct dangerous experiments, visualize complex objects, and interact with otherwise expensive machinery.

Educators agree to rely on technology to enhance learning

AR use cases in education

Augmented reality has found its use in many subjects including mathematics, physics, astronomy, history, chemistry, and more. Let’s discuss some of the most potent use cases of augmented reality in education. 

Anatomy 

Augmented reality can enhance the way medical students interact with anatomical structures and streamline the learning process. AR is particularly well suited for understanding complex anatomical systems because it allows one to examine different body parts and organs in isolation and see how they work together.  

Complete Anatomy, Apple Design Award winner, is an educational AR-based cross-platform app created by 3D4Medical. This 3D anatomy platform is now used by thousands of students, educators, and medical practitioners to visualize and better understand human anatomy.

The augmented reality-based Complete Anatomy app has an interactive anatomy atlas that can be used to visualize gross anatomy models as well as microscopic structures of cells and tissues. Featuring around 20,000 body structures, the app allows users to view body parts in isolation, follow artery pathways, explore neurovascular structures and muscle movement, etc. With the help of augmented reality, users can also place a 3D anatomical model of a human body on any surface, while the multi-user mode enables multiple students to simultaneously view virtual dissection of different body parts on their devices. Finally, app users can add and remove body layers and visualize the impact of various injuries like bone fractures or muscle strains.

Complete Anatomy app in action

Astronomy

Education workers can also use augmented reality to enhance the learning of astronomy. In a recent study from Omer Halisdemir University, researchers found that the use of augmented reality in teaching astronomy can significantly improve students’ achievement and interest in astronomy. Currently, there is a range of augmented reality apps designed specifically for astronomy teaching purposes. 

One of the examples is SkyView, an augmented reality app that helps students identify stars, constellations, satellites, and planets. The app overlays camera images with 3D visualizations of different sky objects, highlights constellations, and provides contextual astronomical information. This augmented reality app has proven to be effective for sparking curiosity in astronomy among middle school students. 

SkyView app in action

History

For middle school students, it’s not uncommon to consider history lessons as boring or monotonous. This is why researchers from the FEU Institute of Technology in the Philippines decided to turn to augmented reality and keep the class’ attention with interactive stories. They designed HARA (Historic Augmented Reality Application) to allow students to learn about the American Colonization Period through immersive storytelling. Students simply need to point their smartphone cameras toward a particular flashcard and an image comes ‘alive’.

HARA app in action

STEM

The immersive experiences’ ability to reduce cognitive load and improve memorization of complex concepts proves particularly effective for teaching STEM subjects like mathematics, chemistry, and biology that often require spatial visualization and abstract thinking. 

Spatial intelligence is fundamental to learning many math and engineering related concepts. Yet some students find it particularly hard to imagine three-dimensional objects using only algebraic expressions, numerical data, or two-dimensional projections. In education, the most effective way of improving spatial intelligence comes down to dynamic interaction with a particular object to understand how it looks from different perspectives and relates to other objects in the same space. 

Conventional methodology for teaching these spatial skills is based on interpreting orthogonal projections, but it doesn’t allow for dynamic interaction. AR, in its turn, can revolutionize the way educators teach STEM subjects through meaningful and contextualized experiences. 

For example, researchers from the University of Murcia used Geogebra AR to teach their students mathematics and determine the effectiveness of augmented reality in improving spatial intelligence. Geogebra AR is an open-source educational application that allows students to draw geometric objects and visualize mathematical functions. 

Students could modify  the parameters of objects to change their geometry, flip and rotate them to visualize different perspectives, and place multiple mathematical functions in one space to see how they relate to each other.

Essentially, this augmented reality app relieves students from manual function drawing and allows them to spend more time and energy on discovering and analyzing functions in the classroom. After conducting comprehensive research experiments, professors also revealed that students who used AR-based learning methodology had a significantly higher level of understanding when it came to  mathematical functions than those who used traditional learning methods. This suggests that augmented reality can indeed shorten the learning curve and improve students’ academic performance. 

Geogebra AR app in action
Creating a function using the Geogebra AR app

In another example, Silicon Valley education technology company zSpace partnered with Georgia’s Teasley Middle School (a school with a high number of children from low-income families) to enhance the learning of STEM subjects using AR. With the help of custom-built AR glasses, students can disassemble complex virtual objects using an interactive stylus. By wearing glasses simultaneously, students can collaborate and solve problems together. School representatives claimed that augmented reality made their students more excited about learning and more willing to dive deeper into STEM subjects. Currently, over 50 colleges in the U.S. have installed zSpace’s augmented reality tools to enhance learning.

Physics

For the past eight years, researchers from Beijing Normal University have been continuously exploring the possibilities of augmented reality for enhancing physics and chemistry learning among middle and high school students.

For example, in 2013, Su Cai along with other faculty members conducted a convex imaging experiment using AR, in which eight graders explored various physics concepts like image distance and focal distance. Students used three virtual markers as a substitute for candles, convex lenses, and fluorescent screens. In 2018, the researchers integrated augmented reality with Kinect to allow students to better understand and ‘feel’ magnetic fields. By waving a hand in front of the depth camera, students could see how the magnetic field reacted.

In 2020, the faculty conducted optical simulation experiments using augmented reality to demonstrate the photoelectric effect. Explaining abstract concepts like the microscopic phenomenon of the photoelectric effect without creating special conditions can be particularly challenging, so the researchers developed a specialized AR app AROSE to simulate a virtual lab. As shown in the image below, students can press on a particular area on the card to operate the virtual lab equipment to visualize the photoelectric effect.

AROSE app in action

Researchers found out that students who used AR to learn these physical concepts scored significantly higher in terms of conceptual understanding than those who used conventional learning methods.

After years of assessing the impact of augmented reality on students’ learning of physics, researchers from Beijing Normal University concluded that this technology can change how physics is taught in schools. Researchers claimed that the positive impact of AR-assisted learning can be largely explained by the fact that it significantly reduces students’ cognitive load and allows them to focus more on observation and actual learning.

They also revealed that interactive AR tools enhance students’ sense of accomplishment and encourage further learning. In many ways, education-driven augmented reality has certain gamification elements, which have proven to be a powerful engagement and attention-keeping tool.

With AR, students are able to make the most of their comprehension abilities and imaginative skills as a result of this learning, and they become more interested in the subject, preferring deep learning over rote learning.

Bram Jansen

Chief Editor of vpnAlert

Is education ready for AR?

According to a 2021 XR Industry Insider survey, industry stakeholders say that education remains the most challenged industry due to the limited availability of immersive content. More than half of respondents say that a lack of research on how to integrate AR/VR with education is the major barrier to the technology’s adoption in education.

Factors supporting faster adoption of AR/VR in education

At this point, further development of augmented reality in education comes down to collaboration between governmental bodies, AR companies, and educational institutions. Fortunately, such initiatives are already taking place. For example, the Smithsonian Institution allows public access to its museum collections using augmented reality, allowing education professionals to apply these 3D models to improve learning in history classes. Similarly, NASA also provides AR-based educational tools for educators to integrate into astronomy lessons. These projects stimulate interest among institutions, further facilitating the adoption of augmented reality in education.

Many institutions also design specialized programs that encourage students to experience the technology first-hand. This allows education professionals to better understand how AR can fit into learning experiences. For example, The Harvard Innovation Labs AR/VR studio offers open sessions for Harvard students to experiment with equipment and software to create their own content. The University of Michigan founded XR Initiative across its 19 schools to provide resources for faculties that want to integrate AR and VR in education.

Given that AR is still a relatively new technology, it’s important for both educators and students to learn the necessary skills to smoothly integrate AR into lessons.

Preparing students for AR

When it comes to introducing AR tools to students, some education technology researchers reveal that instead of employing training sessions, it’s better to let students discover the possibilities of these AR tools themselves. For the new generation of tech-savvy students, brief instructions usually suffice. Given that any modern smartphone with a camera is the single most important requirement for accessing many AR tools, teachers are also advised to encourage students to experiment with these tools at home.

Preparing teachers for AR

For AR to bring tangible results, it’s also paramount to deploy dedicated training programs for teachers. Education workers need to learn the necessary skills to be able to create their own content via learning management system features and make AR a vital part of the teaching process. Currently, there is a range of specialized platforms that allow even people without a coding background to design AR experiences. 

For example, CoSpaces Edu allows both students and teachers to create augmented reality simulations and share them with each other. Similarly, MERGE Cube, a multi-platform augmented reality tool, allows for seamless content sharing among its users. 

Conclusion

The impact of augmented reality on student engagement, academic performance, and confidence isn’t likely to be matched by any other technology on the market (perhaps, except for VR education). By bringing innovative teaching methods into the classroom, education professionals can spark interest and enthusiasm in many subjects among students. Importantly, adopting augmented reality doesn’t require significant investment as the majority of today’s smartphones are capable of supporting AR applications. Educational institutions should take advantage of the current situation and start exploring AR’s possibilities in classes, further stirring up interest among students and app developers. 

Similar to computers and smart devices becoming an integral part of learning, AR and VR will offer new tools (hardware and software) to enhance the student experience. Eventually, they will be a standard, with the opportunity to accelerate student outcomes, revolutionize student knowledge assessments, and scale experiential learning to students globally. 

Tim Kanellitsas

Strategic Advisor at NGT Academy

Going forward, it’s critical to ensure that educators have the understanding and skills to realize the full benefits of augmented reality tools. While implementing ready-made AR solutions into the classroom is a good start, the real value of AR will be realized when teachers start taking an active role in content creation.