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Augmented Learning: What’s the Big Deal?

The more we understand about the process of learning, the more sophisticated our learning tools need to be. Most instructional designers will say that creating adaptive and dynamic courses, which put learners in charge of their own learning, is the ideal way to impart knowledge.

Educational researchers tend to agree. Those conversations are ones in which the phrase “augmented learning” starts to appear frequently.

What is augmented learning?

The first concept that pops into most people’s minds when they hear the phrase “augmented learning” is virtual reality. And while VR is an example of augmented learning, this instructional approach is much broader—and more accessible—than high-tech, wearable tools. In its broadest definition, augmented learning is any instructional tool that adapts the environment to the learner. While yes, this includes virtual reality devices (augmented reality), this category comprises familiar tools—voice-activated commands on a cell phone, customized feedback pop-ups in eLearning, and even coupon apps that activate on your phone when you walk into a particular store.

You’re working with augmented learning if the learning:

  • happens in real time
  • adapts itself to the context of a particular learner

Augmented learning is closely related to augmented reality, which overlays personalized, multimedia information over the individual user’s context—this is a category that contains both the futuristic VR headsets and the QR code apps of yesterday.

Augmented_Learning_Whats_Big_Deal_1.jpgWhy all the confusion about augmented learning?

There’s not a lot of information out there about augmented learning, and no real agreed-upon definition. (Most articles on the topic actually copy and paste their definition from a Wikipedia article that doesn’t even credit the correct source.) The discussion becomes even more muddied when people try to distinguish between augmented learning and adaptive learning. And the truth is, they’re part of the same concept—and you can think of one as an instructional environment and the other as a learning experience. In other words, an augmented learning system creates an adaptive learning experience.

Truth be told, most eLearning is augmented learning by nature. The online environment adapts to the learner by recognizing the browser or mobile device being used, giving learners choices based on their interest and ability (e.g., branching), and delivering individualized feedback on those choices.

Augmented_Learning_Whats_Big_Deal_3.jpgWhat are the pros and cons of augmented learning?

Let’s start with the benefits. Advocates of an augmented system believe that since learners have control over the learning process, the instructional outcome is much more likely to be successful. Learners who are able to express autonomy and choice in the learning environment are more engaged and less likely to drop out. Learners who are also able to control the way they learn have a much higher chance of retaining information, since they are able to suit their own unique learning needs and challenges.

In addition, augmented learning’s dynamic nature allows it to adapt to the individual user, meaning that it’s designed to deliver highly customized feedback that allows one instructor (or none!) to do the work of many.

Augmented_Learning_Whats_Big_Deal_2.jpgAnd what about the cons? Some say that new forms of augmented reality, such as Google Glass or the iPhone’s Siri, may be detrimental to organic learning skills like memory and recall—in other words, automatically translated experiences rob the learner of the experience of digging through his or her own mind to come up with information. A fair point, but similar arguments were made about the calculator when it was invented—and that tool’s efficiency has created such high demand that no engineer would start his or her day without it.

New technologies and methods are always greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism when they first emerge on the scene, and augmented learning is no exception. But by understanding its characteristics, and their implications for learning, you may find that it’s a useful tool for your next course—or you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you’ve been using it all along.

For more infomation on virtual learning, check out these blog posts:

Building Organizational Well-being from the Ground Up

Making Asynchronous Learning Work for You

Cognitive Load Theory: What You Need to Know to Develop Instructional Tools that Work