Enhancing learning experiences through the magic of augmented reality

Role

User Experience, User research, facilitation, prototyping, UI design

Project info

Commissioned by the Centre for Digital Enterprise, RMIT University. Visit XR LearnHub

Capturing the magic

Augmented reality (AR) in education helps students easily acquire, process, and remember information. Additionally, its gamified nature makes learning itself more engaging and fun. Our goal was to help students upskill in Industry 4.0 technology by bridging the gap between online and hands-on learning through the magic of AR.

The challenge was to integrate the experience seamlessly with online courses.

Workers in advanced manufacturing looking to upskill often don't have opportunities to learn on the job or access to the latest smart manufacturing machines. For these learners, RMIT university recognised that textbooks and online courses could not provide enough hands-on interaction. To bridge this gap and enhance RMIT's product offering, our team was tasked to explore opportunities using AR technology. The challenge was to produce an app that would integrate seamlessly with accompanying online courses, provide a scalable solution for future courses and to create a product that would be accessible to all.

CNC machine online short courses scheduled to feature AR experiences.

The approach

Throughout the project, I conducted contextual inquiry, facilitated co-design sessions, used desktop research and guerilla user testing. This approach was necessary to fully understand the problem space, the various spectrum of use cases, mental models related to this technology and for inclusive design.

The discovery

The discovery phase was a high‐intensity effort that involved analysing the competitor landscape and understanding user needs around digital learning. In particular, I focused on the behaviours and pain‐points related to AR technology on mobile devices. In my field studies and through contextual inquiry, it became apparent that there was a mental model mismatch.

On mobile devices, users did not expect to have to stand and scan the environment with their device camera in order to activate the machine model. Instead, like most held devices, users expected to be stationary as if it were exploring an interactive game.

Many users struggled to use and initiate the AR experience. Task rate completion (TRC) tests showed a fail rate of 70%.

Building empathy

It quickly became clear that we had assumed too much of people's digital literacy. To move beyond assumptions I created a spectrums and situations map to highlight the range of temporary or permanent challenges to consider when a person is interacting with the app. Working with this inclusive framework enabled me to define further design challenges:

1. How might we better support the learning objectives of the course while building capabilities for our users?
2. How might we minimise the effort it takes to place the model?
3. How might we support the experience in multiple contexts?

Affinity mapping

Before I could jump into designing, it was important to define success and understand the health of the current state experience. To better understand the existing problems, I reviewed all of the feedback from early tests and mapped it back to the spectrums and situations framework. This gave the issues high-level clarity and also helped me to determine where effort should be focused on.

Introducing XR LearnHub, an AR app that allows users to explore technology in workplace scenarios.

Browse AR experiences for online courses

Users can browse course experiences to learn more about AR and its application to learning material.

Lesson overviews and key activities establish a clear connection between theory and practical application

Forward feedback in the form of lesson overviews and key activities help reduce confusion by providing more context.

Reducing the learning curve with walkthrough instructions

Guides users through the necessary steps to activate the technology. System feedback aids usability and reduces friction-related to low digital literacy.

Enabling users by avoiding unwanted outcomes

I knew I needed to design a clear way for users to place the model. Size options enable users to customise the model according to their spatial contexts.

Additional learning material around emerging technologies

Introduces a new world of industry 4.0 and emerging technologies to get users excited about the possibilities.

How we got there

The biggest challenge I faced throughout this project was to propel the ideation and design across multiple teams, one team handling the learning design and our team, responsible for the AR development. Since the project involved many stakeholders, I needed to coordinate and get buy‐in from many competing interests. One of the unifying activities I facilitated was a design sprint which provided much-needed momentum and concepts for testing.

Design principles

I invested time in creating documentation to better articulate the vision and distribute the design rationale. This helped to create visibility into my decision‐making process and galvanise the team to a shared goal.

To maintain visual consistency a UI Kit of components, patterns and icons were developed.

  • Guerilla testing

    Once I had a new prototype, I held guerrilla user testing with 15 students and 5 professional staff members. Participants were asked to find the CNC course and to activate the experience. The testing was coupled with open-ended questions around user satisfaction and suggestions for improvement. The new flow resonated well and confirmed that designing for people's spatial context and providing scaffolded learning improved the user experience.

    In the first iteration of the app, 80% of users could not complete critical tasks such as activating the AR model. After testing the new design with 20 participants, 90% of users were now able to use the AR technology without external help.

    Reflection

    XR LearnHub launched in November 2019. The release coincided with a series of AR and VR workshops for business and educational audiences. Since its release, XR LearnHub has helped RMIT's Centre for Digital Enterprise lead the way in enhanced learning experiences by being the first of its kind AR app dedicated to TAFE and workplace training.