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Learning in a Virtual World: The Impact of Augmented and Virtual Reality on eLearning

Augmented and Virtual Reality are technologies that have been evolving over the past several decades, but only recently have these technologies become more affordable to the average consumer.

With this availability, we are left with the question of application. In the Journal of Early Childhood and Teacher Education Douglas H. Clements and Julie Samara said. “Today, the question that educators ask is no longer about whether and to what extent technology should be used with young children in the classroom, but rather how it should be used.”

So, how is eLearning impacted by these two new technologies, and are augmented and virtual reality technologies beneficial to eLearning?

The Potential for Using AR Technology

Augmented Reality or AR is a computer-assisted view of the real world in which images are augmented with computer-generated imagery, games, or other graphics. This makes AR technology extremely flexible and it can take the form of anything from new mobile applications to completely immersive computer software, or other formats such as:

  • Responsive websites generated using HTML5, CSS, JSON, etc.
  • Advanced interactive programs that work with current gen electronics
  • The advent of more sophisticated learning equipment

AR has limitless potential in the realm of eLearning, as it can be tailored to any specific learning requirement within any industry.

 The Potential for Using VR Technology

Virtual reality or VR is actually an extension of augmented reality. It requires sophisticated equipment and is meant to more fully immerse a user in a computer-generated world. The most common piece of equipment is typically a headset like Google Cardboard or the Samsung Gear VR. Over the last decade, VR implementation in eLearning has been the focus of several studies regarding its effect on different aspects of eLearning, including:

  • Collaborative eLearning
  • K-12 and Higher Education eLearning
  • eLearning in a Virtual Space

In 2016, there was a boom of new VR headsets released at an affordable price to the consumer market. These devices augment smartphones, which has made the hardware more affordable—before this boom, VR headsets required high-end software not readily available on the consumer market. The fact that VR technology is becoming more accessible and affordable only increases its usability in the eLearning industry.

The Hesitation to Utilize New Technology

When new technology first becomes available to the general populace, like AR and VR, it isn’t always met with acclaim. For example, when Apple released their first generation iPad they, reported in a press release that they sold 300,000 the first day. Despite highly profitable returns on day one, it was not met without criticism. Former correspondent for the Guardian, Jonathan Glancey stated regarding it, “Without holding one in my hands and trying one out, I can only say that the universally-hyped iPad looks very much like a giant iPhone.”

This hesitation has lent itself to the eLearning world as well. In the case of iPad and other tablet technology there has been extensive studies conducted into its benefits prior to its inclusion in the curriculum of many schools and institutions.

How Poor Sales Affect the Future of AR/VR Tools in eLearning

Unlike the high volume of units Apple sold with the release of their initial iPad, the initial demand for VR technology in 2016 has been lackluster. It has been said that, “It will take more time before the VR/AR market may begin enjoying robust growth, and such a slower-than-expected development.”

What this means in terms of eLearning is that the current trend favors utilizing current gen equipment with more sophisticated, interactive software applications to gauge and teach to the individual learner.

So, as seen with the introduction of the tablet, these initial sales figures do not mean that AR and VR are doomed platforms. As the platforms evolve and prove their usefulness, much like tablets did, they will become a larger part of the eLearning experience.

eLearning Going Forward

What is to come for eLearning? Is this the swan song for the virtual reality industry? Award-winning eLearning instructional design companies like ours don’t see it that way.

The AR/VR trend is the future of eLearning. Not only does it help learners actually interact with training materials, but its flexibility and affordability make it an ideal fit for any industry that is in need of training.

Going forward, the future of eLearning is in the hands of technology like AR and VR, which, like the advent of the tablet is not going away—it is only getting better.