Blended learning is evolving. There are more ingredients than ever to add into the mix. Technology is integrated into our everyday lives so we’re doing the same when it comes to learning.
Blended learning models – where we used to be
Imagine you’re reading this blog 10 years ago. This is how we’d describe blended learning:
Facilitated classroom discussions, role–plays, games, eLearning modules, videos and learner– focused individual study combined to create a proactive and strategic approach to learning.
That’s all well and good, but it got better. So much better. Let’s look at where we are now.
Where blended learning is
We’re all a bunch of digital natives these days. We’re leveraging technology, integrating it into our toolkit of instructional practices and transforming blended learning. There are gadgets and gizmos aplenty. You want podcasts, blogs, social networking, Google docs and Hangouts, and live-streamed presentations from out-of-town experts? You got it.
If you think technology is good now, look out; it’s going to be epic in a few years. Emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are sneaking up fast and set to make a real impact. We will be digital citizens aligning technology with instruction and learning to enrich and extend the experience.
What is AR? You probably already know. Have you ever played Pokémon Go? No, us neither, but we know a whole heap of people who did (and still do). Pokémon Go is a perfect example of what AR is and does. It’s an interactive experience that you play on your smartphone that is based in the real world with ‘augmented‘ computer-generated information – the Pokémons that you have to catch are here, seamlessly interwoven with the physical world. The game overlays sensory information, adding to the natural environment. Alternatively, a game might mask things within the natural environment.
“AR is the dialogue between the media and the context in which it is used…”¹
So how can we use AR in blended learning?
AR is best used on a mobile device. Learning becomes ‘mobile’ in all senses of the word. It puts learners in a real environment with artificial enhancements. They aren’t constrained to a desktop computer.
Location, location, location becomes less important – learners can learn anywhere. And if they do need to be at a certain place at a certain time, visits to sites provide excellent opportunities for AR to be incorporated. AR can be used to bring textbooks to life – 2D drawings become 3D and can be examined as if the materials were really there. Learners can be in their workplaces while instructions and information are mapped onto walls or holographic messages are embedded in real time. The learning experience is enhanced and reinforced with active problem solving and critical thinking.
With AR, learning becomes dynamic, formal and informal, relevant, and convenient. It’s endlessly creative, interactive, enriching, personalised and fun!
AR is happening right now. It’s easy to access, cost effective, and learners are not passive consumers but active creators of their environment. Winning.
AR doesn’t just augment reality, it augments learners.
“Future’s made of Virtual Reality” Jamiroquai, 1996
Virtual Reality has come a long way since The Lawnmower Man (dreadful early ‘90s sci-fi; don’t bother watching) and is becoming ever more popular with gamers and non-gamers alike. Headsets, hand controllers and sensors place you in an interactive computer-generated experience that can be similar to the real world or completely fantastical. You are in an artificial world that you can explore, move around in and interact with.
How can we use it in blended learning?
VR immerses learners in a simulated and controlled environment. They are learning in context, engaging multiple senses, participating fully in a realistic setting, and safely getting up-close-and-personal to ‘hazardous’ materials. Learners are problem solving and getting instant feedback, failure is safe and multiple attempts do not risk life and limb. It’s on-the-job training taken to the next level. Fear, excitement and curiosity are first experienced in a harmless setting, better preparing people for the real world.
The potential is huge.
UPS is already using VR to train its truck drivers and a school in Ireland is able to visit Irish historical sites without leaving the classroom (heaven forbid anyone gets lost on a school trip these days). And, unsurprisingly, NASA uses it to train astronauts.
VR is still somewhat on the expensive side but it’s no longer a novelty item for the rich.
We’re living in the future!
Change is good
The conventional model of plain old face-to-face learning isn’t cutting it; non-interactive delivery isn’t as effective, doesn’t get as many results and doesn’t meet organisational goals. AR and VR are creative, agile and adaptable training solutions.
Change is vital. Changing training to use technology and integrating it into new models of blended learning, well, that’s vital too.
¹ Augmented Reality and Mobile Learning: The State of the Art Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
Inspire Group’s guest writer Kate Spencer writes her perspective on how blended learning is changing.