If youve watched television in the past year, youve likely seen the commercial of a tourist couple holding up their Smartphone on a crowded street. In that moment, they see the street animated on their screen and receive tweets from people in the area with a recommendation for a good restaurant. Voil. Interactivity meets reality; social networking meets real-time visibility.

As learning professionals, you ask yourself, Can this work in the e-learning world? Specifically, m-learning? Can an app for the Smartphone superimpose learning in a location or locations? Is it possible to create a 3D environment in a real environment with people interacting? The answer is a resounding Yes. The solution is called augmented reality, and it is happening as we speak.

What is augmented reality?

While augmented reality (AR) has been around for years, new apps for Smartphones, such as the iPhone and Android, have been gaining traction. Yet, it seems that few people actually know what AR is or understand its capabilities. Simply speaking, AR superimposes graphics, audio, and other sense enhancements onto real-time environments. It can incorporate tags, animation, and interactivity. Specifically, AR uses GPS and requires a camera and faster graphics chip to complete most actions, all of which are already included in all new Smartphones and tablets, such as the iPad. But beware, AR apps can take a toll on battery usage--but doesnt any cool app?

Some real-world examples

  • At a mall in the United Kingdom, the National Geographic Channel provided an experience in which people could pet a leopard, see a spaceman, and have a storm with lighting as they were standing.
  • An app called Magic Mirror available for tablets and Smartphones, enables people to see themselves with a new hair style, clothing, glasses, and so forth.
  • One app presents in real-time the Berlin Wall prior to its take-down, including sentry posts. The viewer simply stands where the wall once stood and places the tablet/Smartphone at the location.

Mobile learning options

While there are vendors who tout mobile LMSs and courses that can be seen on Smartphones, most learners are not actually too keen on taking a course on one. Currently, mobile learning applications for the Smartphone are typically limited to the capability to view documents or PDFs, follow step-by-step instructions for specific processes, or take a quiz. All of which are text-based. But now that learners are using engaging apps in their personal lives, they expect more interactivity and excitement from m-learning options.

For example, with development of m-learning augmented reality apps, learning developers could create the following solutions:

  • 3D learning environments with the learners as real life avatars seeing the world in their POV (Point of View)
  • 3D learning environments depicting physical instruments and products they use on the job with information overlays, so that an end user can look at an object product and learn everything about it right on their screen
  • educational games in which end users are actually part of the game with more vivid animation and audio
  • information displayed on real-life images that are generated via social learning tools using tags, graphics, animation, audio, and IM or Tweets (some form of a microblog) to communicate with fellow employees.

Bottom line

Augmented reality can take any situation, location, environment, experience to a new level of edutainment. People want to be informed, engaged, immediate, proactive, social, and entertained. If you doubt that premise, all you need to do is view the consumer marketplace.

  • The release of the iPad/iPad2 and more than 80 other tablets in the space.
  • New developments in e-readers to include apps, games, Internet access, and audio/video images.
  • Gaming systems, such as X-Box, Playstation 3, and Wii, all offer real-time communication with other players around the world, and the ability to work. learn or play in conjunction with someone you never met.
  • New cars even have built in GPS with information overlays, some cars have net connectivity.

If you are ready to embrace augmented reality with your mobile learning experience, then lets connect. Ill be at the Hollywood sign, seeing it as it was 50 years ago and communicating to others within a radius of 75 miles. I will be learning on the go, in an engaging and interactive way. Best of all, I will be a part of it and not just reading about it. I like that. What about you?