Nurturing the Curiosity of All Students Through Augmented Reality 

A closer look at an effective learning tool in a carefully thought-out teaching strategy.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Phil Birchinall


A recurring theme I hear as I talk with educators across the United States is that post-pandemic students are not as engaged in learning as they were prior to the emergence of COVID-19. Likewise, educators tell me they are desperate for new tools and resources that will help them create those important “Aha!” moments that ignite student curiosity, engage learners, and drive academic achievement. 

‘…educators tell me they are desperate for new tools and resources that will help them create those important “Aha!” moments that ignite student curiosity, engage learners, and drive academic achievement.’

When it comes to delivering such moments, immersive learning is especially powerful, and one of today’s most exciting immersive technologies is Augmented Reality (AR). AR allows students to interact with virtual objects overlaid onto the real world. Easily accessed via any mobile device and an app, AR can transform the learning experience into something that nurtures the innate curiosity of all students in a truly magical way. 

Here’s why AR is so effective at sparking curiosity in the classroom.

Experiential Learning 

When students take part in active learning, they are always more engaged. AR creates the ultimate ‘hands-on learning’ experience, by bringing students face-to-face with content that they could otherwise only imagine. From visiting far-flung locations to exploring historical settings or manipulating scientific material, AR makes it easy for teachers to take students into the past and future, or to bring topics into the present without leaving the classroom. 

Say you’re teaching about Ancient Egypt and want to spark curiosity about the pyramids of Egypt. There are VR apps that can transport students to Giza, allowing them to step into a world of ancient wonders, and see the pyramids up close. Such an app takes experiential learning even further, by giving students a ‘maker environment’ in which they can build their own experiences. With hundreds of models to choose from, students can create a virtual world for exploration and sharing – an activity that’s sure to spark their curiosity. 

Personalized Learning 

Positive emotions enhance learning, and when students forge a personal connection with a subject, their curiosity is quickly sparked. AR accelerates this because it creates a deep mental involvement through immersion. And the more personal the immersive experience, the more it will ignite student curiosity.

Delivering individual, personalized learning is a daily challenge for educators. But AR makes this possible, by giving teachers a tool that speaks to every child. Instead of hearing or reading about the topics that excite them, learners can see, touch and explore the worlds that fascinate them up close. Teachers can use AR to help their students go further, deepening their engagement and helping the seeds of curiosity to grow. 

The Science of Learning 

One of the reasons AR is such an effective tool, is that it harnesses the principles of brain science to supercharge learning. Students’ minds are incredibly powerful, and AR taps into this, creating the ideal conditions to bring learning to life. When planning lessons, teachers often look for the perfect ‘hook’ – an attention-grabbing opening to spark student interest. AR helps teachers find powerful hooks by creating moments where students are fully immersed in their learning. 

Having captured students’ imagination, AR also amplifies learning, because students who are engaged and excited are keen to find out more. The level of engagement AR creates, in turn makes them more receptive to knowledge and better able to retain the amazing things they have learned. 

Technology With Purpose

As educators, we’re all looking to create learning experiences that spark wonder. Technologies like AR are the gateway to such moments, but to have maximum impact, they must be used with purpose. So how can teachers move beyond the ‘wow’ moment, and use AR to keep students connected to curiosity?

AR works best as part of a strategy with clear learning outcomes. It should also be paired with other high quality digital content, to give students a range of opportunities to access learning and deepen their understanding. 

There are learning platforms that contain a host of dynamic resources which complement the immersive experiences of VR apps, giving teachers a complete toolkit to spark curiosity. When learning about World War II, for example, students can begin by exploring 1940s London in AR, before deepening their learning and consolidating it by building their own virtual wartime world.

Similarly in English, VR apps have some great content to bring classic Romantic poetry to life. Students studying Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’ can use an app to walk around a field of flowers in augmented reality, before reading the poem and using the AR field as inspiration to create their own settings. 

Another app also makes it easy to connect the dots to learning, offering a wide collection of classroom activities to complement its amazing AR experiences. Featuring life-size AR that students can interact with and control, it transports learners through time and to far-flung locations, facing challenges and solving problems as they go. 

AR’s sister technology – VR (Virtual Reality) – also offers limitless opportunities to nurture student curiosity and lock in learning. An exciting immersive virtual experience has students visiting the Western Hemisphere’s highest outdoor Skydeck to learn facts about its complex engineering, the history of the Hudson Yards neighborhood, and complex construction challenges deep in the heart of New York City. Such an experience provides a new way for students to not only explore New York City’s skyline but see how STEM powers innovation through some of the most cutting-edge technology available.

By using immersive learning as part of a carefully thought out teaching strategy, educators can ensure that this powerful technology is used with purpose to achieve the right learning outcomes. In doing, they’ll spark endless curiosity—the fuel that drives lifelong learning for us all. 

Phil Birchinall is the Senior Director of Immersive Content at Discovery Education. Connect with Phil through LinkedIn. 


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