7 things you should know about
1 What is it?
The goal of augmented reality is to add information and meaning
to a real object or place. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality
does not create a simulation of reality. Instead, it takes a real
object or space as the foundation and incorporates technologies
that add contextual data to deepen a person’s understanding of
the subject. For example, by superimposing imaging data from
an MRI onto a patient’s body, augmented reality can help a sur-
geon pinpoint a tumor that is to be removed. In this case, the
technology used might include headgear worn by the surgeon
combined with a computer interface that maps data to the per-
son lying on the operating table. In other cases, augmented reali-
ty might add audio commentary, location data, historical context,
or other forms of content that can make a user’s experience of a
thing or a place more meaningful.
3 How does it work?
A range of technologies can be used for augmented reality. Many
augmented reality projects use headgear or a similar device that
projects data into the user’s ﬁeld of vision, corresponding with
a real object or space the user is observing. In the case of a
technical course on PC maintenance, for example, augmented
reality might overlay a schematic diagram onto the inside of a
computer, allowing students to identify the various components
and access technical speciﬁcations about them. PDAs or other
portable devices can use GPS data to provide users with con-
text—including visual, audio, or text-based data—about real
objects or places. Augmented reality is not merely a companion
text or multimedia ﬁle but a technology designed to “see” a real
object or place and provide the user with appropriate informa-
tion at the right time. Augmented reality is designed to blur the
line between the reality the user is experiencing and the content
provided by technology.
5 What are the downsides?
Many augmented reality projects rely on speciﬁc or custom-
ized hardware, and the mechanisms that correlate data added
by technology with the real world are often technically complex.
Despite falling costs for hardware overall, augmented reality proj-
ects can be expensive to develop and maintain.
Today’s augmented reality projects typically focus on individual
users and may not lend themselves to team activities or group
learning. In addition, augmented reality projects may resemble
entertainment, raising questions about their pedagogical value.
Educators must be careful to ensure that activities have educa-
tional merit and that students do not become infatuated with the
7 What are the implications
for teaching and learning?
Augmented reality is one way to bring experiential and location-
based learning to students by supplementing existing worlds
rather than creating new ones. Augmented reality installations
can be built to take advantage of existing or low-cost infrastruc-
ture. The use of nearly ubiquitous devices such as cell phones
may permit rapid experimentation and evolution of augmented
By combining technology familiar to students with locations that
students see as their own, augmented reality has the potential
to move learning out of the classrooms and into the spaces
where students live. Encouraging informal learning that is easily
accessible may prove particularly effective in engaging students,
extending learning to spaces that might help them form connec-
tions with content, the locations that provide the context for it,
and the peers that they share it with.
2 Who’s doing it?
Augmented reality has been put to use in a number of ﬁelds,
including medical imaging, where doctors can access data
about patients; aviation, where tools show pilots important data
about the landscape they are viewing; training, in which technol-
ogy provides students or technicians with necessary data about
speciﬁc objects they are working with; and in museums, where
artifacts can be tagged with information such as the artifact’s
historical context or where it was discovered.
Within the academy, educators are beginning to provide students
with deeper, more meaningful experiences by linking educational
content with speciﬁc places and objects. In many disciplines,
ﬁeld trips are part of the course; by supplementing these explo-
rations with mobile technologies and data-collection devices
(including digital cameras), the lessons can be extended beyond
the ﬁeld trip. In some cases, augmented reality technologies have
been integrated into educational games. In MIT’s Environmental
Detectives, for example, students learn about environmental sci-
ences and ecosystems by ﬁnding clues and solving a mystery on
the MIT campus using PDAs ﬁtted with GPS devices.
4 Why is it signiﬁcant?
Because every object or place has a history and a context, mak-
ing that content available to individuals interacting with those
places or things provides a richer experience. To the extent that
instructors can furnish students with a broad context for under-
standing the real world, students are more likely to comprehend
what they are learning and to remember it later. Information can
also come from students themselves. Students in an archeology
class might use an augmented reality system to capture their
thoughts or impressions when working with artifacts. That con-
tent can then be made available to others during subsequent
lab sessions, allowing them to have a deeper understanding of
the subject matter and a richer learning experience. Augmented
reality might also make higher education and specialized content
more accessible to the general public, transporting lessons from
the campus to the community.
6Where is it going?
Computing devices, especially wireless ones, are becoming
more powerful and increasingly widespread. At the same time,
costs for these devices are falling. As computing hardware—both
wired and wireless—approaches ubiquity, new opportunities
emerge to use technology to enrich individuals’ experiences of
objects and places. Because all areas of academic inquiry ben-
eﬁt from background and context, augmented reality has the
possibility of enhancing education across the curriculum. By
exposing students to an experiential, explorative, and authentic
model of learning early in their higher education careers, aug-
mented reality has the potential to help shift modes of learning
from students’ simply being recipients of content to their taking
an active role in gathering and processing information, thereby