AR and Education, and some Implications for Digital Marketers #80 #cong15

By Alex Meehan.

Augmented Reality is now firmly on the agenda for anyone interested in the digital world. Together with Virtual Reality, there is excitement at the opportunities the technologies offer in a whole variety of spheres – something that is reflected in this year’s Congregation. The purpose of this paper is to look at the technology from a personal perspective – that of an educator in the tourism discipine – and hopefully allow readers to draw wider parallels in the digital world.

Certainly AR has in recent years been a tool that has garnered increased attention at Education Technology conferences. Particularly in the US we can find examples of where it has achieved a degree of acceptance among educator innovators. DAQRI - a major player in the AR space in industrial contexts -  have also a keen interest in its application to education. In recent years they recruited the team at Two Guys and some Ipads – and the authors have had the chance to meet and discuss issues with Drew Minnock who is constantly in demand to speak at education conferences, particularly education technology shows. One of the most common access points for students to AR technology is in AR flash cards: these are being more widely used for primary and secondary school going children and the development by companies such as DAQRI or Octagon with their 4D Anatomy and Animals 4D apps for example.

But to date, there has been limited evidence of use of AR being integrated into the curriculum and pedagogy in post-primary or third level curricula – and it’s to this latter group which is the focus of discussion in this paper, with specific reference to the curricula in tourism courses. In the paper the authors address three issues.

  1. What are the curriculum and pedagogical issues facing educators in general? 
  2. What possibilities are there for AR in tourism curricula?
  3. How to get started?

What are the curriculum and pedagogical issues facing educators in general?

A good starting point before examining any technology’s application in an education context should be what does it seek to achieve – if we are to be true to the mantra that technology should be an enabler, then first principles demand we look at what we are trying to achieve. Here, it is important to make a distinction between curriculum and pedagogy. Very often the two are conflated, but there is a difference between the two. Curriculum is all about what we teach. Pedagogy is about how we teach it. Both are very important and, in this paper,  we try to address both dimensions.

A good starting point is to understand the holistic view of what we are trying to achieve as educators in the university context. In 2011, the Higher Education Authority in Ireland commissioned a major review of the third level sector, assessing among other things the process of curriculum development and pedagogical formats (Hunt 2011). Citing the OECD AHELO (2010)  project on higher education learning outcomes, the report outlined current international thinking on the key generic skills that all students need to acquire as part of their undergraduate education. These include analytic reasoning, critical thinking, the ability to generate fresh ideas, and the practical application of theory. The project organisers also suggest that ease in written communication, leadership ability, and the ability to work in a group should also be included in the list.  It is against this context that Augmented Reality as a technological aid should be assessed.  An admittedly brief trawl of the literature yields few examples of empirical testing of AR in an undergraduate context. One area where there has been a degree of adoption to date is the medical field, where AR offers great opportunity to allow 3D models to replace heretofore expensive real models of anatomy. In one study of medical students they were taught the basic functioning and anatomy of the heart, using either an AR model or a fiberglass model (Patzer, B., Smith D., & Keebler J. 2014 ). Learning and technology acceptance were measured. Results indicated that the AR learning tool was as effective for participant learning when compared to the conventional fiberglass model learning tool. Furthermore, the AR learning tool was rated more enjoyable, curiosity inducing, and easier-to-use than the fiberglass model. 

What possibilities are there for tourism curricula?

This short speaking slot does not allow a full discussion of AR for each of the desired learning outcomes on undergraduate programmes, but we can perhaps glean an insight from a few examples.

Consider the ability to create fresh ideas. Can there be any more creative tool than AR in this respect – to be able to merge the physical with the digital world offers endless possibilities – especially when students are given the tools to allow this. 

In terms of where AR sits on an undergraduate curriculum, an obvious starting point would be the IT / ICT curriculum, but it is not clear that even here the diffusion of AR knowledge is  happening at the pace it needs to.  As research capability in AR increases, we are seeing the development of courses in AR but these currently sit almost exclusively on computer studies type courses, and are dedicated to those who will pursue a career in software development. Certainly there is a massive shortage globally of graduates in computer visioning specialisms, and addressing this is a top priority. 

But what about the curriculum in undergraduate tourism courses? Typically students on these courses get exposure to tools such as business simulation tools, presentation and analytics software and travel software systems; the authors would argue that given the transformative nature of AR, they should be aware both on a theoretical and practical level of the range of AR technologies, and sister VR technologies, as they impact on the tourism sector. In this context I note that IFITT have been progressive in funding this conference and building awareness of the topic – it has certainly been a growing topic on the academic paper roster in recent years – and I would like to acknowledge the key role that Dr. Timothy Jung and his team at Creative Augmented Realities Hub have played in this. But of course if AR is to fully play its role in the curriculum, it’s essential that it not get siloed as a tech subject or module. 

AR’s potential as a pedagogical tool is one that offers very exciting prospects in tourism education. Take the typical tourism studies course which often has tourism geography as a building block. AR can be used to allow students to be more immersed in the task of understanding key knowledge sets. Using simple tracker based AR, maps can be brought to life for students – no longer do they have to rote learn the location of key mountain ranges – now they can discover them in an immersive, 3D way. The use of apps such as Augment allow this type of lower level learning to be done in a way that aids retention.

But as students progress through their course the emphasis on higher order learning typically increases. And here AR offers great potential. Indeed,  AR is a technology that can help students to effectively create their own curriculum. Take a typical assessment connected with a field-trip – students are often given a discovery type sheet to complete a series of questions based on their navigation of the field trip location. How much more involving it would be for them to create their own trail – one that can be access subsequently by other groups, their friends, or the general public. Apps such as iTagged are excellent at offering this type of collective social sharing dimension – indeed this aspect is one that can connect the learning experience with the students’ own lives. It can even be used on a marketing curriculum as a practical challenge for them to promote their own tours on social, digital and traditional channels.

Again, taking the ability to work in a group as a key generic skill, the authors  think AR offers huge possibilities. WYSIWYG Augmented Reality tools such as Aurasma Studio are easy to use, allow collaborative cloud-based working. Students could be set the task of taking an existing heritage attraction and creating their own AR layers of information for it – alternative languages, demographic user groups, navigation points, and historic information can all be required of student groups. A local art gallery might be selected in addition to building generic skills of creativity, story-telling, languages, leadership and project management skills are ones that would certainly be facilitated. And as a by-product the students would certainly have developed more competencies in digital creation, including graphic design and video skill-sets.

How to get started? 

The final part of this paper discusses how educators can operationalise AR in the classroom. A starting point is to have the right resources. Typically for AR to be integrated into the classroom there is a need for devices – at present this means tablets in practice. The costs of these are reducing hugely and the issue of whether the institution or the student pays looms large. In the absence of ubiquitous use of tablets by students, it seems to the authors that institutions will have to put these devices in their budget line – or of course we may see some of the larger ICT companies get involved in sponsorship type activity.  In relation to the software side, as mentioned earlier there has been huge progress in the past couple of years in terms of easy to create AR tools. Among the companies that have a particular focus on educational AR apps with ease of use, or freemium models are Aurasma, DAQRI and AugmentedClass  - the latter is a Spanish company with whom  the authors have been working on a project for the Natural History Museum in Dublin. The collaborative, cloud-based, nature of these tools is particularly attractive in helping build the crucial soft skills of teamwork and project management. The final resource needed is of course educator’s commitment – this is a more general challenge in connecting with today’s digital natives. In this context, there is a need for us to explore the development of more ‘train the trainer’ type initiatives.

And the wider implications for digital media and marketing?

Much of that which we know about how people process information is essentially borrowed from the world of psychology and learning. For marketers looking to enhance their audiences with their brands, a really good starting point is to understand how a technology such as Augmented Reality can be integrated with brand experience - indeed in some instances has the potential to be the brand experience. All the evidence points to the a deeper and more meaningful engagement with brands where the user is immersed in the learning process – especially where they are engaged the process of creation or co-creation with brands. To conclude, we need more research to assess the impact of AR on learning outcomes; the technology is set to become a key enabler in the armoury of the tourism educator offering positive impacts at both curriculum design and pedagogy levels.


Hunt C., (2012), ‘Report of the Steering Group of the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030’ available from: [Accessed November 19 2015].

OECD AHELO project ( 2010) ‘Learning Our Lesson – Review of Quality Teaching in Higher Education’, available from: [Accessed November 19 2015].

Patzer, B., Smith D., and Keebler J. (2014) ‘Novelty and Retention for Two Augmented Reality Learning Systems’, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, September, Vol. 58 no. 1 1164-1168.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie