Augmented reality, or AR, is a powerful tool that can help your team achieve learning goals in a meaningful and hands-on way. But within the L&D field, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what exactly AR can do and how it can be implemented. In this post, I’ll share the essential information you need to know about augmented reality and outline the steps I recommend undertaking in order to launch an AR program at your organization.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality allows you to overlay virtual information on top of the real world. This creates an opportunity for people to connect with content in a different way. There are three components you need to make AR work: (1) an application that drives the AR experience, (2) the trigger that launches it, and (3) finally the actual content.

Most people talk about augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) together, but they are not the same thing. VR is a more immersive, computer-simulated reality. The VR headset blocks out all the visuals of the real world and immerses the person in the virtual world. In an L&D setting, VR might be used to help an employee practice doing repairs on a 3D model of a machine, for example.

AR, on the other hand, allows you to overlay information in the real world. In the case of learning how to do repairs, an employee might point a device at the machine and overlay it with video or other information. AR would provide them with additional information to interact with the machine in the real world, but they wouldn’t be doing repairs in a virtual environment.

People often think of emerging technology as expensive and complicated, but AR has a much lower cost of entry than VR, and many of us are already using it without realizing it. This is largely because the consumer market is leading the way with AR technology. For example, I was recently using the Amazon app to shop, and I noticed some text that read, “See how this fits in your room.” When I clicked on it, it turned into a camera and it had the object I was thinking about buying. You could point it around and see how the item would look in different spaces around your house. This example illustrates how AR is being seamlessly assimilated into existing technology today.

How can AR be used in a learning setting?

AR works well in a learning setting because it is just-in-time training that people can access when they’re on the job and ready to perform a task. It works especially well for performance support—in other words, training that’s specific to the nature of the job that an employee performs.

There are several well-known companies that have already successfully implemented AR learning programs: Honeywell, Cisco, and ThyssenKrupp. To train new plant personnel, Honeywell collaborated with Microsoft on a new solution: The Honeywell Connected Plant Skills Insight Immersive Competency. Cisco built an AR experience to let technicians see how to install components in an AR overlay on top of a physical device, increasing installation efficiency by 30% and first-time accuracy by 90%. ThyssenKrupp has deployed Microsoft Hololens, a wearable AR headset, to train and support their 24,000 service engineers. Without being on site, service technicians will be able to visualize and identify problems with elevators, and have remote, hands-free access to technical and expert information when onsite.

6 steps to launching an AR program

1. Find a solid business use case for AR

One great resource to begin with is the “Manager’s Guide to Augmented Reality” from Harvard Business Review. This is a collection of articles about why managers should embrace augmented reality and includes an augmented reality experience. I always tell folks who are thinking about piloting AR to read this collection of articles and share it with whoever is going to be your evangelist and help fund the AR experience. The Honeywell and Microsoft examples I mentioned above are useful to make the case for AR as well.

Rather than the L&D department deciding to implement AR, it’s much better if a business partner proposes to use AR to solve a particular business challenge. It’s much stronger to find a solid business case as a reason to use AR. It’s also important to match the AR use case with your business’ core values to make sure people understand how the new technology is going to impact the business in a specific way, whether it reduces the amount of time people spend on customer service or increases safety on the job.

2. Consider launching with a pilot program

As with any emerging technology, be sure to consider piloting AR first. Conducting a pilot allows you to identify all the challenges and areas for improvement before involving a large percentage of your workforce. Once you’ve done the initial research and found a good use case, find a business manager who has a specific need. This person is key to the success of your AR program because they’ll provide insight into what worked and what didn’t, and they can also be the evangelist for your program later on.

3. Define your learning goals

Once you’ve identified a challenge that you can solve with an AR experience, you still need to figure out what your learning goals are going to be. Are you trying to enhance something that you do face-to-face, or is your goal related to performance support? This is another case where having a business stakeholder involved can help, because they’ll have a specific need they’re trying to address with AR.

4. Loop in your IT team

It’s very important to engage your IT department and make sure they’re on board with what you’re doing, because there may be security or data integrity policies in place at your organization you’ll need to work around in order to experiment with AR technology. Your IT team is going to want to know whether the application is secure and what kind of data you’ll be collecting. This is especially true in enterprise organizations, but in most companies you’re going to have to work closely with your IT counterparts to make sure that whatever you’re proposing will be acceptable and something that they will approve for use. It helps to share very concrete examples of ways you’ll use AR so they understand exactly how this program will impact their team and workload.

5. AR tools to get started

Some of the AR software technologies I recommend using for workplace learning include LiveTour, Zapworks, Layar, HR Aurasma/Reveal, and Zappar. Layar lets L&D pros easily create your own interactive AR world. I personally like the Zapworks software the best. You can create some basic AR experiences at low cost. You can download Zapworks from the App store and then use it to develop and publish your own content. This could be stickers you put on machines or you can create an interactive scavenger hunt experience at your office with barcodes for people to scan on their phones to make the AR experience come to life. You can also add a button in the app to see how many people are using it. There are built-in analytics on Zapworks like how many “zaps” were done, average time, and devices people used, which you can download into an Excel spreadsheet. For a proof of concept and to get started, Zapworks is a really low-cost way to build your first AR experience.

6. Measure your results and iterate

Treat this project like any other project in the learning department. You need to do design work and think about how you’re going to track outcomes for your program. At a minimum you want to track how many times the application was opened so you can report on usability and engagement. If possible, you’ll also want to watch users as they access the AR experience. If they struggle to get it to work or to view the resulting action, then you’ll need to make adjustments. Document things carefully as you go along and make note of whether you’re going to do something differently, if the tool wasn’t right, and anything else you need to consider as you scale AR at your organization.

Preparing your teams for the future

The demands of the workforce are changing rapidly as new technology emerges. It’s essential to consider how you can offer training when and where your employees need it most. In many cases, AR will allow you to take a nimble and innovative approach to training employees, giving them relevant information in real time. Perhaps it’s time to consider what AR might look like at your organization?

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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