How augmented reality can improve the learning experience

6 min read
Blog Author

How augmented reality can improve the learning experience

Blog Author
6 min read
In this blog, we explore how AR is being used to engage and involve learners from classrooms and lecture halls to corporate training environments and workspaces. We’ll also look at the outcomes of the new Layered report into the power of augmented reality (AR) and how it can help educators in academia and the corporate world to experiment with this new platform.


I came across a great quote from Benjamin Franklin who may not exactly be a well-known tech commentator but I think he summed up the learning process perfectly all those years ago.

"Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I will remember, Involve me and I learn”. 

This still resonates over two centuries later, in this blog we explore how AR is being used to engage and involve learners from classrooms and lecture halls to corporate training environments and workspaces. We’ll also take a look at the outcomes of the new Layered report into the power of augmented reality (AR) and how it can help educators in academia and the corporate world to experiment with this new platform.


The neuroscience behind learning


The neuroscience behind learning

According to many authors, emotion and experience have a substantial influence on the cognitive process in us humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory and problem-solving.

These studies suggest that one of the keys to committing information to long-term memory is the creation of emotional experiences that trigger the brain to mark this information as significant. Many academic and corporate learning experts are developing new solutions to maximise user engagement that triggers an appropriate emotional response.

Augmented reality and mixed reality are some of the most powerful tools in this respect. In a recent neuroscience experiment commissioned by the media agency, Mindshare, it was found that augmented reality experiences elicit significant attention, emotional and memory encoding spikes in users’ brains compared to traditional video and interactive online experiences.

Heather Andrew, CEO of Neuro-Insight, and her team studied 150 consumers in a first-of-its-kind research project that compared their brain’s subconscious reactions to stimulus ranging from product try-ons, playing games and Google Translate.

While this report focused on how AR benefits the marketing community, there are some significant positive takeaways for the Learning and Development sector too.


Heather Andrews commented:

"We know from published academic work that long-term memory encoding is linked to decision-making and future behaviour, and is a key predictor of communication effectiveness. A number of factors are important in driving memory encoding. One key driver is emotional intensity – strong levels of emotional arousal tell the brain that something important is going on, and it’s in our evolutionary interests to remember this, so emotionally intense events and experiences are more likely to make it into memory. Interaction is also closely linked to memory and in our studies we’ve frequently seen how interacting with content is associated with heightened levels of memory response.."


Based on existing research, Cheryl Clemons from LearnerLab agrees that:

"Experiential learning can create more positive relationships, aid in conflict resolution and build people’s confidence for negotiation and willingness to cooperate. Using the learners own device to interact with a training programme is also a very powerful tool, and we all seem to like that, especially more reluctant learners.."


A recent Harvard experiment investigating how AR can impact negotiation outcomes shows that people feel more positive about relationships when they have more information about the other person’s perspective. And crucially, there is even greater empathy and concession when people learn experientially about the other.


Augmented reality for staff training

'What were you thinking' by Johnny Hamilton. Johnny built this AR experience for the Zapworks augmented portal competition around a professional development scenario between two colleagues. Using AR the user can see inside each person’s head, giving a unique perspective on how businesses could approach internal professional development.


AR is a vehicle to change behaviour through its ability to make the abstract feel real and enable social perspective taking. This connects to our perception of ‘locus of control’. (Is the power to make a difference within my control?) Whether it’s saving the planet, staying well or contributing at work, the perception of the difference we can make as individuals and the control we have over our actions is really important.

Studies show that embodied experiences in immersive virtual environments can change behaviour. Using AR and immersive VR environments help users see, hear and feel negative and positive future consequences of their actions as if they’re occurring in the moment. This is powerful enough to change behaviour immediately afterward and on an ongoing basis. Print and video can have an immediate impact on a user, but the effect rapidly diminishes. Feeling the experience and the emotion it carries is the key element here in regards to behaviour change. 


The uses of AR in learning


The uses of AR in learning

Here are just a few different ways you can use AR to improve your learning programs.


Connecting the disconnected

We have spoken to many L&D leaders from retailers, banks and restaurant chains who have a lot of floor-based staff that are somewhat disconnected from traditional e-learning programs. In these environments it’s generally hard for staff to access computers and scheduling long durations away from their roles is problematic for management. Their resulting learning programs are often paper-based and lack the snackable (easily consumable) and offer ‘in your own time’ approach that many teams are following.

AR offers an efficient solution to deliver bite-sized learning content which people can access on their own mobile devices at a time that suits them. This could be during breaks, on the shop floor or even taken home to complete during their own time.


Energising face-to-face training sessions

Bupa came to us with an interesting challenge. They have a large number of care homes across the UK and wanted to explore how digital learning solutions could be used to better engage seniors in care homes with their mandatory learning requirements.

To test this Bupa asked us to develop a pilot of their Fire Safety training. They wanted a practical experience that could be easily scaled across the network where delegates practice the process of evacuation and decision making under time pressure.


Augmented reality fire training concept for Bupa


The solution seamlessly blended some simple practical implementations with AR tech. The setup was incredibly straightforward, the trainer could download the AR targets from the intranet and then stick them to the wall in the appropriate places around the care home. Then the user would scan the fire alarm to start the experience, visit each of the resident’s rooms to decide who to evacuate first before taking them to the safe area - all within 2 minutes. The sound of the fire alarm, vibrating phone and countdown clock delivered a level of stress and mild peril to the experience.


Martin Pagan, Digital Learning Team Manager at Bupa said:

"At Bupa we’re always looking for ways to better engage with our learners and provide valued digital learning experiences. AR provides a massive opportunity for us to move away from the traditional e-learning approaches to where learners put their knowledge into practice by interacting with content within their work environment..."


Process visualisation

Nothing beats hands-on experience when it comes to learning a new process, but this is not always possible or practical.

For example, a manufacturer reported an issue where some production line staff lacked the knowledge and experience to make quick decisions and resolve problems as the packing machines were in full flow. This meant that a high proportion of issues lead to stopping the machine and reporting the issue to the foreman. Their objective was to reduce the machine downtime through empowering line staff to identify problems quickly and rectify them before stopping the machinery and escalating the issue up the management chain.

AR can help to bring training into the physical factory by enabling line staff to scan various points along to production line to unlock simulated problem scenarios and then resolving them under the stress and pressures of the real environment (not a sterile classroom).

This blend of digital and real-world environments is extremely powerful, as it puts the user in the heightened emotional state they will face in the real situation. This helps them prepare for managing the stress of dealing with a live problem and the consequences of making a wrong decision.


Practicing employee or customer interactions

With the users’ heightened emotional connection witnessed in the neuroscience study, simulation of interpersonal scenarios can also be powerful through AR. This can change the traditionally passive desktop video into a much more powerful and memorable training module. AR can create these situations where the user interacts with a holographic video to practice the given scenario. The heightened reality of the holographic video drives a deeper emotional reaction: the user’s attention is 35% higher compared to traditional screen-based activity.

For example, here are just three of the many use cases where AR could add value over traditional channels:

  • New line managers to practice personnel issues in AR before facing their team
  • Sales teams can hone their negotiation skills before dealing with clients face-to-face
  • Call centre staff can practice complaint handling or upselling before they speak to a real customer


Onboarding new staff

Once the recruitment process is complete many organizations embark on significant onboarding programs to get new team members settled into their new roles, understanding the systems, processes and, most importantly, the company culture and values.

Used in the right context, AR experiences can offer an interesting way to learn about the company, different departments and its staff.


Getting started with AR in Learning and Development

From our own experience over the last 7 years and the supporting research, we believe that AR offers a valuable new tool within the L&D locker. Like every tool, it is best used in the right contextual environment where the time is best to use a mobile device and the experience itself adds value to the user experience.

Experimenting with new technologies can be a challenge in companies that are heavily invested in tried and trusted legacy L&D programs so here are some tips to testing AR, engaging with internal stakeholders and rolling it out based on your documented successes.

Start small, test and grow

If you have a large budget and the leadership backing to start big, that’s great! That said, many of our major partners started off by testing AR in a small way to learn about the production process, learn how their audience responded and test different forms of messaging. This enabled them to generate internal support based on the proven success and gave them solid data upon which to roll out larger scale campaigns.

Choose your use case carefully

Make sure AR adds value to the user experience. Be highly critical on what tech you choose to use at any given time so you are confident that the user context and the content is right for that scenario. We have found that AR has been powerful in face-to-face training environments as well as in personal development.

Pick evergreen content

Similarly to e-learning platforms, the majority of the cost for AR experiences lies in the initial production process. To get the biggest return on your investment, focus on evergreen content that will be used in the same unchanged format for a long period of time and over multiple locations.


Final thoughts

Here at Zappar, we believe that AR is a powerful tool and now the Layered report backs this up, proving that it captures the user’s attention and the emotional connection along with the experiential side of the process that hardwires the message into the user’s long-term memory.

The simple steps shared in this blog will help the learning and development community explore their own use cases for AR but the Zappar team will always be happy to have a chat and share our advice.