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Education and Augmented Reality — Really?

We have touched on the subject of Augmented Reality quite a few times in this blog, and based on the outpouring of enthusiastic press the technology receives it is undoubtedly a mega-trend. However, as I mentioned the previous week, slavishly following trends is neither logical nor helpful.

So, if you are like me, you may find yourself outwardly agreeing that AR is an exciting mega-trend, but may inwardly be questioning it’s true reality (forgive the phrase) and more importantly be weighing up its true pedagogic value.

I want to look through a couple of perspectives on how the technology is being received in real-world classrooms and whether it can make an actual, material difference to your teaching objectives. AR is certainly a technological revolution, being able to interact with reality via an enhanced visual overlay is undoubtedly a clever piece of software, and the web is increasingly populated with amazing programs that “bring lessons to life” in the classroom.

Education and Augmented Reality — Really?

For an ed-tech blogger I hold perhaps a controversial view: I wonder if some AR is not in fact a diversion from actual learning, and if teachers are spending too much time creating incredible, immersive worlds, for quite narrow learning outcomes.

Education and Augmented Reality — Really?

I think it is important to interrogate trends, because whilst I am an ed-tech blogger, and am an enthusiastic tech consumer, I dont buy into the logic of the syllogism so often propounded:

Tech is good. Learning is Good. Therefore learning through technology is best.

I came across some interesting comments on teacher forum TES last week, where teachers were debating AR in a thread. One comment caught my eye from a user named phlogiston:

I am not a Luddite. Technology can greatly enhance learning and wise teachers make good use of it. My whole career has been devoted to augmenting reality. However, if we try to turn education into a cross between a blockbuster movie and the latest computer game, the teachers always lose. Moviemakers are better at it than us, so are computer game programmers. In addition, if we mislead the children into thinking it's all about passion or gaming technology with no need to memorise, they stop concentrating.

I confess I have the same hesitations as this teacher: I would be extremely cautious about trying to create entertainment, diversion and immersion in the classroom at the cost of precious time (yours developing the experience, and students needing to go through it) unless you had interrogated the actual learning outcomes as being superior to what you currently do.

Additionally, is it not also true that nothing worth getting is easy to get? In other words, are we not doing our students a disservice by implying that all learning is fun, when in fact so much knowledge and technical understanding is hard-won?

Let’s take a look at what should be taken into consideration before launching into an AR enhanced classroom activity.


As another commentator, shellscript, in the TES thread above succinctly noted: AR and VR could transform teaching. Won't be for a while, my school can just about afford toilet paper.

A second consideration is that BYOD programs inherently disadvantage students and families that can’t afford to provide smartphones or tablets to students. So while Google Cardboard, and a range of other free apps do indeed make it cost-feasible to introduce AR and VR into your classroom, there remains a yawning gap between AR as an immersive side activity to enthuse and excite, and AR that can be implemented as a practical, continuous tool throughout the learning process.


Stretched by the demands of adhering to the Common Core and district regulations, most teachers are wary at best, and perhaps exasperated at worst, at the challenge of learning, designing and implementing yet another way to teach. This time-crunch means that teachers are needing to carefully evaluate AR in terms of the required learning outcomes, contrasted against the time it will take both them and their students to learn the new technology.


AR apps are image heavy, and require fast networks. With WiFi networks in schools often being overburdened, it is likely that many forays into AR teaching will fail at the first step. Teachers must spend quite a bit of time establishing if the AR program will work in their network environment. What are the inputs required to ensure the app actually does work, across all devices? What live support is available, should the app crash mid-lesson? And how much time must be dedicated to rescheduling the failed AR lesson?


Hard question must be asked: Does AR increase and improve learning? There is some evidence to show that AR can be helpful when attempting to engage a disengaged learner, and there are wonderful ways in which AR assists differently abled students to experience certain courses.

However other studies have found that AR creates an environment that is too complex for many students. The act of having to learn a new technology, while simultaneously being tasked with academic learning, while also having to navigate physically around a non-classroom setting can prove too much for many students, who simply give up midway.

All in all

It’s sometimes necessary — amid the avalanche of new technology and thinking around modern-day teaching — to have a reality check. I think it is also wise to measure up new technologies against your current teaching style and having a clear-eyed view of what is and is not working. As phlogston intimates in his comment quoted above, a teacher’s entire objective is to augment a student's reality — using tools as simple as blackboards or as complex as tablets.

Thanks for reading and see you next week. Happy teaching!

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