How Augmented Reality in Education Could End Traditional Teaching

This article highlights the benefits of augmented reality in education and explores how AR may improve learning outcomes for students of all ages.

By overlapping the real world with an interactive digital layer, augmented reality has the power to free education from conventional, constrained models, in which a teacher, lecturer, or trainer delivers knowledge while students act as recipients only. AR changes the model to one in which teachers become facilitators and guides, accompanying students on shared journeys of interactive discovery. Students of any age absorb knowledge at a deeper level when they learn through interactive, multisensory experiences, instead of simply listening to somebody or reading textbooks. The beauty of augmented reality in education is that it can bring experiential learning into the classroom, for example, by transforming textbooks into 3D representations of learning topics, while also extending those experiences into the world outside the classroom. 

AR changes the model to one in which teachers become facilitators and guides, accompanying students on shared journeys of interactive discovery.

Augmented Reality in Education: The Benefits

Later in this article, we will share a few examples of AR apps that are driving this transformation, but first, it might be a good idea to highlight the wider benefits of augmented reality in education because enhancing the learning experience is only a part of the picture. 

Cost Efficiency

Augmented reality development can reduce the cost of education in a few ways. First, it can lower the costs associated with textbooks, by replacing them with apps or by reducing the amount of printed content they need to contain. For example, a textbook requiring 200 pages for use in a conventional manner might need half the number when each serves as a marker for an AR app, which then delivers highlights (or even the bulk) of the textbook’s subject matter as interactive 3D overlays. Better still, it is less expensive to update the software content of an AR app than to have textbooks updated and reprinted periodically. 

Inexpensive Implementation

Another cost benefit comes from the simplicity of hardware requirements for augmented reality in education. Unlike virtual reality, AR rarely requires anything more than a smartphone or tablet, either of which can be inexpensive for educational organizations and institutions to purchase. Not to mention that many students have their own devices. A recent survey by Pew Research Center, for example, revealed that 95% of teenagers claim they own or have access to a smartphone. Today’s almost ubiquitous possession of smartphones facilitates flexibility in the choice of AR software deployment models. Institutions or educational bodies might choose to purchase hardware for student use, or pursue BYOD policies and authorize students to download educational software onto their own devices. 

Unlimited Educational Application

There is a reason this article hasn’t yet mentioned education in any specific context. It’s because although AR is especially popular for teaching in K-12 and special needs environs, it can be applied successfully to any scenario in which children, teens, or adults have learning objectives to meet. 

What Tools Are Educators Using?

In the classroom or in the field, AR offers unlimited potential to make education exciting, engaging, and fun for student and teacher alike. The technology enhances learning in all of the following situations and scenarios:

  • Pre-school, elementary, and high school curricula
  • College and university programs
  • Specialized education for children or adults with hearing disabilities
  • Medical schools and healthcare training programs
  • Professional and technical training
  • Self-learning courses and e-learning solutions


AR technology can motivate students by bringing dry subjects to life. Whether it is an animal rising from the page of an elementary-school textbook or flash card, or a 3D wiring diagram unfolding from a technical manual, students can see objects in their learning environment more realistically, explore and manipulate them, and solve problems or examine case studies interactively. The interactivity afforded by AR helps people learn by doing, an experiential approach that is more conducive to knowledge retention than the use of eyes, ears, and memory alone. Knowledge not only is absorbed more readily through interactive experiences but also is more easily converted to understanding, which in turn accelerates the learning process and objective attainment. 

Motivational Impact

Motivation to learn comes from the unpredictability of AR applications. Unlike textbooks, which a student can easily flick through, know what’s coming up, and become bored with, augmented reality can make each lesson into its own journey of discovery, different for every student.

In short, a student never knows what each new AR-based lesson will bring. That adds mystery and excitement to the learning process, motivating the student to progress and unlock new experiences. Then there is the motivational aspect of the technology itself. Research by McGraw-Hill Education has found that 53% of U.S. college students prefer classes that make use of digital technology.

AR reduces the cost of education, brings dry subjects to life, and adds mystery and excitement to the learning process.
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Reshaping Educational Environments with Augmented Reality

One benefit not mentioned above, because it warrants a deeper focus from the perspective of where it comes into play, is the flexibility of educational AR. After all, it is, in the main, a mobile technology, meaning students can take it and use it, anywhere. That’s why we are devoting the next few paragraphs to exploring how AR can be used in different educational environments—or even how it can transform any environment into one that contributes to students’ education. 

AR in the Classroom

There are currently two primary options for educational organizations to make use of augmented reality inside the classroom. The first is to purchase or develop printed learning material, such as textbooks or flashcards with integrated AR markers. Students then use smartphones or tablets to scan the marked pages or cards and trigger the digital overlay, which can also be accompanied by auditory content played through the smartphone speakers or headsets. The second, more flexible approach is to use applications enabling the creation of custom markers, which can link rich AR learning experiences to any object in the classroom, be that a page or cover of a textbook, posters on the walls, models, or even students’ desktops. 

Bringing the Outside In

As an example, imagine a marker on an elementary student’s school desk, linked to the app that enables realistic cultivation of a virtual plant. As the child nurtures the plant using knowledge learned in science lessons, they will see it growing day by day on the desktop through their smartphone or tablet display. If the plant starts to wilt, the student must figure out the right action to revive it. 

Realistic Cultivation of a Virtual Plant

When compared with studying photosynthesis and other plant science elements via conventional textbook education, the AR virtual plant offers a far more immersive learning experience. The student has numerous ways to interact and use her learning to meet a fun but educational objective—to nurture her own plant successfully and see it flourish over the course of a semester. Before the advent of augmented reality in education, the only way for students to learn in this way had been through access to a real garden, which in many schools may not be a realistic option. AR in the classroom can literally bring innumerable elements from the outside world into the hands of students, broadening the scope for interactive, project-based learning. 

Augmented Reality in Education at Home

Because AR is a mobile technology, it obliterates educational boundaries and apart from bringing the outside world into the classroom it also works the other way around. Any student (adult or child) who owns a smartphone or tablet, will have the device close to her most of the time, so augmented reality is perfect for encouraging the completion of exercises for online training and education programs for adults, or for school homework in the case of young students. Examples of augmented reality development for home-based education include interactive worksheets, which display quizzes, videos, maps, charts, 3D objects, audio presentations, and other media when seen through a student’s phone or tablet. Textbooks can also serve as anchors for multimedia home-study lessons that enable students to learn by doing. 

Education in the Field with Augmented Reality

With the implementation of AR technology, educators can take the classroom beyond the physical facility, beyond the home environment, and beyond any physical boundaries, keeping learning experiences continually at the fingertips of students wherever they are. While this will be a great way to enhance school field trips to museums, sites of interest, galleries, and the great outdoors, it can also benefit professional training, such as teaching engineers to work with certain machines or pieces of equipment for the first time. 

AR App Used to Train Engineers

AR applications can superimpose tutorials and other educational media over anything that can be viewed via smartphone camera. Again, the technology enables trainees to learn experientially, eliminating the need to recall learning from training sessions, easing the cognitive load, and improving productivity by delivering knowledge at the point of need. The productivity advantage is evidenced by a 2017 Harvard Business Review article, which describes how the use of an instructional AR wiring overlay for wind-turbine technicians improved GE employees' performance in wiring control boxes by 34%, compared with performing the task using the company’s conventional, non-AR process—and that was on the first attempt. 

With the implementation of AR technology, educators can take the classroom beyond the physical facility, beyond the home environment, and beyond any physical boundaries.

Real-World Examples of AR in Education

Up to this point in our article, you have been reading about the idea of augmented reality in education and how it might benefit students, teachers, and the organizations or institutions to which they belong. Yet while all the most exciting possibilities for AR might lie in the future, some are already being realized in real-world educational settings—so let’s take a brief look at some examples of AR products and solutions in use with educators right now. Aug That: The producers of the Aug That range of AR English, Math, and STEM courses really did their homework before developing their product. They based their efforts on research results indicating that augmented reality can help students improve test scores, regardless of whether their preferred learning style is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. Currently, there are few pre-built courses using augmented reality as a foundation (as opposed to being just a feature), and Aug That is one of the best known and most celebrated of them. In addition to core education, Aug That also designs AR courses that expressly aid teachers educating students with special needs. Anatomy 4D: Amazingly, given its apparent value, Anatomy 4D from DAQRI was a free AR app aimed at college, university, and medical students. Even more amazingly, given the attention that the app received from college and university lecturers, Anatomy 4D became unavailable earlier this year. However, such was the praise heaped upon it after launch, it’s worthy of inclusion here as an AR education app that is used in the real world, even if its days are numbered. Anatomy 4D was available from Google Play and App Store. By 2015, it had reached 250,000 downloads. For those users who still have the app, it provides incredibly detailed 3D working models of the human body and biological systems. In order to get started with Anatomy 4D, the user only needs to print a target from the integral library, lay the target on a flat surface, open the app in his or her mobile device, and point the device at the target. If the target is the heart, for example, a 3D heart will come to life and begin beating in front of the viewer’s eyes. The app allows users to study all the organs in detail, switch various biological systems on and off, and explore the relationships between those systems. Math Alive: For educators of the youngest children, Math Alive from Alive Studios will completely change the way they introduce pre-school and elementary students to basic math problems. Sold as fully comprehensive kits, Math Alive does not invoke the contentious issue of children using smartphones, as it runs on a laptop with a camera through which the students view special cards to see the AR effects. 

Augmented Education is a Disruptive Reality

Diverse Potential of VR & AR Applications

According to a report by AR analytics and consulting firm Digi-Capital, mobile augmented reality could attain a user-base of one billion by 2021. Given the growing popularity of augmented reality in education, a good proportion of that user base could well comprise students, teachers, instructors, and other stakeholders in the education sector. The tipping point could come with the arrival of wearable hardware to enable hands-free use of AR, making the technology—and the experience—more streamlined and seamless. Whatever the near future may hold though, augmented reality apps are on the verge of disrupting the world of education, perhaps changing the role of teachers radically from that which they have performed since time immemorial. It’s truly amazing what can transpire from a craze involving cute creatures and smartphone-toting monster hunters. In fact, it might even be said in the near future that what began as a change in gaming grew to become the big game-changer in 21st-century education.

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