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Blog Post

E-learning is booming now, but AR & VR are not, why?

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2020
Updated: Friday, April 24, 2020

  

As the COVID 19 pandemic took the world by surprise, learning & development programs across all industries were immensely disrupted. Over one billion learners across schools, higher education, and businesses were abruptly forced to stay at home. Suddenly, online learning became the mandatory norm, and all organizations had no choice but to adapt. Those who already had embraced e-learning expanded on their provided services, organizations which were not familiar with e-learning now are rapidly researching how to integrate it into their work.

For many, it seemed like the perfect time for all organizations to immediately use augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR) in learning. After all, such technologies are extremely effective in creating a positive impact on business and societies, due to how well it can be used for visualization, immersion, and storytelling.  Surprisingly,  AR and  VR are still not the mainstream in learning... 

Global shipments of the AR and VR devices are estimated to fall by 11% in Q1 and 24% in Q2 from a year earlier, and people did not rush to buy AR and VR headsets. Businesses and schools employed more traditional, albeit still innovative e-learning tools, in conducting their educational programs.  

 How can we make sense of this? How come in this era of extraordinary demand on distance learning, the growth of AR and VR in learning use did not rise to the anticipated expectations?  Below, we reflect on the reasons and lessons

 

  • Technology should support learning, not dictate it

This is probably the biggest offender for why we are all not rushing to buy those headsets. Same with any other technology, a good instructor would never use it in their classroom just because it “looks cool”, unless there is a true added value of strapping a bulky and expensive headset to teach certain topics, best to stick with other tools which provide better engagement and knowledge retention.
 

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  • Cost vs value

The cost of developing AR and VR applications has indeed been dropping steadily, however, in most industries, the financial cost and the time investment required to develop learning experiences in AR and VR are still high when compared with other e-learning methods. Certainly, there are exceptions (e.g. flight simulations, etc.), but for traditional everyday businesses and schools, the cost of developing such experiences, and having all learners getting the required hardware is unrealistic to consider at the moment.
 

  • Digital literacy:

We can all relate to situations where we struggled with webinars, meetings over skype or zoom, online courses, as we try to get all participants to join in and participate. Keeping in mind that these are, arguably quite easy to navigate. It is not difficult to imagine the technical nightmare when trying to set-up equipment, remotely, for AR and VR with participants who might not be tech-savvy in the level required by such technologies now.   
 

  • Prototyping issues:

 In a design thinking process, doing prototyping is integral. This involves producing an early, low-cost, and scaled-down solution, to reveal potential problems. When implementing any new e-learning solutions in a new organization, this gets further complicated with AR and VR solutions.  Granted, there is a great demand for e-learning, however, the need for it is now. The time involved in prototyping AR and VR is still too long for the needs of many businesses and education providers.
 

 Considering all the above. Does that mean we should say goodbye to AR and VR? Unlikely, those technologies are here to stay and are rapidly improving and made more available, the demand is certain to increase as the global market for both combined is anticipated to reach USD 767.67 billion in 2025. However, even then, it seems AR and VR use in Education would not be as prevalent as in other sectors, (11.6$ billion in video games, 5.1$ billion in healthcare, compared with 0.7$ billion for Education - Goldman Sachs Global Investment research).

 

 To conclude, while admittingly it is challenging to determine with ease where technology might take us within the next few years, one of the lessons from COVID 19 was that as organizations and businesses scrambled into crisis mode in their need to innovate and change their learning programs, the practical was favored over the flashy. AR and VR are certainly ground-breaking technologies, however, until the nuances of its inner workings are figured out, learners and educators will opt for more suitable solutions.  

About the Author

Experience in Learning & Development, and supporting Capacity Building in various sectors, with a focus on the MENA region. A Certified Project Management Professional (PMP), A Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a Doctoral Degree from the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

 

4 Comments
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AR can and is done with a mobile phone - anyone play Pokemon Go? People have set up virtual city tours via GPS. I think AR has potential too.
Hi Rebeca, that is a good point, AR would certainly be an easier transition in e-learning, compared with VR. Using AR is more accessible than VR for the users/learners. Still, in terms of the development of the software, using more conventional e-learning solutions for most businesses is, at the moment, the more appealing option, simply due to cost and development time
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I would like to see Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality separated in the conversation. I think they are each two different technologies. I can design and develop Augmented Reality solution that will work on a mid tier smartphone or tablet. I think the Hololense/Magic Leap is too expensive for where it is technology wise. I think Apple is working on something similar but know the price is more expensive than a Macbook Pro. I have a HTC VIVE pro setup, and that was 5K just for the hardware.
Hi Lawrence,
Thank you for sharing your experience. I agree, AR and VR are used interchangeably but there is a world of difference between them when it comes to equipment required, development, and cost challenges. AR is much more in the mainstream now and used by more people than VR. It is already being used more in learning but there is still more to be seen in the next few years.
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