How Augmented Reality Is Altering Continuous Learning in the Workplace


With the Fourth Industrial Revolution[1] now upon us, work and jobs as we know them are changing rapidly.  This is not a new phenomenon. We just need to look back at history to see how advances in technology and consumer preferences have always changed workplaces and practices.  What is becoming increasingly apparent though, is how these changes are impacting the skill sets now required by workers. 

Klaus Schwab (Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum), describes the Fourth Industrial Revolution as “the technological revolution that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres”.  At the ASCILITE 2019 conference held in Singapore last week, I explored with attendees how technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) exemplify this concept.  We are now starting to realize that continuous upskilling of workforce capabilities is key to workforce agility and value. AR is one technology that I believe has great potential to amplify learning in the flow of work.

For those unfamiliar with AR, it is quite different from other realities, such as Virtual Reality, which is completely computer-generated, because AR superimposes a digital overlay on a real-world environment in real-time.  Simply put, this means the user can simultaneously see and interact with their own physical reality as well as an Augmented or digital Reality – they don’t lose sight of the real-world context around them.

The changing learning needs of employers and work-learners

The demand for people to continuously learn, unlearn, upskill, and reskill has never been greater. Employees recognize they need to keep their knowledge and skills current if they are to remain employable. I would say the industry is equally aware of the importance of encouraging employees to develop these in-demand capabilities and apply their learning quickly and efficiently, the revolving door of recruitment is a cost most employers care to avoid.

According to a recent LinkedIn Study on workplace learning trends[2], 68% of employees prefer to learn at work, 58% at their own pace, and 49% prefer to learn at their point of need.  Additionally, while 94% of employees indicated they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career, the main reason employees are not engaging in workplace learning is ‘time’.

AR’s contribution to learning in the flow of work

I first came across the term ‘learning in the flow of work’ only recently, but it piqued my interest immediately.  Coined by Josh Bersin[3] to encapsulate the idea of learning in the context of the work you are performing, this approach offers employees learning on-demand, point-of-need learning in concert with their workflows. Gary Wise suggested a similar concept called ‘Frictionless learning’ back in 2011[4].  Wise explained his concept as ‘learners have seamless, frictionless and ubiquitous access to/from the right learning assets – at their moment(s) of learning need – in work context-friendly amounts – in compelling, readily-consumable formats – to/from the right devices’.

The evolving benefits of AR offer one way to support workers’ learning and performance needs directly into the workflow or as frictionless learning to deliver on employees’ Five Moments of Learning Need[5]. When there is something learned for the first time (New), expanded upon (More), remembered, planned, or adapted in the workplace (Apply), or in need of a new solution (Solve) requires new skills or knowledge that changes practices and performance (Change). AR could deliver on these five moments as follows:

The potential of Augmented Reality in a snapshot

Augmented Reality has the potential to amplify learning and achieve high performance in the flow of work in the following ways:

  • Reduce time by employees to achieve tasks more efficiently. 
  • Reduce time to achieve competencies.
  • Enhance problem-solving and provide the most up-to-date information for better decision-making.
  • Improve memory recall and understanding and reduce cognitive load.
  • Reduce error rates and improve health and safety.
  • Increase employee engagement and motivation.

The constraints of Augmented Reality in a snapshot

On the flipside, AR has a way to go before reaching maturity, possibly another 5-10 years.  That being the case, there is still a range of constraints that will likely challenge wide-scale uptake of the technology within the workplace, these include:

  • Lack of interoperability and relevant AR content.
  • Design including considerations around whether AR will require a live internet connection to receive data and whether internet connectivity is reliable at the worksite.
  • Usability of AR solutions within the workplace.
  • Adoption of AR without the perceived notion it is a threat to jobs, resistance to change and issues associated with digital literacies of the target audience.
  • Interaction by users with glasses, headsets and other AR tools that are still immature.
  • Safety to ensure the physical environment of the job at hand can safely support the use of AR.
  • Governance frameworks, policies, and security.

While AR is an evolving technology in terms of reskilling, upskilling and maintaining employability through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is emerging potential to help worker-learners to maintain and amplify their capabilities through frictionless learning.  As the technology rapidly innovates and becomes more ubiquitous and cost-effective, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for AR as more businesses will be able to harness its potential within their workflows.

[1] Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Geneva: World Economic Forum.




[5] Gottfredson, C., & Mosher, B. (2012). Are you meeting all five moments of learning need? Learning Solutions Magazine.