AR vs VR in Education: The Final Round


About a year ago I started what was set to be a five-part series here on VirtualiTeach around the theme of AR vs VR in Education. It was a common question I was getting asked at events and I thought that to a good approach to tackling the theme would be to look at it from five different angles. My plan was to release one part each week for five weeks, with a winner in each round, building towards a final decision…

Anyone who’s been following the site for a while now will know that things didn’t quite go to plan. After the initial three posts, other commitments (and articles) got in the way and I didn’t publish part 4 for a couple of months and I never actually released part 5 at all… until now. As much truth as there is in the previous statement about other commitments, the real reason I never pushed myself to complete the series was that I kept swinging backwards and forwards on the way round 5 was going to play out. The previous rounds had left things tied at 2-2 so it was essentially the decider. Could I genuinely pick one form of immersive media over the other?

Before I go further with the story behind Round 5 and the content itself, it obviously makes sense if you have checked out the previous rounds. I’ll put the links below but I will also put the winner in brackets in case you don’t have the time to go back and read them all and would rather just dig into this final head-to-head.

ROUND 1: Ease of implementation (winner = AR)

ROUND 2: Range of content (winner = VR)

ROUND 3: Financial implications (winner = AR)

ROUND 4: Student interaction and engagement (VR)

So to force my own hand and create the impetus to complete this series, I decided to get a little creative - I hosted a #CPDinVR panel discussion session with the theme of AR vs VR in Education and brought some guests on to help me weigh out the decision. Joining me on the panel were:

Amanda Fox – one of the voices of The Virtual Reality Podcast and coordinator of the amazing SteamPunksEDU.

Click here to connect with Amanda on Twitter.

Ben Kidd – co-founder of Curiscope and creator of the Virtuali-Tee

Click here to connect with Ben ion Twitter.

(NB I was also due to have Ian Phillips, chair of the ISC Digital Strategy Group, with me but unfortunately Ian had connectivity issues and was unable to join.)

After some initial discussion, we looked at AR vs VR using the same criteria I’d used for the series and I was delighted to find that Amanda and Ben chose the same victor in each of the first four rounds as I had done (NB they were not prepped in any way nor directed to the articles.) The final category was set as Depth and Quality of Learning and yes we did reach a conclusion. What you’ll find below the image is combination of the original draft for Round 5 (oh yes I did get that far about six months ago!) and ideas that were raised during the panel last night.

Ring the bell (Mike Armstrong)…

ROUND 5: Depth of Learning

For the final round we are looking at learning itself. For any form of educational technology to be relevant, learning should transformed through its usage. During the panel Amanda made an excellent point about both types of technology needing to be framed by effective pedagogy to be potent. She’s right of course but AR and VR do offer a different type of experience to students so is one ultimately more powerful than the other? For this final round, I am going to ditch the traditional format I’d been employing in the previous rounds and examine both in parallel.

I want you to imagine that a class of students are learning about Ancient Greece and in particular the importance of their gods, Traditional media would allow them to read about the gods, to explore who they were and their roles. They could look at images of statues of the gods or even watch videos explaining their role in Greek society.

Augmented reality could transform the learning opportunities in this classroom by bringing 3D models to life within the room. If they are well-designed AR experiences, they would likely include animations, audio and perhaps some embedded information. They may even allow for some simple interaction via the screen being used to access the content (eg rotate or resize the model.) This type of augmented reality is the evolution of the image, the evolution of the diagram and in many cases, the evolution of traditional video. In essence we are one step removed from that typical sci-fi vision of holographic displays. Students are able to engage with digital versions of physical content that they do not have access to. Whilst this is especially true for historical artefacts which are likely housed in museums, it could mean something as simple as a 3D shape or an animal. The BBC Civilasations app is a stellar example of this in action -

Virtual reality can do more though. In VR the student can be transported to Ancient Greece, walk its streets and view a scale model of the same artefact in situ. What I think makes this a potentially more powerful learning experience is that fact that the learning is contextualised. The student can interact with the exact same digital model but in a more authentic way – practically stepping into the shoes of a citizen of Ancient Greece. Much has been made of the power of VR as a tool for fostering empathy but empathy does not have to be the destination – it can be the vehicle towards deeper understanding of a topic. It’s a more visceral learning experience. The excellent Athenian Acropolis app from Lithodomus shows this type of experience in action:

I do want to highlight that during the panel discussion, Ben referenced the VirtualiTee as a key example of effective AR. Amanda and I were in agreement that this particular example was a little unfair as it is one of the single best augmented reality experiences available in the education spectrum and one that contextualises learning in a way that pretty much no other apps do. Amanda also highlighted examples from her own workshops where she would often see students engage with AR content just once, or for shorter time periods whilst VR experiences drew them in deeper.

Another aspect to consider here is the often over-used term “immersion”. It bears mentioning though since VR engulfs learners in the content like no other medium can. Not only does this remove potential distractions but it allows for a more personal engagement with the content.

Let me give you another example. If you wanted to learn how to fly a plane, would an augmented reality model of the cockpit, sitting on your kitchen table be as useful to you as an interactive, virtual simulation of a cockpit? Now once AR hardware advances to the point that it is truly wearable, this decision may differ. Potentially an AR headset worn in a real cockpit, that overlays instructions and guidance onto the real instruments could be an even better choice. Ben talked about how the results of this debate would differ at different points in history and I totally agree with this. Right now though, VR has the edge since it isn’t restricted to tablets and phones that you need to hold.

Ok I’m going to call it. Whilst AR and VR have both have lots to offer education, virtual reality is (in my opinion) the more powerful medium. True, right now VR is the more expensive and less convenient option but as the size and cost of the hardware drops, accessibility will skyrocket. Meanwhile AR will become wearable and as Charlie Fink often states, we will likely see a world painted with data as augmented content integrates more readily with everyday life. It’ll never transport you to another world like VR does though and as such I don’t think it will ever create the same type of response from students.

I’m sure not everyone reading this will agree with me and I wouldn’t expect you too. I hope that you appreciate the way I have attempted to approach the debate fairly though, using a range of relevant criteria. Perhaps in a couple of years we can stage a rematch and see if the tables have turned?

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Ben Kidd and Amanda Fox for joining me on the #CPDinVR panel to discuss the topic and help me fully form my final thoughts. Thanks too to the audience for joining us and I want to wrap up by mentioning that at the end of the panel, I threw the decision to the audience using the awesome poll feature inside Engage. The result? 86% chose VR as the overall winner.

#AR #VR #theory

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