Getting InSync » Latest Articles
Feb 16, 2017 Phylise Banner

Exploring Augmented and Virtual Reality EdTech Tools and Apps

Access InSync's complete 2017 “50  Modern Blended Learning Blogs" series here.  Subscribe for daily updates.

Virtual Reality Augemented Reality EdTech Last week, we looked at assessment and evaluation EdTech tools and apps. This week, we continue our series by diving deeper into augmented and virtual reality tools and apps. 

These tools and apps enable us to create immersive learning experiences for our learners. Simulations have been around for a long time, but newer tools and apps enable us to engage our learners in immersive experiences on a much lower budget. What was once a highly segmented toolset is now available for us to explore and integrate into our toolboxes!

The Difference between Augmented and Virtual Reality

Although both are immersive, situated learning environments, it’s important to distinguish between augmented and virtual reality.

Augmented reality layers interactive computer-generated information on top of our existing reality. For example, I can open up an augmented reality app on my iPhone on a city street and catch a few Pokemon – yes, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality app.

Virtual reality is a computer-simulated replication or simulation of a space or situation. Virtual reality in learning allows learners to feel like they are actually experiencing the environment, through audio and video input (sometimes even more sensory input, like smell!). An example of virtual reality is being able to access the controls and drive a car within that virtual space.

Many of the virtual reality (and some augmented reality) tools and applications involve using a mobile device, wearing some type of headset, or even handling some type of hand-held remote. It’s important to bring this up here, as these units are becoming more and more readily available, at a much lower cost.

Google Cardboard really paved the way for this to happen, by creating a simple piece of technology (essentially a cardboard viewing device) that can be used in both augmented and virtual environments. If you’re just starting to explore these immersive spaces, I highly recommend getting yourself a Cardboard headset and taking it for a ride! All you need is your mobile phone, and there are hundreds of apps that you can download for free.

I highly recommend the Within VR app to get started and comfortable immersing yourself in virtual world stories and learning.

Augmented Reality: Features to Look For

Here are a few features that I look for in augmented reality tools and apps:

  • Valuable data: There needs to be a reason to layer data, and the better augmented reality apps use layered data to enhance the knowledge you can get from immersing in a situation, or offer you ways to interact.

  • Ease of use: If I can’t figure out how to use the app, or why to use the app in under 10 minutes, it’s a waste of my time. I once downloaded a beer distributor app while in Ireland. I held up my phone and instantly saw which pubs served that beer. Fantastic!

  • Extra features: Some of these augmented reality games (like Pokemon GO), build competition into the space, which can engage a group of learners. I like to explore these features to help inform the augmented learning app that I’m going to build some day!

Think about how we layer information all the time. We may have a new product that needs to be demonstrated in the field and we create job aids, documentation, and on-site training to go along with it. Imagine if we could create an app that users could hold up to this product and learn while they are viewing, along with built-in help and other resources. Yes, this augmented reality app is most likely being developed as we speak, and could change the way we design and develop learning going forward.

In other words, if you haven’t been keeping an eye on augmented reality, it might be time to immerse yourself in an app or two. I recommend Star Walk and Hidden Sky – two astronomy apps for mobile devices. By pointing your phone at the sky, you can see stars, satellites, etc. And, get a very good idea of what augmented reality is all about.

Virtual Reality: Features to Look For

Be careful when you start playing in virtual reality spaces – they can be dizzying. I showcase a lot of virtual reality technology in my workshops, and I’m always on hand to steady the lucky volunteer who gets to suit up and step into another world!

Here a few more features that I look for in virtual reality tools and apps:

  • Built in instructions. Yes, you can dive right in to most of these apps, but it’s always helpful if they have some sort of instruction or simple task that they get you to do so that you learn how to navigate within the situated space. My favorite app that does this is InMind VR – an app that puts you inside the human brain and has you “zap” away evil neurons.

  • Audio capability. The visuals inside some of these apps are stunning, but the experience is much more immersive when there’s audio. Hearing the surroundings is so much more immersive.

  • Learning material. After a few minutes in a virtual environment, I get bored. I need to have a reason to be there, and since my focus is teaching and learning, I want the app to teach me something. When you are first exploring these tools and apps, it is nice to just be situated in a new environment. After that, where do you go? Keep an eye on features that encourage you to explore and learn more.


The tools and apps in this category are changing at a rapid pace, so be mindful about where you are spending money. Dip your toes in the water with lower cost headsets, and try out everything you can on your mobile device before investing in any big system.

Developing virtual worlds is no easy task, so if you are thinking about integrating augmented or virtual reality components into your blend, try to choose something that exists already. Development costs are high, (in alignment with high-end simulations), so be sure to build that into your budget if you’re developing from scratch!

What You Might Want to Learn More About

360 cameras! When we talk about immersive, we’re talking about our surroundings, and there’s nothing that will give you first-hand experience of taking in 360 degrees than a 360 camera. These used to be only available at a high price (and high learning curve), but the Insta360 attaches right to your phone, and lets you take in your surroundings – literally. And it’s priced around $200!

Again, tools and apps like this can help you think about how you can integrate augmented and virtual reality into your blended learning solutions.

Always Keep in Mind

Prices are dropping every day when it comes to augmented and virtual reality tools and apps. If you’re interested in learning more, start out with free tools (and there are a lot of them out there). At least once a week I search online for the “top 10 virtual reality apps” and the “top 10 augmented reality apps." The results change every week!

Towards the Future

As I gaze into my EdTech crystal ball, I see more entry level access to development tools (low cost, ease of use), along with more social and collaboration tools built into these apps. In the future, I’ll be able to look up at the space station and share that experience with one of the astronauts up there! Knowing this field, I can most likely do that already!

Check in next week, as we take a look at the Learning Management Systems – or as I refer to them “the dinosaurs that never went away!"

Related Resources

Article: Will Virtual Reality Change Employee Training Forever?
Here’s another short article (with some excellent comments at the bottom) that promotes the delivery of employee training via virtual reality solutions.

Article: Hyper-Training And The Future Augmented Reality Workplace
This article in Forbes does a great job of introducing the future of training as seen through an augmented reality lens. A short read that offers simple, valuable inspiration.

Digital Magazine: R.VR Magazine
This is my go-to source for all things AR/VR. New articles on a regular basis, and easy to understand explanations and reviews.

Product: Google Cardboard
A fantastic resource that showcases headsets and apps to explore. My new favorite is the Homido "Mini"!


Published by Phylise Banner February 16, 2017
Phylise Banner