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How Pokémon and Augmented Reality Can Change the Future of Learning

Boy looking at his tablet device and smiling

The Game Heard 'Round The World

Kristen DiCerbo talks about her relationship with the immensely popular Pokémon Go app this way: "I've played, but I'm not spending hours of my day in the game."

"I'm low—a level 5," she says.

Kristen, Vice President of Education Research at Pearson, works to integrate learning science research into digital learning products - and she's been given a lot to think about by Pokémon Go.

Augmented Reality Benefits (Beyond Catching 'Em All)

By now, you're probably familiar with virtual reality (VR) where people are immersed in a digital world. Augmented Reality (AR) is a little different.

"It takes the real world and layers a digital experience on top of it," Kristen explains.

Pokémon Go is one recent example of this kind of experience, but Kristen says the technology has been around for several years.

In 2007, an AR program called "Environmental Detectives" was piloted at the University of Wisconsin. Student "detectives" worked together to identify the source of a fictitious toxic spill in the local watershed.

The program used GPS to detect where students took each of their water samples, and allowed them to track and analyze the data within the program.

"That was the first time I heard about this type of education technology," Kristen says.

Apply Later on

Today's "Transfer" Leads to Tomorrow's Job Success

The general context of augmented reality—taking a skill you learned in one context and applying it to another—has a name. Psychologists call it "transfer of learning."

"This kind of transfer doesn't happen automatically," Kristen explains.

"Just because you can write an essay about something or pass a test on the subject doesn't mean you really know it," she says. "Processing skills in new situations is how you actually learn."

And that's where augmented reality can truly augment what kids learn in the classroom.

Games for Change

JetPackKristen isn't the only educator interested in how augmented reality can change the future of learning.

In June, she spoke at the 13th annual Games for Change festival in New York City.

For two days, attendees listened to speeches and panels, attended workshops and networking events—all related to the creation and distribution of social impact games that are part of wide-ranging humanitarian and educational efforts.

No Longer Part of the 5-Year Plan

"For a while, VR and AR were stuck on the five-year outlook. They were always on the horizon, but they never got any closer," Kristen says.

She's referring to the New Media Consortium's Horizon Report, an annual report designed to identify emerging technologies likely to impact learning, teaching, and education in general.

Pokémon Go is focused on fun, but future iterations of AR could certainly be more learning-focused like "Environmental Detectives."

While the digital divide presents a distinct challenge (there is still a significant percentage of the globe without reliable internet access), Kristen is hopeful for the future of AR.

"Finally, it's not just out there in the far future with the jetpacks," she says.

"Pokémon Go has finally gotten people to say, 'okay, let's think about how this fits in with what we're doing in the classroom.'"

Training the Next Generation Workforce

"We want students to learn things that they can apply later on, to their jobs and careers," Kristen says.

"We always talk about getting learning out of the classroom and into the real world," Kristen says. "AR allows teachers do that with their students."