Augmented and Virtual Reality – In Reality

Connections to Learning, the Workplace, and Community

By: Dr. Susan C. Aldridge, Drexel University Online, USA | Diana Andone, University of Timisoara, Romania | Marci M. Powell, Marci Powell & Associates, USA | Steve Wheeler, Plymouth Institution of Education, UK

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AVR) are bridging connections in learning to the workplace and community in ways previously unimaginable. Leaders in the field of online learning will share concrete “best-in-class” examples as they discuss the significant impact AVR is having on the digital classroom and workplace experience. The role of AVR in education and the workplace as they critically analyse its benefits and its challenges are explored below with recent examples of best practice and discuss their experiences, focusing on specific pedagogical uses of the emerging tools and techniques of Augmented and Virtual Reality.


  • New technologies and digital devices have proliferated regularly in the last 50 years, changing the way we live, work and learn. Children may still play ball games in the park, but they are more likely to play video games online. Students no longer need to travel to participate in a course or internship when they can use the alternative of virtual presence. Difficult and expensive experiments performed in laboratories can be performed easily in virtual laboratories, and within virtual worlds these are just a few examples of how the technology already has enhanced our lives.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) has been in the public imagination for a long time, first appearing in the 1960s (Ott & Freina, 2015). The technology was featured in numerous movies, from Disclosure (1995) and Avatar (2009) through to present day films such as Ready Player One (2018). Although VR has caught the public imagination, it has until recently largely been confined to large organizations and experimental contexts.
  • Augmented Reality came into existence in the 1990s but has had a much faster rate of adoption than its counterpart VR because of its low cost and independence of headsets. One of its most widely known successes has been with the game Pokémon Go. However, AR is rapidly being integrated across multiple business and educational contexts.

Figure 1. Manufacturing Application – Virtual Reality, Adobe Stock Photo

In the last 5 years, VR users have grown from less that 1 million to 150+million and the VR market made a staggering $54 billion (47 billion Euro) in 2018 from devices alone while revenue from AR mobile apps amounted to $725.4 million (633 million Euro) worldwide (Sagar 2019).

AVR solutions allow humans to explore fully immersive computer-generated worlds (VR) and computer graphics overlaid onto our immediate physical environment (AR).

Immersive and overlay environments provide a learning environment that allows students to practice in risk-free situations such as real-world training, workplace experiences, hazardous or critical practice (e.g. bomb disarming or surgery).  Partnerships between academic institutions and businesses around AVR technologies are emerging and the potential for workplace connections is tremendous.

  • Critics of VR argue that it is overly expensive (Van Kampen, 2017) and difficult to use (Hern, 2017), citing the limited success of Oculus Rift, and the high costs of versions such as the HTC Vive. However, proponents claim that there are inexpensive and user-friendly versions available for education (Tinti-Kane 2019) making the experience increasingly accessible to more students each year. Opponents caution that digital technologies such as VR can also present a variety of health hazards (Shields, 2018) but proponents offer reasons why the technology is becoming increasingly important for the future of education (Krokos, 2018).
  • Despite such challenges and criticisms, the growing discourse suggests that VR holds a great deal of promise not just as a technology for education, but for the whole of society, and it may prove to be transformative (Lanier, 2017). VR can enable clearer realisation of student-centered learning, higher quality of teaching and learning, as well as opportunities to promote innovation and creativity for teachers and students (Pantelidis, 2010).

AVR Market Predictions

The global augmented reality market was valued at $3.33 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach approximately $133.78 billion in 2021, growing at a CAGR of slightly above 85.2% between 2016 and 2021. According to a 2017 Variety article, “global virtual reality revenues will reach $7.17 billion by the end of this year, according to a new report by Greenlight Insights, which is also predicting that global VR revenues will total close to $75 billion by 2021.” (Ramella 2019

Figure 2. Growth of the AR Market Against the VR Market (Ramella 2019)

Applications in Business

Pioneers such as Spatial are leading the way with AR tools for the boardroom and office, where employees can see virtual whiteboards and pin boards, as well as collaboratively work on design documents overlaid on real-world objects.  Nvidia’s DriveAR platform, powered by machine learning, uses a dashboard-mounted display overlaying graphics on camera footage from around the car, pointing out everything from hazards to historic landmarks along the way. Car manufacturers, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Toyota, and Volvo are on board to use this technology.

Likewise, Alibaba backed start-up, WayRay, takes the route of projecting the AR data directly onto the car windshield, giving navigation prompts, right-of-way information, lane identification & hazard detection (Marr 2019).

Numerous industries are taking advantage of AVR technologies including healthcare manufacturing, retail, real estate, space exploration, tourism, construction, and more.  AVR applications offer a sea of opportunities for internal training to partnerships with universities for career-preparedness. Learners can test skills, interact with peers and experts, and record their work, all within an AVR environment.

Walmart, for example, is using 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to train its employees in skills ranging from compliance to customer service. In particular, training in the use of new technology is a focus for the retailer, with staff learning to use the new Pickup Tower automated vending units in virtual environments before they were deployed to stores. (Marr 2019)

At AR in Action, held at the MIT Media Lab in January 2019, Google spoke about how AVR wearables can help organizations capture and preserve best practices and develop contextual training experiences as workers migrate from job to job so quickly, in today’s career-changing environment.

Applications in Education

AVR empowers any number of safely immersive virtual learning environments that feel and respond much as they would in real life, as students engage and explore, interact with and manipulate objects within these worlds.  Imagine teleporting students to re-enact historic battles; explore outer space; or travel the inner workings of the human body.  What’s more, using sophisticated controls, they can actually “practice” complex procedures like cardiac surgery, or master difficult concepts, such as the molecular properties of brain cells.

Likewise, VR gives new meaning to the term “field trip,” by enabling students to virtually experience first-hand some of the world’s great museums, natural wonders and notable landmarks. You can also embed 360-degree objects within the virtual classroom to support course content (Virtually Inspired, 2018, A few concrete examples include:

  • Drexel University (USA) – A virtual reality repository, VRtifiacts+ has over 500,000 360-degree panoramas, simulations and VR, 3D learning objects that can be incorporated into a course, used to live-stream events, guest lectures and campus tours, or host virtual community spaces (Virtually Inspired 2019).
  • Warsaw University of Technology (Poland)– Students in Warsaw use VR to design dream houses.
  • Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic (USA) – Medical, dental and nursing students are reinventing the future of medical education by allowing students to “cut” into a virtual, 3D human body in order to better understand the intricacies of and connections among all of its system with holography, a form of AVR (Virtually Inspired, 2016).
  • Politehnica University of Timisoara (Romania) – Through a partnership with Bentley University (USA), the TalkTech Project,( ) is where students across the globe learn about using different technology as to communicate, work, and jointly develop multimedia artifacts, including augmented and virtual reality artifacts (Frydenberg, 2017; Andone & Frydenberg, 2019).

Intersection of Workplace and Learning

These are just a few examples of the relatively fast pace at which the workplace is adopting AVR technologies. The real marker of excellence is where the workplace and learning intersect, in particular,

A group called VR First, has a global initiative to democratize virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) hardware and software for academic institutions.  With a goal to make VR labs extremely affordable for academic institutions, VR First has created a community of 581 academic networks, business partners, and 3700 developers worldwide conducting “hackathons” to create VR solutions around the globe.  They’ve opened approximately 50 VR/AR labs at colleges and universities across Europe, Asia, the United State, and Oceania, in an effort to meet future workforce demands (Ravipati 2017). Some leading examples of output shared by VR First in 2018: What a Year! include:

  • The University of Hamburg is developing a digital games joint project “EXGAVINE: Motion Play in Virtual Reality as a Therapy for Neurological Diseases”
  • Oklahoma State University’s Mixed Reality Lab, is creating an AR-based mobile app that functions as a mapping device for individuals with physical disabilities or mild memory loss.
  • Students can create “VR for Social Good”projects in a course offered by the University of Florida
  • Tallinn Universityof Technology organized the Tallinn Winter School SMART SYSTEMS OF TOMORROW, with the goal of deepening the integration between ICT, electronics and mechatronics and raising the interdisciplinarity of respective fields into new level through practical activity.
  • University College Cork is piloting a study which indicates that Virtual Reality (VR) could be successful in making men aware of the risk of testicular cancer.

The first Auggie Breakthrough Awards was held in 2018 to honour collaboration between university and industry. Over 100 projects from 39 countries and diverse backgrounds and nationalities submitted projects in healthcare, education, entertainment, manufacturing, data analytics, etc with 20 finalists from 12 countries. Among the nominees were projects from world renowned universities and companies such as Imperial College London, TU Munich, The University of Tokyo, BMW, Daimler Mercedez, UNESCO, Audi, NASA JPL, Deutsche Bahn, Red Bull, Dell, IBM, UC BerkeleyUSCStanford UniversityMIT Media Lab, and Harvard University.

Technology Advancement

AVR technologies are rapidly evolving toward higher quality visuals and enhancement with artificial intelligence which allows computers to understand what they are “seeing” through cameras. As VR puts people inside of virtual environments, more voice control stemming from AI natural language processing will increase immersion by reducing the reliance on icons and menus.  We can expect machine learning algorithms that enable these features to become increasing sophisticated and capable. (Marr 2019)

In 2016, it was said that VR could become mainstream instructional technology quite quickly if and when the technology becomes more accessible to users (Sinclair 2016). With today’s advancements, we are quickly approaching the tipping point.

In the last year, stand-alone headsets now incorporate powerful, dedicated computer technology. (Marr 2019) In 2018, HTC released a wireless headset with a higher resolution screen and improved sensors. New features include eyeball-tracking, wearables, and hands-free.  The Kopin’s Golden-I Infinity smart googles and Bose’s Frames, new AR audio sunglasses, offer heads up and hands-free experiences (Tinti-Kane 2019).

  • Magic Leap One, an AR headset that comes with a “Lightpack” processor which clips to your pocket and a hand control, was finally released to the delight of many. We’ve all seen (or shared) the “whale in a gymnasium” video to demonstrate the possibilities. Well, it is finally here now. Magic Leap One is fully optimized for environment recognition, persistent digital content and the performance to power high-fidelity visual experiences” (Tinti-Kane 2019).
  • Facebook’s purchase of Oculus in 2016 has led to the creation of VR Spaces platform, which allows users to meet and socialize in VR (Marr 2019).
  • Amazon lists over 200 different VR headsets available to buy, many of them being created by start-ups promising new features and functionality that could be game changers (Marr 2019).

The technology costs of some AVR headsets, equipment and software can be costly, however, competition is driving the market.  While virtual reality requires special headsets or glasses that can be quite expensive, such as Magic Leap One or HoloLens, the selection is growing at price points that are highly affordable – under $30 for headsets and as low as $4 for decent glasses. What’s more, there are now a wealth of user-friendly, cost-effective and easily downloadable VR apps to help enhance the learning experience across many devices, without the expense and hassle of developing objects and environments from scratch. (Virtually Inspired 2018)

In a Virtually Inspired blog, “What’s So Great about VR? Virtually Everything!” the following examples are rated among the “best” in three popular areas of study:

  • Human Anatomy: From basic biology to medical school classrooms, instructors struggle to teach the complexities of the human body. But thanks to AVR, there are an increasing number of exciting digital options. For instance, the Anatomyou appenables advanced students to take a non-invasive tour through the body to learn more about its various systems, while InMind facilitates a gamified journey through the human brain and The Body VR traverses the bloodstream.
  • History and The Arts: By harnessing the power of AVR, history and arts instructors now have a wealth of options for conducting virtual field trips and hosting authentic experiences in every possible location from world-renowned museums to remote regions. For example, EON Reality’s King Tut VR is an audio-narrated, 360-degree tour of the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh King Tutankhamun, which provides a unique opportunity to examine the intricate artifacts of the New Kingdom period in Egyptian history.
  • Science: VR also serves as a real boon for teaching science at every level and within any discipline. Take Molecule VR, for example, a proven tool for learning complex concepts in biology and medicinal chemistry, while Titans of Space hosts is a guided and breathtakingly realistic tour of the solar system without ever leaving planet earth. Moreover, Look Ahead takes environmental science students on a 360-degree tour of San Francisco “underwater,” to seethe potential impact of climate change and sea level rise on some of city’s iconic locations.

As educational theorist John Dewey established long ago, effective learning is experiential (Dewey 1938). AVR offers the ultimate in experiential learning through augmented and virtual reality connecting learning, the workplace and the community.


Susan C. Aldridge, Drexel University, USA.

Susan serves as president of Drexel University Online, a division of Drexel University, where she is responsible for comprehensive services to online students in over 150 online programs, while also pursuing innovative approaches to technology-enhanced teaching, learning and student success. Drexel University is a top-100 premier, private non-profit university in Philadelphia. A highly accomplished and widely recognized higher education leader and strategist, both in the US and abroad, Susan has held executive leadership positions in some of the largest universities in the U.S. She was commissioned by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to write a book, Wired for Success.  Drexel received the 2018 Impact Award in the Education Futurist category from Campus Technology.

Diana Andone, University of Timisoara, Romania; EDEN Vice President.

Diana is the Director of the eLearning Center at the Politehnica University of Timisoara in Romania. Diana has recently become the EDEN Vice president for Communication and Communities. Diana is also associate professor at the Politehnica University of Timisoara, Romania, in the area of multimedia and web technologies. She is passionate about the ubiquitous access to technologies and how they can be used to improve people’s lives. In the past five years, she and her team have performed research and development for integrating AR and VR into education, cultural, tourism, and creative industries.

Marci Powell, Marci Powell and Associates, USA; EDEN Fellow.

Marci is Chair Emerita and Past President of the U.S. Distance Learning Association (USDLA), EDEN’s partner association in America.  She helped EDEN launch the inaugural European Distance Learning Week (EDLW).  Marci is an educator specializing in educational technology. Marci has given countless keynote presentations across six continents. She currently serves on the ICDE Election Board.  Along with Susan Aldridge, Marci is chief researcher and co-project director for Virtually Inspired, an open source website of best in class innovations in technology for online and digital learning.  Marci consults with universities, education associations, and EdTech developers globally.

Steve Wheeler, Plymouth Institute of Education, UK; EDEN Senior Fellow.

For 20 years Steve was Associate Professor in Learning Technologies at Plymouth University and is now a visiting research fellow within the Plymouth Institute of Education. He has given keynote presentations in more than 35 countries and is the author of The Digital Classroom (2008), Learning with ‘E’s (2015) and Digital Learning in Organisations (2019). His research interests include digital pedagogy, new and emerging learning technologies, and cybercultures.


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