The global EdTech market is expected to reach over $230 billion by 2028, with over $20 billion of institutional investment in 2021 alone. AR will, without question, play a big part in this growth. Randy Ginsburg explores how augmented reality is already changing the world of education and what to expect in the future.
The value of doing, when it comes to education, is no secret. Achieving more immersive learning experiences has always been impactful for teaching, but the cost of achieving this for a class of thirty students (and across millions of classes) has always made it inaccessible for all but the most privileged learners.
Augmented reality offers a new medium for education and exploration, bridging the gap of experiential learning while allowing students of all ages to visualise their subject matter within the context of their surroundings. As toddlers reach for iPads before uttering their first words and AI writing tools render basic essays useless, it is not only clear that education should change, but that it can.
And many entrepreneurs and investors seem to think so as well. Valued at $85 billion in 2021, the global EdTech market is expected to reach over $230 billion by 2028, with over $20 billion of institutional investment in 2021 alone.
Augmented reality, one of the most significant trends in the burgeoning EdTech sector, is a technology that enhances, or augments, the real world by overlaying real-life objects with a digital layer. When a user points their phone (or other camera-equipped device, like AR glasses) at an object, augmented reality software recognises what the camera sees and outfits digital content on top of the video feed. As the device moves, the size and orientation of the AR display move automatically with it, creating an engaging and immersive user experience.
While AR is far from new — Snapchat filters and Pokémon GO demonstrate successful early experiments — recent advancements in both software and hardware have begun to shift its perception from a toy into a valuable tool for educators and students of all ages.
Much of the excitement around AR is centred around its digital real-time responsiveness, which generates an immersive 3D experience that is more memorable than bullet points in a text book. Using interactive apps like Catchy Words AR, young students can walk around their classroom collecting letters to learn how to spell; Assemblr Edu replaces standard textbooks, posters, and diagrams with a library of ready-to-use 3D and AR-enabled learning materials across all subjects; and Arloon Geometry allows students to explore the ins and outs of geometric shapes in 3D.
Touch Surgery helps students to simulate emergency situations and practice surgeries on virtual patients. Perfect for visual learners, these tools allow students to safely experience the subject matter at hand, rather than just read about it. And in experience-intensive fields like medicine, this experiential learning can make all the difference.
Since 2020, students at Case Western University have had access to fully remote lessons using AR headsets manufactured by Microsoft’s HoloLens. Using the headset, students are able to explore the anatomy of the human body in 3D, helping them to develop an understanding that is much more robust than anything that they could learn from a textbook alone.
With smartphones in the developed world being almost ubiquitous, and over 86% of the entire world’s population owning one, augmented reality has the potential to improve education, reducing the need for textbooks and other static materials, making high-quality teaching methods accessible for all.
Indeed, using AR, students may not even need to be in the classroom, given advancements in remote learning tools like 3D Bear which empower teachers to create 3D learning environments packed with gamified lesson plans, 3D avatars, AR stories, and video recordings. And this is only the beginning. While smartphones are currently the de-facto device for AR engagement, within the next decade, it is widely expected that AR headsets will become a staple of everyday life too.
“It expands access to opportunity,” explains Ellysse Dick, Policy Manager in Meta’s AR division, Reality Labs, speaking to Gov Tech. “A virtual field trip isn’t a full replacement for a real-life field trip, but for students who wouldn’t be able to visit these places, AR and VR can give them opportunities to experience some of those things.”
But like all emerging technologies, there are two sides to the coin. Today, augmented reality comes with an augmented price tag, making it out of reach for most schools, for now, and particularly when many face budget constraints that limit their ability to purchase basic supplies.
Change also takes time. Even those who have access to the necessary resources and hardware are faced with the challenge of putting these new methods into practice. For augmented reality to truly transform the way that we learn, it should be embedded in curriculums and learning on a day-to-day basis. And that requires multiple layers of support from officials, schools, teachers, alongside enough relevant content for them to teach with.
These tools allow students to safely experience the subject matter at hand, rather than just read about it.
“There are some sticking points that are holding it back. People want to put it in classrooms, but content is a huge issue. There’s not a lot of relevant content out there,” Ellysse says. “Understanding how these technologies can fit into existing curricula needs to happen before this can explode in the way that a lot of people would like to see it.”
Still, despite current costs and limited understanding, the potential of AR education is clear to see. And whilst changes to the school curriculum will have to come from teachers, enterprise-oriented educational applications of AR will push down prices and help innovators understand how the tech can be best used.
“It expands access to opportunity.”
— Ellysse Dick, Meta
Museums like the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC are using AR apps so that visitors can better experience how ancient people and animals would look and work in real life, whilst Star Chart, an AR-powered database built for astronomy enthusiasts, lets users explore over 120,000 stars and 88 different constellations. Even government organisations like NASA and the U.S. Marine Corps are using AR to simulate intensive training and deliver real-time mission-critical information.
As for what the future holds, big tech executives as well as educators are confident that augmented reality will play an important role in how we engage with information. Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously cited AR as a “critically important part of Apple’s future,” with the company’s first AR product expected to debut this year. Mark Zuckerberg’s interest in extended reality is well documented, and the Meta CEO is ambitious for augmented reality too, predicting that the tech “can be the next computing platform”. Whether this technology will become a staple of our education system, only time will tell. But it deserves a role.
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