Augmented Reality Elearning and Pokémon Go

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Pokémon Go’s popularity ushers in new augmented reality elearning possibilities.

You don’t have to run around trying to “catch ‘em all” in order to see the business implications of the Pokémon Go phenomenon. The app’s breakout success has given millions of people deep exposure to augmented reality. Pokémon Go has taken the technology beyond the realm of early adopters. It’s time for augmented reality elearning.

Augmented Reality in Pokémon Go

Augmented reality overlays digital content on the real world. In Pokémon Go, users walk around public spaces looking for digital monsters. The app displays real-time video from the smartphone camera, and adds 3D Pokémon to the scene. Users then engage these augmentations to reality. This technology has come a long way.

In July 2012, my friend and I visited a space exhibition at Discovery Time Square, a Discovery Channel museum in New York City. We marveled at the Mars rover mockup, moon rocks, and other space stuff. I kept seeing these odd symbols at each exhibit. I eventually got curious enough to follow the instructions. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I downloaded the app anyway and pointed my phone at the symbols. There on my screen was a tiny, one-color, 3D rendering of the exhibit. I could move my phone around to explore all sides of the stationary overlay. I didn’t know it had a name, but that was my first exposure to smartphone-based augmented reality. I remember being impressed by the technology, but it was hard to imagine other uses beyond museum kiosks and retail displays.

Pokémon Go goes way beyond my experience at the museum. It obviously still requires a dedicated app, but the full-color motion graphics are now untethered from anchor symbols and are free to scamper and soar around the real world. These advancements make it possible to do incredible things with augmented reality elearning.

What’s Possible with Augmented Reality Elearning

Augmented reality elearning is already here. Perhaps the most notable example is Hyundai’s impressive augmented reality owner’s manual. Owners just point their smartphones or tablets at their vehicles. The app overlays how-to instructions on the real-life video to teach car maintenance tasks like checking the oil. It also has rich videos and written explanations to support the augmented reality. This kind of elearning will continue to grow in popularity, especially where learners need to learn how to interact with their environment.

Imagine creating a system that teaches factory workers how to use machinery by demonstrating the steps over the real device. Instead of cluttering a software system with on-screen help, imagine a multi-platform system in which users can point their smartphones at a desktop screen to access help without leaving the page they’re on. Customer service employees will learn their way around the shop on-site, rather than in a classroom environment.

Medical students already use augmented reality to explore anatomy. Imagine performing virtual surgery before attempting the real thing.

Augmented reality elearning will be an alternative to hiring video crews to shoot training videos. Elearning systems could even be designed to anticipate and simplify documentation for system upgrades, while traditional video can only capture how things work at one moment in time.

Consumers will be able to use virtual reality systems like Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, and Google Daydream to explore places and learn how to interact with all kinds of systems, tools, devices, and even people.

Until now, this vision of the future has only been a dream. As a technology, augmented reality has not received enough traction to become a major elearning platform. Pokémon Go is changing that.

Overcoming Augmented Reality Elearning Obstacles

Most augmented reality attempts to this point have suffered from three issues:

  • It is an unfamiliar technology to most people.
  • It is a niche technology with too few developers.
  • It is expensive to develop.

Nintendo’s investment in Pokémon Go has already done more to address these obstacles than any other company. Within days of its release, Pokémon Go gathered more daily users than Twitter and had more engagement than Facebook. Millions of people are spending lots of time enjoying augmented reality. These rich experiences are making augmented reality mainstream. Even non-millennials are getting into Pokémon Go as celebrities use the buzz to get attention and parents are wondering why their kids are getting so much exercise. Now that so many people are becoming accustomed to augmented reality, elearning can join the rush of industries to leverage the technology.

This massive exposure to augmented reality will also solve the problem of development. Among the hoards of young people playing Pokémon Go are current and future software engineers. There will definitely be more augmented reality developers in the next few years, not just because big businesses will incentivize these skills, but because creative players will dream up new applications that we’ve never considered.

Finally, augmented reality elearning will become cheaper to create and deliver. The influx of new developers will lower the cost of production, and the inevitable competition will bring down prices for businesses that want augmented reality. And people will buy it. Nintendo has struggled in recent years, but Bloomberg reports that Pokémon Go has launched Nintendo’s market value beyond Sony. Nintendo has proven that augmented reality can have a strong ROI.

With all these shortcomings addressed, augmented reality elearning is poised to become a major channel to deliver information.

What Are We Waiting For?

Full-featured augmented reality elearning is still in its early stages. Pokémon players need time to learn development skills. Augmented reality has heavy hardware requirements, and manufacturers will be catching up in future releases. Most mobile systems still use expensive data. Nevertheless, we should be thinking seriously about augmented reality for knowledge transfer, now, while it’s in its nascent stages.

Companies can prepare by integrating more cross-device features to their documentation. Schools can integrate cheap virtual technology like Google Cardboard into lessons. All of us should take a step back from how we’ve done training in the past and imagine new ways to teach using augmented reality elearning.

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