How augmented reality can enhance mobile corporate training

We analyze how augmented reality on mobile devices can assist in training and review the features that can be used as a part of an HRM corporate training solution.

This summer, those who hadn’t yet understood the concept of augmented reality got a chance to put their finger on it, literally. Thanks to Niantic’s focus on general audience, everyone with an Android or iOS device (and tech-savvy Windows Phone owners, too) could understand and feel AR capabilities. And blow their mind they did.

The idea of enhancing the real world experience with superimposed images on a mobile screen isn’t revolutionary. Yet, until recently AR has been mostly relying on extra gadgets that appeared to be too costly to catch on. Semico’s predictions for AR revenue to account for $600 billion by 2016 were steamrolled, and with a more realistic forecast of $100 billion by 2020, augmented reality has started a gradual shift to mobile. Both the high performance of mobile technologies and their wide accessibility create a solid foundation for success of mobile AR.

Some positive changes are already evident. Mostly furthered by the gaming industry in the past, AR is now welcomed by many other business domains that notice its advantages for their needs. Human resources managers belong to them too, with a reasonable forethought of using AR in learning and training.

The aim of this article is to review how augmented reality has been applied in learning and corporate training so far, as well as describe possible features of an AR mLearning app.

Augmenting ‘static’ learning

According to Ronald Azuma, Head of the User Experience Research department at Intel Labs, training was originally one of AR’s main prospective applications. He says that educators can “make instructions easier to understand by displaying them directly over the real-world objects that require manipulation.” Augmentation adds a layer of instructions right on a real situation and replaces traditional media that can often be ambiguous and need further explanation.

To learn whether AR guidance was actually more effective than more ‘static’ sources, Iowa State University initiated a study. Two groups of students were asked to put together a mock airplane wing: one group used a manual on a desktop computer, another one used an AR app on a tablet. The results showed that the second group had 90% fewer mistakes in the interpretation of directions. Moreover, the second group needed 35% less time to finish the assembly.

AR mLearning in action

Businesses have already started to take advantage of AR and use it to teach their customers perform maintenance, whatever the task their product involves. In order to help their users easily change ink cartridges, HP Support launched a mobile app that captures a specific printer model with a camera and shows the necessary steps on the display. Volkswagen introduced a similar app that recognizes the internal components of an auto and shows what should be done to fix it.

A layer of information added onto a projected image on the screen can facilitate practical training of the level of complexity while ensuring success. A healthcare augmented reality app can use visual pointers and navigational lines to supervise trainees and make sure every procedure is performed correctly. CEO of Pristine EyeSight mentioned at a recent event that even experienced physicians and nurses can benefit from such an app, while Brainlab already made it real. Their mobile AR app DASH, used in combination with specific equipment, helps professionals perform quick and precise orthopedic surgeries.

How AR transforms mLearning

The functional scope of AR can be vast. Yet, what works for one industry will not necessarily work for another, so the choice and planning of the features should be strictly individual. This section gives recommendations on how AR can be implemented in an enterprise mobile training app and describes where any particular functionality can be of the best use.

Interactive manuals

Complex systems have complex illustrations in electronic manuals. When the number of footnotes exceeds a dozen, there’s hardly any space left for additional information, aside from the name of the part. Unlike static pictures, augmented captions can be more informative and concise at the same time.

As soon as any mechanism is captured by a mobile device’s camera lens, a mobile AR app can recognize all its details. A user then will be able to select any of the parts, and the app will instantly respond with either a pop-up text window, or recorded media (audio, video, 3D model) attached to it. Hence, a single snapshot can contain an immense amount of information in the AR app, and will offer rich help for employees.

Real-life practice supervisors

Any sort of directions that are written or said out loud can be difficult to understand and interpret. As Iowa State University study has proved, they even lead to mistakes, and when real people’s lives are at stake, mistakes can be grave. Still it’s obvious that to become skilled professionals in engineering, healthcare or any other realm, every young specialist needs practice.

With augmented reality, employees can gain practice without endangering their clients. Nurses can use it to capture a patient’s wound and see the exact position a bandage should be put on right on the screen. Service technicians and engineers can point a mobile device at a mechanism they are working with to quickly learn the properties of each specific part; repair guidance will also be given on the display with pointers and flash graphics. While giving clear visual directions, AR apps will ensure everything is done correctly.

Problem-solving simulators

Skills of a proper attitude in case of issues, emergencies and problematic situations are often considered to be impossible to get ready for and are believed to develop naturally, with time. However, every challenge an unexperienced employee wasn’t ready for diminishes their confidence and can even negatively influence business.

An AR mobile app can contain ‘quests’ where employee trainees will meet virtual personas and deal with the problems that won’t affect real business. For instance, when a trade marketing specialist visits a specific retail shop, their mobile device shows a window with a text from a virtual persona, placed in this location with the help of GPS. The text can be from a retail shop director (not from a real one, of course), who claims that the product supply numbers don’t match those in the contract.

After stating the problem, the mobile app gives further directions to solve it. For example, it asks an employee to go to the back of the shop, where it reacts to the geolocation once again and shows virtual state of supply. The quest can be as complex and long as it’s necessary for a new employee to get prepared for any real life challenge in the future.

Endnote

As Gartner analysts pointed out, AR technologies pave the way to enterprises to “increase productivity and decrease safety risk.” Augmenting reality with a mobile app can be much more than a game and, when used in training, can change the way people follow instruction and gain theoretical knowledge, as well as help them address new challenges and become experienced professionals quicker.

This article originally appeared on ScienceSoft Blog and has been republished with permission.