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Augmented Reality and the Future of Learning & Work

A few weeks ago I was doing a social media training and a couple of participants started talking to me about "augmented reality" and how it was going to change learning and work. I'd never heard of the concept and actually had a hard time picturing what they meant, so I tucked it away as something to explore further when I had more time. Now, via this article from Jeremiah Owyang, I see why they were so excited.

What Is Augmented Reality?

The best definition I could find for augmented reality is that it's  "a combination of the real scene viewed by the user and a virtual scene generated by the computer that augments the scene with additional information." This video is a great example. 

In it you can see a phone being held up to view a street. Through the augmented reality program in the phone, real estate data appears next to each house, including the price of the house, its address, etc. If the house is for sale, then a link to call the real estate agent also appears. You can click on it to initiate the call.

This video is even more interesting from a business/networking perspective.

The presenter is able to create a public profile that connects him to whatever social networks he wants, including Twitter, Slideshare, Facebook, YouTube, etc. As he presents, attendees can view him (and other participants) through their phones and see each person's profiles and connections. In this example, you could also rate the presentation via your phone.

Implications of Augmented Reality for Learning & Work

Although still in extreme infancy, you can see where there are some really interesting possibilities here with big implications for learning and work.

First, as if we needed another reminder of this, memorizing facts, data, etc. will become even LESS important in a world of augmented reality. We can already look up just about anything we want. With augmented reality, the data that we need would be integrated into the physical environment where we needed it with no need for searches. 

Consider this example of how augmented reality could be used in manufacturing. The worker would wear a special headset that would do the following:

  • Directs the worker to a pile of parts and tells her which part to pick up. This is currently done by displaying textual instructions and playing a sound file containing verbal instructions.
  • Confirms that she has the correct piece. This is done by having her scan a barcode on the component.
  • Directs her to install the component. A 3D virtual image of the component indicates where to install the component and verbal instructions played from a sound file explain how to install it.
  • Verifies that the component is installed by asking her to scan the component with the tracked barcode scanner  This checks both the identity and position of the part.

No doubt as systems grew more sophisticated, they would include access to troubleshooting information, etc. that would virtually eliminate the need for the kinds of procedural training that currently goes on in many companies.

I suspect these developments would accelerate the trend toward commoditization of work and, therefore, the capacity to send it to places where labor is the cheapest. It will also impact our notions of "knowledge work" and, I think, create even more "blue collar" knowledge jobs

Because of the impact on skill requirements in jobs, this will necessarily impact training, both the types of training we do and how we deliver it. We've already been moving in the direction of performance support systems and this adds a new layer that could take us in some entirely new directions.

Augmented reality has a long way to go before it becomes a major force in the workplace, but I don't think it's too early to start thinking about how it will impact what we do and how we do it.

What are your thoughts? How do you see augmented reality impacting the learning business? How do you see it being applied to work?


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Check out this video that Lars Hyland posted of Augmented Reality in action at BMW:

Just discovered this blog and absolutely love it!

Here's another amazing product demoed at a TED conference that I think will bring about a more "augmented reality" as you call it. The product is called the "Sixth Sense".

Cammy and Andrew--thanks for the links--amazing! And thanks for the compliment, too, Andrew. :-)

I'd actually seen the Sixth Sense video but had forgotten about it when I was writing this post. What possibilities, though!

One thing I have mixed feelings about is how this is going to change the nature of work and who does it. We pay for expertise and as more and more expertise can be provided by computers with a human merely performing the actions, what is this going to mean for us as a society, particularly in terms of wages? Not sure where this is headed, but think it could also have negative repercussions for a lot of people.

Yes, robots.

Yeah, that's what I'm thinking . . . The next thing you know, we find out we're really living in The Matrix.

One problem I see is the same problem I have when I go online to search for a book. In a book store, I can walk the stacks pull out what might catch my fancy, etc... It often takes me to areas I never thought I would go.

However, augmented reality will provide the user with information in a way the program feels is important which shapes what is available what isn't.

For example, when my husband and I were looking for a house, we went through a broker. The broker would send us to houses HE thought might be best for us. But we found our house through a friend who happened to mention the house we eventually bought was up for sale. She had no information on it except it was up for sale and where it was located. We would never have seen the house because our broker would have thought it under our price range.

The same happens when I search on google. I'll know that there are certain resources out there, but I can't just journey through, I need to make sure I have the correct key words and the correct order to find what I want. I sometimes prefer just going to library and walking through the stacks, leafing through books, and finding gems and pieces of information I never knew were out there. Augmented reality might force users to miss some of those small gems because the program parameters don't allow the stroll.

Good point, Virginia--augmented reality could definitely get in the way of serendipity. It will probably also support homophily, as we've discussed before. It will be interesting to see how we balance these things--or maybe we won't.

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