When we imagine futuristic technologies, the first things to come to mind are often flying cars and holodecks: grand, entertaining uses of grand, entertaining ideas. We’re less inclined to think about how new technologies can influence our daily lives, particularly in a realm as commonplace as job training. In 2017, we (somewhat disappointingly) do not have flying cars or holodecks, but we do have a futuristic way to conduct job training: augmented reality (AR).

What is Augmented Reality?

Not to be confused with virtual reality (VR), AR is a bleeding-edge medium that facilitates the overlay of digital information onto the physical world. In contrast with VR, which is a purely digital, hermetically-sealed experience in a headset that acts as an enclosure, AR usually leverages a transparent lens that adds layers of supplemental information onto the real world. Consequently, we can say that VR views the physical world as a distraction, whereas AR views the physical world as an asset.

AR is nice in concept, but is there proof that it works?

The Evidence for Augmented Reality

At the 2016 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality, Meta (an AR company) and Accenture Labs released a study that explored using AR instructions for procedural tasks. A random sampling of men and women from the ages of 16 to 65 were tasked with completing a simple Lego™ lighthouse set. One group received traditional paper instructions, one group received a static 3D AR representation of the instructions and a third group received a dynamic 3D AR representation of the instructions that modeled the motions of assembly. The study found significant advantages in AR over traditional instructions for three main reasons:

  • The 3D representation reduced the need for translation. That is, users did not need to match the 2D drawing with the 3D blocks in their hands.
  • Users could co-locate AR instructions with the tasks. That is, they could directly overlay the instructions over the Legos, essentially eliminating the users’ need to split their attention between the tasks and the instructions.
  • The AR instructions could be delivered concurrently with the tasks. That is, no time elapsed between instruction and performance, optimizing efficiency.

After collecting the objective time-to-completion of each task step, the researchers found that static 3D was slower than paper instructions, while paper instructions were slower than dynamic 3D instructions. It’s certainly surprising that that static 3D came in last place, but this finding underlines the importance of using dynamic motion cues to truly capture the advantages of AR.

The Implications

Besides improved velocity, there are a number of advantages to using AR for job training. The benefit of consolidated attention also applies to memory. Rather than having to remember what they learned during training, users can directly reference that information in real time. This decreases the procedural demand on memory, lightening the cognitive burden of the task, and allows AR users to dedicate more attention to completing the task with a higher degree of accuracy and quality.

In game-based learning theory, the journey from learning to application is called transfer and is often the highest hurdle for designers to clear when they’re creating a game-based learning experience. It’s the truest measure of game-based learning ROI. With AR, transfer is inherent to information delivery, providing a near-guarantee that participants will achieve the learning outcome.

This should be music to the ears of workforce development professionals everywhere. Investment in workforce training is existential to every business, so job training leaders, take note! Pay close attention to augmented reality as you map out the horizons of your organization’s job training strategy. The future might be closer than you think.