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The role of AR technology in making learners imagine

Children have this incredible capability to transform their reality in a matter of seconds into something magical: a place where everything can happen and the only limits are one’s imagination. No matter how old we are, if we try hard enough we still can remember bits and pieces of this land of beauty where legends came alive, where the lines of the carpet were windy mountain roads for matchbox cars and dolls had their own social life. If we look closely we will realize that Toy Story is rather boring, because our toys had way better lives and adventures.

One major effect of growing up — or side effect, some may argue — is that we slowly let go of our vivid imagination. Fantasies become scenarios more anchored in our reality and we name them plans: future plans, business plans, and any other plan you can think of.

And this is the way it should be: we put our imagination to work to benefit us and others around us. The key is to never let go completely to our imagination. Someone without imagination can never have true goals because a prerequisite of having goals is to imagine the future result of the actions we plan to do in order to achieve those goals.

Using our knowledge and imagination to conceive complex plans can be a time-consuming process. It would be wonderful to have the time to sit back, think and plan the future, but living life at an alert pace gives less and less room for this luxury. Simply we have less time to use our imagination and come up with creative ways of achieving dreams and goals. Thankfully we have technology on our side and it can help us with the boring part of planning, so we can get a bit creative.

Imagination and workplace learning?

This sense of urgency is present in many aspects of our daily lives, and company training programs make no exception. Learners often are in a hurry to finish the course or the entire training just so they can get back to their regular activities. They don’t have the time to truly get involved with the course material and they certainly don’t have the time to use their imagination to solve and complete assessments. In these conditions learning will never happen on a deep level and the results of the training will be less satisfying.

Although instructors are doing their best to limit the effect of work-related distractions and they try to isolate the training room from the worries of the workplace, they can’t shut it out completely. What instructors can do is to transform the training activity into a time-efficient and interesting activity which attracts employees to take part in.

There are many innovative tools that can help instructors to improve learning performance and transform learning into an experience. Among all tools and solutions, augmented reality — or AR technology — is my favorite.

AR technology encourages employees to imagine

AR works just like the power of imagination: it helps create imaginary learning scenarios by adding an extra tech layer to reality. These computer generated extra layers can be added with simple devices such as smartphones and tablets or, for a more immersive experience, wearable devices like Microsoft HoloLens can be used.

To point out the benefits of AR technology in company training programs we should look at their applicability in different training methods. Three popular and already interesting training methods that can largely benefit from the AR technology are case studies, simulations and scenario-based learning:

  • Case studies

    The traditional form of case studies is fairly simple. A case is presented to a group of learners, which they will have to understand and solve. The situation is usually presented through a pack of information that may contain documents with lots details, pictures and maybe even multimedia files. Going through the complex learning materials and getting everybody on the same page can be difficult and time-consuming, mostly because every member of the team will imagine the situation slightly different.

    Using AR technology in the presentation of a case study can help learners to get on the same page quicker, as they will have a similar perception of the described situation. They have the possibility to shape each other’s imagination by interacting with the learning content simultaneously and in real time. Just imagine looking at a 2D sketch which is hard to understand. But if you look at it through your smartphone’s camera suddenly it becomes a 3D representation of a building structure that can be flipped and rotated to see the tiniest details.

  • Simulations

    The most obvious advantage of AR technology is in the case of simulations. There are skills that need extensive practice and testing in all kinds of situations in order to fully acquire them. Many times these situations can’t be reproduced because they are too dangerous or simply they are too hard and often expensive to recreate realistically.

    For example, with AR technology, rescue teams could be trained in all kinds of different emergencies without risking their life. Working together in an imaginary emergency situation can prepare learners to work as an experienced team in the most dangerous real situations.

  • Scenario-based learning

    AR technology could transform scenario-based learning into a true first-hand experience by bringing the characters to life in 3D form. Scenario-based learning is already great fun, but making it more realistic with augmented reality will make it even more captivating and will offer more of an experience for learners.

    Being involved deeper in the learning process can improve the efficiency of the knowledge transfer and the information retention. If learners acquire the knowledge on the deeper level it’s much more likely that they will be able to retrieve it when they need to solve a similar problem later in real life.

Final thoughts

As the learning process doesn’t stop at the door of the training room, neither does the applicability of AR technology. One of the most important benefits of augmented reality is that it can help employees to learn directly on the job by giving relevant training information at the point of need, just when they get stuck with the solving of a problem. This reduces the time needed to solve complex problems, and as an added benefit, employees can feel like Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit.

AR technologies, and other tools as well, shouldn’t be used in training programs just for the sake of using them. Augmented Reality should be used only if it’s needed in the training process to make learning more interactive and memorable, and to encourage learners to use their imagination and try new, innovative solutions.

Regardless if you have AR technology or not, don’t forget to project your imagination on reality. After all, revolutionary ideas always come from people who see the world for what it could become, not just for what it is.