Bring augmented reality to life in your organization.
In a typical retail store, teeming with customers and employees alike, the amount of time any one employee has to complete a training course, likely a SCORM package buried in a learning management system, is 20 minutes per week. Imagine trying to develop people with a budget of 17.3 hours per year. It is impossible, and yet it's what learning professionals in most retail settings are asked to do every day.
Recall a time when you built a great training program, your learners' assessment scores were stellar, smile surveys were a box-office success, and managers across the organization said it was the best training they had ever experienced. Despite those wonderful results, however, perhaps you heard from peers and partners that the same challenges were cropping up again. The results you and others worked so hard to create evaporated as if it had all been a dream, turning into a return on investment nightmare.
Every training professional—regardless of knowledge, skills, abilities, or experience—is competing with YouTube, Google, and every smartphone for learners' attention. For years, people from every demographic have come to expect answers, in seconds, on their mobile device. For that reason, the time for augmented reality is now—and not a moment later.
AR can take shape in many ways; however, in simple terms, it overlays images, text, video, talking avatars, or 3D-rendered visualizations over a user's real environment. Unlike virtual reality, which is 100 percent virtual content within a simulated space, AR combines digital content with the real world. That is what makes it so valuable—whether you're crafting self-paced learning or instructor-led courses or a blended approach in any fashion, AR is how you can bridge the gap between training and learning.
Consider a case related to cellphone tower maintenance technicians, those most people rely on to connect to loved ones. Technicians dispatched to urban or remote locations for service and repair means arriving at a range of different cell tower types, and some are completely unique. AR can give a new or tenured technician the exact content they need to maintain each specific tower without wading through an outdated course in some completed LMS transcript. Instead, they can launch a range of content, from 3D models to videos describing a correct set of steps to complete.
AR content strategy components
AR is an awesome technology with a lot of buzz, yet to make the most of this powerful information solution, you must consider several factors. Four pillars can support your talent development team's AR content strategy and go a long way to ensuring some "cool new idea" doesn't end up making you look ill-prepared: audience and environment, technology landscape, design capacity, and sustainment life cycle. Each pillar can help you validate an AR business case and strengthen the AR value proposition.
Audience and environment. The key here is to understand your audience and combine that understanding with their environment. For example, if your learners are working in a quiet location, the use of video content, voice-over, and other auditory expressions can be powerful. However, if learners are in a noisy factory or busy store or manage interruptions in a shared working environment, how you design AR content will need to show strong awareness of the workplace where you want learning to take place.
Technology landscape. To maximize AR's value, mobile device usage is required. If you believe wage and hour limitations may prevent the use of mobile devices or bring-your-own-device hardware, address that head-on within your organization. The other factor related to the technology landscape is whether existing mobile devices can be optimized with new applications or whether you will need finances to deploy new hardware at scale. Tackling this pillar must happen long before any conversations about the future take place with leadership.
Design capacity. Do you have the people needed to create, manage, sustain, and bring to life strong AR campaigns? No need to get worried at this point, because there are many platforms that make AR design and publishing nearly as easy to complete as using an Articulate 365 product. The key difference is that AR is alive, meaning you can't launch it and consider yourself done. Instead, unlike a training that learners complete, AR is much more like a marketing effort that must remain fresh and accurate—alive.
Planning for such sustained engagement means an instructional designer will need latitude to curate and manage AR content they have launched. Alternatively, you could hire a vendor or create a hybrid model between a vendor and a lead instructional designer to ensure learners surface the right content whenever they launch the AR content.
Sustainment life cycle. This includes programmatic requirements that business lines often define. In collaboration with marketing, branding, vendors, manufacturers, and related business events such as product launches, AR requires a robust schedule-tracking solution—and ideally a dedicated program or project manager.
Planning for sustainment—including decommissioning or replacing content behind the same image, marker, or icon—will ensure your audience receives the correct information at the correct time. That is what builds trust by keeping a simple promise to help people do well on the job.
An example of the importance of sustainment comes from an operations task, inventory receiving. In such a situation, a worker who doesn't know how to receive inventory in a timely manner can cause the inventory to be auto-received, which means it is accepted without being audited. The impact of received unaudited material can be costly. With AR available to provide clear steps and guidance, a new or tenured team member can complete the task correctly every time as long as there's a well-managed AR sustainment life cycle.
Once you've worked through the tactical requirements for launching AR in your organization, it's time to consider where it can have the most value for your audience. It's not ideal to flood a space with "Scan Me" stickers, no matter how tempting. AR has a strong value proposition in several areas, such as product details, process guides, promotional offerings, and technical specifications.
Take, for example, a large corporate headquarters that often has different conference rooms and varied equipment. With AR, employees and guests alike could gain the knowledge they need to use equipment correctly in a specific room by using an AR app. From that point forward, users could follow a path to the correct conference room or see steps on how to set up presentation equipment correctly the first time, even if they have never been in that room before. Support calls would decrease, and more meetings would start on time.
In another case, a new hire could correctly navigate between training facilities, breakrooms, restrooms, and large parking structures on day one—creating a strong employee welcome and a sense of calm that could be the reason for a truly good first impression at a new company.
AR is more flexible than traditional content because it lives outside of an LMS, making the content relevant and timely. Additionally, because AR is much faster to launch, its value is more rapidly evident.
But as with all technology, consider the risks.
When you think about crafting amazing AR experiences, bandwidth isn't just the Wi-Fi signal in the location where AR may take place. It's also the available memory on the devices used to launch the AR content. To avoid a frustrating experience that could altogether damage AR's perceived value, it's wise to build and test various mock-ups to ensure learners can launch content. AR for learning has three build levels designed to manage the potential bandwidth risk.
Level 1: Flat AR. Launch content that could be a set of instructions, pages to flip through, short GIFs, talking avatars, or brief video clips. This would take the place of printed job aids; it's ideal for simple directions and repeated action steps likely related to objects or items in fixed locations.
Level 2: Semi-immersive. Launch 360 video with way-finding using the accelerometer within a mobile device to enable learners to explore without a headset. This is ideal for providing context to different areas within a larger workspace, from a factory floor to a campus comprised of many different departments.
Level 3: Immersive. Launch spatially aware 3D content with digital information overlays that change how the real world appears. Well-suited to manufacturing, medicine, and engineering, this level of design takes more time. However, the engagement level is high and can bring more creativity and exploration to the learning journey. Seeing a 3D rendering of a new device, shiny new equipment, or a new building before it is complete has a serious wow factor.
There isn't one way to bring AR into learning; however, forgetting to test and plan for bandwidth demands is a risk you shouldn't take, especially for larger, more complex AR designs. In addition, missing the mark on these items will produce a subpar learner experience that can damage AR's perceived value at the organizational level:
- Poor advance marketing—if your audience isn't expecting AR, don't expect them to look for it.
- Weak design standards—icons or images used to launch AR can't look better than what a user will see.
- Missing technical device specifications—test on a range of devices to ensure the majority of users can access AR.
- Oversimplification of the design process—think through all navigation, and test it like a game, not web-based training.
- No dedicated AR team to represent the program, design, and analytics—if no one owns AR, it won't survive.
If you aren't studying the engagement numbers related to one or more AR campaigns, you're creating a huge blind spot. Whether you're using an LMS, learning experience platform, learning record store, or a combination of some sort, the AR vendor or platform must support analytics that include volume, regional location, and the number of unique and aggregate scans.
If you include Experience API in the design standard, you can get more granular data. However, that will require a learning record store to unpack the content most efficiently. For years, L&D professionals have needed to show stronger training ROI. The only problem is that learners forget training content sooner than we'd like to admit. AR, and the study of user engagement, is a gateway to dynamic and compelling ROI evidence linked to actual usage. Failure to study postlaunch engagement can wreck the AR business case, which is a risk no one needs to take.
These are major risks to any active AR campaign and can lead to missed opportunities:
- Inconsistent content—if users experience unplanned differences for the same content, that puts trust at risk.
- Delayed content updates—AR will remain popular when content is current and correct.
- Lack of AR campaign ownership—fielding questions and supporting users requires a dedicated team.
- Poor visibility to selected audiences—one email isn't a plan; AR visibility requires planned communication.
- Failure to gather analytics about each campaign—no follow-up means repeating avoidable mistakes.
The promise of AR does not rely on the technology—it relies on the people using it. AR is about keeping our promise as learning professionals to support and develop each employee so they can thrive. To build a library of AR campaigns that will truly matter to learners, ask your audience what tasks are complicated, confusing, or rarely completed.
We must actively dismantle our assumptions about what our learners need and, based on what we've learned from sincere inquiry, use AR to deliver content that is the right information, at the right time, from any device in our learners' hands. The result will bring learning into the flow of work.