Augmented Reality in Education

May 29, 2011 at 8:51 pm (Augmented Reality, Web 2.0) (, )


Augmented Reality, a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view (Augmented Reality, 2010).

What is it?

Augmented Reality or AR is a technology that we have previously associated with futuristic movies whose characters interact with images that provide them with information about their surroundings. Until now the production of AR required months of work by teams of computer programmers and artists using expensive and sophisticated hardware. AR is now moving into a second phase of evolution with the wide availability of cheap, high performance hardware and easy to use AR generating software. For education AR offers an application that sits between reality and the virtual world.

How does it apply to education?

More specifically AR  allows the student to visualise a concept, review a physical item, or access extra information all within the real world environment. Authenticity and context are common words used throughout AR literature. These terms highlight AR’s ability to tie-in with real world situations. This suggests AR has  roots in constructivism theory however AR more completely aligns with Kolb’s (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005) experiential learning model. Applying this model it can be seen that AR allows students to have Kolb’s ‘concrete experiences’ and connect these to their own understanding, all within a safe (in a physical and educational sense) environment.

For practically orientated tasks, e.g. retracting a nuclear fuel rod, or wiring a live switchboard, an AR approach allows a student to repetitively perform (or view) the task in a more controlled and safer environment than if the task was performed in reality. This could allow the student to move through Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (Newman & Holzman, 2005) far quicker than would have previously been possible

Like other multimedia applications, the amount of data that could be presented to the student AR can create cognitive overload. Miller (1956) famously suggested that the human brain can only process ‘seven plus or minus two chunks of information’  at one time. Applying this theory to AR, we can see that although it is tempting to provide all information to the student in one go, restrictions should be placed to allow students to ‘chunk’ or process the information before moving onto the next. According to Carpenter (2010) this information overload can also result in poor decision making. The ability of AR to superimpose information on top of our everyday lives can create a multitude of extra considerations that may confuse our normal decision making process. Obviously these are considerations taken into account when designing any new educational method however if AR has the groundswell of support some experts are predicting then it may be difficult to turn off erroneous information that distracts from the task at hand.

Is it useful now?

Software like Google Sketchup (with an AR add-on), and Wikitude are examples of free applications that allow digital natives to create their own AR information and share them with the world. Sketchup and Wikitube although adequate, are not yet at a level where they can be fully integrated seamlessly into the Web2.0 classroom. For the moment these applications are confined to the early adopters who can are able to produce useable information from what seems to be a complicated process. In the wider world of AR applications are generally made by specialist companies to suit the needs of their clients. Given that AR has yet to find its ‘killer app’ (akin to YouTube’s effect on personal video) it maybe prudent for educational facilities to adopt a wait-and-see approach to this technology. With the plethora of new tech start-up companies, the wide scale up take of smart mobile devices, easier and cheaper access to the internet the AR ‘killer app’ maybe closer than we think.


Carpenter, T. K. (2010). 7 Ways augmented reality will change your brain  Retrieved 29 May, 2011, from

Augmented Reality. (2010). Oxford University Press Retrieved 29 May 2011, from Oxford University Press

Knowles, P. D., Malcolm S., Holton, I., Ed.D., Elwood F., & Swanson, P. D., Richard A. (2005). The Adult Learner : The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development   Retrieved from

Miller, G. (1956). The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information (Vol. 63, pp. 81-97).

Newman, F., & Holzman, L. (2005). Lev Vygotsky : Revolutionary Scientist. London: Routledge.



  1. Kay said,

    Cool video!

    How does it help move through the ZPD faster (other than without dying!)?

    Good point about cognitive overload – that is so often missed in ‘we can have it all now’ euphoria. There’s a good article on this that has some good considerations when designing multimedia environments.

    Mayer & Moreno (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.

    I notice you used a phrase, “…that allow digital natives to create their own…” Do you think it only applies to digital natives? Given the literature showing that the skill levels vary considerably with both groups of digital natives and digital immigrants, could you be risking an inaccurate description of who can and will use it?

    Nice post!

    • Mike O'Dwyer said,

      Hi Kay,
      Thanks for the comment – and quick too! 🙂

      The way the AR allows the student to view/visualise the object/concept/task before actually carrying it out for real allows them to rapidly close the gap between the known and unknown. In some cases reality is overlaid with AR allowing the student to confidently carry out the task in realtime on real equipment (see the video link below). In the future AR free up the Subject Matter Expert from watching the student throughout the procedure allowing the org to train more people faster and to a higher standard (I know, dreams are free!).

      As for the digital natives – I guess I was alluding to those people confident in their technical ability , perhaps a better term would be ‘tech savy’ or ‘digital originators’. You are right, there is a whole range of skill sets contain within the groups we initially defined as natives & immigrants (as we have found in our class). The term ‘digital native’ is no longer adequate to describe the full range of people who use web2.0 technology. Good point and it perhaps highlights the caution that should be applied with the introduction of any new technology.

      Thanks for the reference – I’m going to read that at work tomorrow.


  2. 1cheng said,

    Thanks for the great post about Augmented Reality (and the video too!). This reminds me the movie “minority report”, where people interact with the 3D environment. I think the potential of AR is limitless and it will lead the future of education.

  3. bimwise said,

    Hey Mike, Great presentation today. Your overall blog content is worth reading.
    This particular one on AR attracted my attention many times.
    We also see AR to become a future standard in Construction Industry. But we are the poor cousins in Degital Technology, so we are still at basics with AR. I’ll be reading more on this later, and if you come across any good reading and examples, please let me know. I’ll catch up with you sometime to discuss more on this.

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