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By Felipe Antaya, doctoral student in education, Laval University
A joint dossier of École branchée and Carrefour education

Recent technological advances have changed the educational landscape in recent years. The arrival of the Internet, the interactive whiteboard and other such tools has certainly contributed to transforming educational strategies and ways of learning.

Among these technologies in education, there is a recent interest in augmented reality which, in its own way, is changing teaching methods. When used wisely, it changes the student's relationship to learning content, decompartmentalizes classroom walls, and provides insight into elements that were previously difficult to conceptualize.

In the following dossier, based on the work of certain researchers in the field, we will first define augmented reality and the concepts that are related to it, then we will look at its contribution to education. Finally, we will establish the limits of this relatively recent technology.

Summary of the file

Augmented reality, from yesterday to today

The recent democratization of augmented reality suggests that this is a new phenomenon. However, key moments in history have made it possible to found and define this concept as well as those which are related to it. Let’s go back a bit.

The little story of augmented reality

You have to go back to the 1960s to find the first beginnings of augmented reality. Helmet Sensorama, equipped with sensors, made it possible to simulate a virtual walk in New York while a transparent vision helmet had tools that could react to the movements of the head. Subsequently, in the 1980s, the creation of the helmet EyeTap, considered as the precursor of google glasses, made it possible to have virtual information in front of you.

Considerable progress was made during the 1990s thanks to the evolution of information technology. Moreover, the term “augmented reality” would have been used for the first time, in reference to the superposition of computerized elements on the real world, for Thomas caudell, researcher for Boeing, and his colleague David Mizell. Clarified a few years later by researchers Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino, this concept is now recognized and several companies are focusing on the development of this technology.

Using augmented reality for gaming, the designers of Nintendo DS, Sony PSP and Microsoft were among the first to promote immersive and interactive games in the early 2000s. However, it was with the emergence of smart mobile devices and applications that augmented reality has truly democratized. Equipped with a GPS, a camera and screen adapted to the game, these devices connected to the Internet permanently have all the elements to transmit and receive information, orientation data and capture movements.

The table was therefore set for the development of this technology, sometimes even with little means.

Defining augmented reality

The various definitions of augmented reality and related concepts - augmented virtuality and mixed reality, for example - proposed throughout history agree on the essentials. Relying on similar technological devices, these designs actually stand out because of their degree of immersion in reality or virtuality.

Augmented reality

Overall, the augmented reality is characterized by the superposition of virtual elements on the real world. The user's perception is then altered directly, without completely bringing him into an artificial world.

Usually attributed to vision, this alteration occurs when a real or virtually geotagged marker or trigger - symbol, image or logo - is captured by the camera of a mobile device (smartphone or tablet) or a computer. Once recognized by a particular application installed on the device, this marker becomes a digital content in two or three dimensions which is superimposed on the reality already captured.

Previously possible by photographing a concrete symbol, this superposition is now much easier thanks to geolocation. Indeed, the detection of a virtual trigger positioned (via Google maps, for example) according to the same geomatic coordinates as the mobile device now allows virtual elements to be superimposed on the real world (think of the famous game Pokémon Go, for example).

Augmented reality also applies to hearing and gestures. A remote assistance system, through its automated responses, in effect superimposes an automated voice on reality. For example, a voice guides the user according to his choices on a telephone device. Assisted telepresence allows an expert to virtually manipulate objects that an operator in the field actually moves. In both cases, tasks are performed through virtual reality overlay.

Augmented virtuality

Opposing the conception of augmented reality, augmented virtuality integrates real objects into the virtual world. The technology then replaces the real environment with a synthetic environment. The sensor Microsoft Designed X-Box Console Kinect is an example of this technology. Capturing the movements of the players, they are directly transmitted virtually on the screen.

Mixed reality

The investigations concerning the above concepts moreover led the researchers Milgram and Kishino to define a concept of “mixed reality”. Using both augmented reality and augmented virtuality, mixed reality allows interdependence between the real environment and the virtual environment. A set of information input devices (webcam, GPS, etc.) and output (screen, speakers, etc.) are used to deploy this reality. The mixed world then occurs when there is a spatial, temporal or semantic combination between the virtual and real world, and vice versa. Phew!

What is the use of augmented reality?

Augmented reality is useful in many areas such as gaming, advertising, e-commerce, politics, media, tourism and many more.

Above all fun, this technology contributes to the individual and collective increase in awareness and understanding of those around it. Through entertainment, users improve their perception of the real world through additional data that leads to perceive it differently and in a more positive way. These interactions between physical and virtual aspects help to change the perspective of users and make them realize the layout of places, objects and more.

Used in education, this technology changes the relationship of learners to their learning environment. Forging links between the learner and the content, augmented reality can promote effective teaching, the transmission of knowledge and the development of skills.

Augmented reality and its contribution to education

The use of augmented reality in education brings students to the heart of their learning. Intervening in a different way with their environment and their peers, the pedagogical approach then changes and provides many advantages.

Change in the pedagogical approach

Promoting learner autonomy and seeking to make them more active, the use of augmented reality makes it possible to adapt pedagogical approaches.

Based on constructivist and socioconstructivist theories, for which knowledge is constantly confronted and then reorganized by the data of the individual and his environment, this approach is an asset for contextualizing concepts or know-how that are sometimes more abstract. Reading comprehension, the teaching of subjects requiring spatial components and even the learning of technical gestures (especially in science, engineering and medicine) are facilitated.

Having the opportunity to evolve in a more informal setting, students benefit from a learning context that is both real and virtual, increasing the number of authentic situations favorable to the transfer of knowledge and the development of skills.

The inverted class

The use of this technology in a flipped classroom allows students to experience in a more free and individualized way authentic activities proposed and supervised by the teacher. Without being constrained by the real negative effects of error, they thus improve the reality of virtual information (interactions between people, places, objects and processes) and access meaningful activities at their own pace.

Complementary approach

In order not to base all of their learning activities on augmented reality, many teachers use it instead as a complement. When students' interest wanes, they use augmented books rather than traditional books. The multisensory and playful approach of these books then revives motivation and promotes links between text, images, sounds and movements.

The balance!

To optimize student learning, studies suggest considering both the user and the learning when designing educational activities using augmented reality. The teacher should focus on concepts and learning situations before allowing students to freely use this technology. Likewise, although the playful aspect of augmented reality stimulates the interest of learners to invest in their learning, they must go beyond the simple game to store knowledge. The balance between traditional and socio-constructivist approaches must be respected.

Classroom integration

The integration of augmented reality into teaching, as is the case for any technology, is facilitated when well thought out.

The teacher must first plan the use of this technology in a holistic way. To optimize performance, only a few tools (applications or devices) should be used for a set of individual or group activities. This way of operating reduces the workload and avoids deploying different tools for each educational activity. In short, it is better to fully exploit a small amount of tools than to underuse too much variety.

In class, the teacher is at the center of interactions in order to modulate his interventions (directives and explanations) according to the individual progress of the pupils. Without having to grab everyone's attention, he supervises them according to their needs.

Simple learning activities adapted to the development of the students, also available according to the schedule or to other unexpected events are to be favored. Having from the outset a multitude of aspects to manage and often being confronted with unforeseen events (particularly when students individually develop their learning), teachers should rely on simple and flexible pedagogical scenarios to obtain better results. Indeed, rigid and overly complex educational activities generally work less well.

Educational tools

Deployed, among other things in education, through augmented books and serious games, augmented reality energizes many educational scenarios. Here are a few examples.

The increased pounds

Requiring a minimum of technological knowledge, the augmented book contains virtual digital content accessible when a mobile device detects a trigger (real or virtual).

Capturing students' attention first, this procedure allows reading in a varied and entertaining way. Pupils improve their reading by supplementing the printed content (three-dimensional elements, interactive experiences or animated scenes, for example) that stimulate their learning as well as their autonomy. First perceiving the book in its primary aspect, their perspective then varies depending on the angle with which they use their mobile device. Now common in advertisements and magazines, this idea of "increasing the paper" offers an interesting way to link the real world to the virtual.

Here are some examples of augmented books available on the market:

The Future is Wild: The Living Book

This book takes users millions of years into the future. Providing a glimpse of the evolution of the world, of the creatures that inhabit it and much more, it brings together several entertaining interactive and educational sections (documentaries, exhibitions and education). The many three-dimensional virtual animations even offer students the opportunity to visualize complex and difficult to locate phenomena.

The collection Dokeo +

Thanks to the books in this collection, children can familiarize themselves with the phenomenon of augmented reality from the age of 3. Virtually perceiving concepts, phenomena or situations through interactions between the book and the mobile device, they learn about current affairs, science, history, animals and more.

Magic book

Operating under the same principle as other books of the genre, the Magic book was designed to promote reading among the youngest. Containing lots of color illustrations, the stories in these books allow you to play and learn while collaborating with other readers. In particular, it is possible to access the same content as others, but from different perspectives. Using the features of the book, everyone enlarges or shrinks the elements of an interactive scene according to the attention paid to it.

AR Pop-Up Book

Using the same devices, the works in this collection lead readers to perceive three-dimensional elements.

Increase your own books

A very simple idea of educational exploitation of augmented reality consists in getting the pupils to increase themselves an existing literary work, as have done among others the students of Cardinal-Roy high school in 2014-2015 with Little Thumbelina, by Michel Serres.

Animate reading with QR codes

To enhance the reading experience or help understanding, QR codes can “accompany” a book offered to students. In this section of the dossier Technology for reading, Annie Marois gives examples of what a teacher can offer students using QR codes.

Create an augmented reality library

In this workshop offered at the 2017 AQUOPS conference by RÉCIT resource persons from the Abitibi-Témiscamingue and Northern Quebec regions, an augmented reality library project is presented by elementary school students. The project approach is clearly explained, as are the tools used. Tutorials accompany the software presented to facilitate their appropriation.

Serious games

Applicable in a multitude of disciplines, regardless of the school level, games produced in a formal setting using augmented reality or virtual reality are based on the real world and embellished with virtual elements, or vice versa.

By staging the games, the teacher is the one who gives meaning to the learning by presenting, commenting on or extending the key concepts, methods of use and more abstract elements.  

To find out more about serious games, see the joint file of Carrefour education and École branchée Using digital games to promote learning: mission possible!

Examples in different subjects

Inviting challenge and curiosity, serious games motivate students to challenge themselves for explicit and educational goals. Here are some examples grouped by subject.

In science and technology

The juxtaposition of virtual elements over reality certainly enriches the explanations complex or inaccessible scientific phenomena. Visualizing phenomena that are more difficult to conceptualize, such as the flow of lava, the fall of a body, electrical or magnetic phenomena, the students understand them better.

In history

Augmented reality applications are also used to teach history.


The ArchéoGuide support offers the opportunity to be guided virtually by audio and video elements when visiting a tourist or archaeological site. Currently in development, the project ArchéoGuide - Quebec is based on the same principles, which apply specifically to Quebec.

The iTacitus project

Like ArchéoGuide, the project iTacitus adds video and audio elements to actual visits to cultural, historical, artistic or traditional places. This approach is interesting in the conservation of historical heritage or in tourism, but currently only covers European territory.

Augmented reality in the story of the social universe

The STORY of the social universe created two tasks that integrate augmented reality : the game The pillars of the Empire and the task What did the social groups think of Lower Canada around 1830? The use of the mobile device allows students to answer questions asked or to learn more thanks to the complementary documents.

Children's games

Osmo : Intended for children aged 5 to 12, the serious mixed reality games from the Osmo collection strengthen the dexterity of young people and promote their learning of mathematics and the use of logic while developing their sense of autonomy and resourcefulness.

Design your own games

Several apps allow teachers to develop their own serious games and use them in learning situations.

Wikitude : The Wikitude application allows you to geolocate information markers anywhere in the world (with Google Maps for example). In connection with a subject, it becomes interesting for the teacher who likes to have his pupils search for a specific educational purpose. Students chase virtually accessible information in real time using a mobile device, then aggregate it according to the purpose of the learning situation. Under the same principle as the Wikipedia encyclopedia, this open application (Open Source) is enriched by the information that the pupils leave to the new visitors who will present themselves in the same place (real or virtual).

Qryptal QR Code Reader : Interesting and easy to use, in particular to enhance learning activities in French or English as the teaching language, Qryptal QR Code Reader allows teachers to easily create a QR code and associate it with a video, an image or an Internet link. Once created and printed, these codes are placed in the classroom (or elsewhere) for students to detect using the application installed on a mobile device. Bringing the perception of complementary content to the real world, this practice thereby energizes learning or classroom management activities.

Aurasma : Similarly, the Aurasma app enhances traditional books as well as anything in the classroom. Teacher uses it to add video, text, image or web link to a given trigger to diversify educational activities.

LearnAR: Promoting independent learning, LearnAR brings together a multitude of interactive resources and educational activities for several school subjects. This application diversifies the possibilities of learning abstract concepts in mathematics, biology or other subjects.

ARToolkit : On the same principle as Wikitude, mentioned previously, teachers create their own applications of augmented reality thanks to the ARToolkit software library. By geolocating markers which will then be detected, the user has access to virtual information complementary to the real world.

BuildAR : Easy to use, BuildAR fits very well as a complement to a traditional pedagogical approach. Not cluttering up the students with details or superfluous elements, this tool is used as much in the arts (creation of digital content in 2D, 3D or drawing) as in mathematics (problem solving) or for telling stories.

Operating under the same principle, other applications such as Inglobe Technologies or Layar are also easy to use and promote the physical engagement of learners, who model abstract concepts by superimposing virtual elements on the real.

Educational benefits of augmented reality

Playful, augmented reality applied in education captures the attention of learners, motivates them and arouses their commitment. Promoting the understanding of complex concepts, it also facilitates access to a multitude of rich and up-to-date information.

Flexible and individual, the approach to augmented reality also stimulates students to engage in their learning. Exploring content freely and performing activities with confidence, they apply themselves more to complete tasks. By trial and error, they repeat them as needed in order to verify or extend their knowledge.

Moreover, despite the personalized approach to learning, this technology promotes collaboration between peers and the educator. Face to face or remotely, certain augmented reality activities stimulate argumentation and the achievement of collaborative tasks. Confronted with a similar situation in a common place (real or virtual), users exchange to understand or solve the problem. This communication leads them to rethink their perspective and makes them notice and identify different ways of doing things and means.

The limits of augmented reality in education

Highly relevant, augmented reality technology serves the education community, but is not yet perfect.

Embryonic and sometimes expensive technology

Rudimentary in some respects, the hardware and interfaces used in augmented reality have technological and ergonomic limits that affect their handling.

Certain difficulties encountered in a learning context are indeed difficult to anticipate. When using mobile devices outdoors, for example, the quality of the image observed by the student may be affected by the glare of the sun or the temperature. In addition, the energy consumption of certain applications is high and geolocation is not always perfectly precise.

Purchased at a high price in some cases, mobile devices and their complementary tools are not easily accessible to everyone. Schools are therefore reluctant to obtain them in large quantities because of the purchase and maintenance costs. This reluctance thus indirectly slows down designers' ambitions to develop further. Probably for this reason, few tools, augmented books or serious games are available in the French language. At the moment, the vast majority are available in English.

Metadata management

Managing personal location data and saving them is also an issue. Cloud-based, they become easily accessible if they are not secure, especially when used in public places.

Knowledge and skills of education stakeholders

Knowledge and skills are needed to produce and optimally use technology such as augmented reality for educational purposes.

Research must therefore continue in order to develop applications of augmented reality specific to education as well as to determine how to implement them in the classroom. Indeed, the contribution of these activities must be significant in the learning of the pupils and must go beyond the attraction of the novelty.

However, it is sometimes difficult to bring together actors who master both the technical knowledge to create and deploy augmented reality models as the knowledge and skills for learning and educational design. Under the circumstances, would it be preferable to train teachers in these technologies? Should we work on simplifying tools and applications? At the current stage of development, several facilitators are necessary to adequately implement augmented reality and thus minimize technical problems.

Little-known real impacts on education

Research on augmented reality in education remains a relatively recent practice and scientific literature and objective studies are rather scarce. Describing and explaining the phenomenon, studies pay little attention to norms and standards.

Thus, although students seem to be interested in this phenomenon, it is still too early to measure its real impact on learning. The playful and entertaining aspect certainly piques the interest of users, but it is difficult to determine if they are more interested in technology and entertainment than in learning. If this is the case, the objective is not reached and conclusions about their educational impact cannot be drawn.

Resources and references on augmented reality in education

Here are the resources and references that made it possible to write the dossier on augmented reality in education. 

BARMA, Sylvie, Michael Power, and Sylvie Daniel. 2010. “Augmented reality and mobile games for science and technology education”. In Proceedings of the Ludovia scientific conference. http://www.academia.edu/download/39469402/Ralit_augmente_et_jeu_mobile_pour_une_du20151027-16129-1ei0z7z.pdf

Billinghurst, M., and A. Duenser. 2012. “Augmented Reality in the Classroom”. Computer, volume 45 (7): 56-63. https://doi.org/10.1109/MC.2012.111.

Bruillard, Eric. 2010. “Distance learning: technical devices”. Distances and knowledge, volume 8 (2): 207-21. http://www.cairn.info/resume.php?ID_ARTICLE=DIS_082_0207

Cieutat, Jean-Marc. 2013. “Some applications of augmented reality: New ways of processing information and communication. Effects on perception, cognition and action ”. Thesis, Paul Sabatier University - Toulouse III. https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-00802259/document

Cuendet, Sébastien, Quentin Bonnard, Son Do-Lenh, and Pierre Dillenbourg. 2013. “Designing Augmented Reality for the Classroom”. Computers & Education, volume 68 (October): 557-69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2013.02.015.

Di Serio, Ángela, María Blanca Ibáñez, and Carlos Delgado Kloos. 2013. “Impact of an augmented reality system on students' motivation for a visual art course”. Computers & Education, volume 68 (October): 586-96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.002.

Dugas, Julien. 2016. “Augmented reality in a learning environment: research note”. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01349195.

Dumont, Marc-Antoine, Michael Thomas Power, and Sylvie Barma. 2011. “GéoÉduc3D -: Evolution Of Serious Games Towards Mobility and Augmented Reality For Learning In Science and Technology”. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology / The Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 37 (2). http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/26357

Dunleavy, Matt, and Chris Dede. 2014. “Augmented Reality Teaching and Learning”. In Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, edited by J. Michael Spector, M. David Merrill, Jan Elen, and MJ Bishop, pp 735‑45. Springer New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5_59.

George, Sébastien, Christine Michel, Audrey Serna, and Luca Bisognin. 2014. “Evaluating the Impact of Serious Mixed Reality Game”, volume 21 (May). http://sticef.univ-lemans.fr/num/vol2014/03-george-evajs/sticef_2014_NS_george_03.htm

Kesim, Mehmet, and Yasin Ozarslan. 2012. “Augmented reality in education: current technologies and the potential for education”. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, volume 47: pp 297–302. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042812023907

Kubicki, Sébastien, Denis Pasco, and Ingrid Arnaud. 2014. “Classroom use of a serious interactive table game with tangible objects to promote student activity: a comparative evaluation in preparatory class”, volume 21 (February). http://sticef.univ-lemans.fr/num/vol2014/07-kubicki-evajs/sticef_2014_NS_kubicki_07.htm

Mazur, Amber Danielle, Barbara Brown, and Michele Jacobsen. 2015. “Learning Designs Using Flipped Classroom Instruction | Learning Design Using Reverse Classroom Instruction ”. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology / The Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, volume 41 (2). https://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/26977

Orliac, Charlotte. 2013. “Models and tools for the design of Mixed Reality Learning Games”. Phdthesis, INSA de Lyon. https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-00952892/document

Yuen, S., Gallayanee Yaoyuneyong, and Erik Johnson. 2011. “Augmented reality: An overview and five directions for AR in education”. Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange, volume 4 (1): pp 119–140. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=