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How the augment reality of Pokémon Go could transform learning

Peek-a-boo, Pikachu: how the augmented reality of Pokémon Go could transform learning

Category: Mobile Learning

In a matter of a week, Pokémon Go has swept across the globe to become the biggest mobile game ever, crushing the candy on the way.  

It may be a fad, or it may be the future; we will have to wait and see. Whichever is the case, it is the best example of mass participation augmented reality that has ever been made. Many people are now scratching their heads and wondering how they can jump on the Pokémon Go bandwagon. I have seen blogs from marketing and sales folk who are assessing where this new vehicle can take them. So, what about learning and development (L&D) professionals? 

The Internet of Virtual Things

We have all been talking about games and gamification, virtual reality and the Internet of Things (IoT) for years. Pokémon Go has taken the next big step, linking augmented reality and the Internet of Virtual Things… don’t bother looking for the IoVT on Wikipedia; you read it here first.  

This new concept takes the IoT and lets you put virtual things into it, without having to go through all the complicated and expensive business of actually creating a physical thing and connecting it to the Internet; you don’t even have to make the thing, beyond an image. It is the ultimate mash-up.

You can take the technological building blocks – GPS, geolocation mapping, pervasive connectivity, cameras, audio – that are found on any smartphone, and use them for your training.

I’ve been working on several of these elements at Agylia, and there's a nice example of using 360 degree environments with augmented reality that we did a little while ago for a Qatar National Bank (QNB). But I have to say that the way Pokémon Go has seamlessly combined them into a coherent story is impressive and moves things on significantly.

Training the Pokémon Go way

Training the Pokémon Go way

So, is there anything in it for us as L&D professionals? Let’s start with a basic example. You might use it for new starter orientation of your site by offering an augmented reality treasure hunt… play find the coffee machine, perhaps. You may say that we could do that without the expense of virtual reality, but could you? The beauty of this IoVT is that you not only provide the game; you also provide the location scaffold. For instance, if you are asking staff members to find the nearest water-based fire extinguisher and they can’t see one, they may end up wandering around for ages, losing interest.

With a Pokémon Go approach to augmented reality, users just widen their screen to find the illusive target, which they can then track and catch. A game and gamification (they bag it and they get a point) all in on happy package. Replace finding coffee machines and fire extinguishers with fire hydrants or electrical circuit breakers in a city centre scenario, or key equipment locations at a large airport, or new student orientation on a university campus, and you start to see how this type of technology could provide some unique advantages. 

The Pokémon Go paradigm (there! I’ve said it!), goes further. You can have people working in groups or teams to complete tasks. They have the tools for communication in their hands, without you having to create a huge communications infrastructure. Give them a Twitter hashtag or text or a Facebook group or (old school) phone calls and they can start to work on problems collaboratively. And that group doesn’t need to be in a single location. You can have educational games with team mates on different continents.

The Pokémon Go experience is also a developing one. If you have downloaded the Pokémon Go App you will quickly realise that catching a Pokémon is not as easy as it sounds. You have to practice… in my case, practice and practice. But the feeling of success you get when you actually catch your first Squirtle is remarkable. Then you have to move up levels to even be allowed to hunt the next Pokémon; this is hard core learning. Add in the ability to get new tools or develop new skills to improve your score and you have a highly flexible platform that will develop with your learners.

How augmented reality can transform learning

Lessons on gamification

Why is Pokémon Go such a successful game?

Firstly it utilises commonly used devices – the vast majority of people have smartphones and use them all the time. So it is easy to deliver to people and easy for them to use.

Next, it is novel and catches the attention, following this up with an engaging (addictive?) user experience.

It uses exploration, collection, collaboration and competition to stimulate and maintain interest – these are all gamification principles that we can adapt and use in learning programmes.

It is practical and encourages practical outside activity, again a great lesson for us in the L&D world – get practical, get the training out into the real work and encourage practice and repetition.

Parental Guidance Notice

OK, there are some potential health and safety issues with Pokémon Go. People do keep walking into things, over cliffs, getting mugged and even crashing their cars. There are also concerns about vulnerable people (children in particular) being lured into dangerous situations. Pokémon Go's authors are sensitive to this and have provided some helpful warnings and guidance.  

Realistically, this is probably not going to affect a company training programme, as I will assume that you will not tempt people into danger. However, you should think about things like traffic, obstacles and so forth, as the augmented reality environment, as projected onto a smartphone, does tend to focus a player’s mind on the virtual rather than the physical environment, in other words they may concentrate on the phone screen and not notice a danger in the real world.

An unexpected twist

So, we have all the fun of the technology and playing an engaging game, but there is also a really unexpected benefit in the Pokémon Go world; real people. As I wandered around town with my phone in hand, I bumped into a man and his son looking at their phones, while the son patiently explained how to catch the Bulbasaur that was (wasn’t?) in front of us. The dad and I look slightly shamefaced at each other. It turned out that he was doing it for research purposes too – or so he said. We fell to chatting, while the lad made the catch. This suddenly opened up the true collaborative potential of this game. The real world, real people were being brought together through a joint pursuit of virtual characters. Let your imagination run riot with the potential of that.

Let us know

Have you tried Pokémon Go? Why not experiment with it and let me know about your thoughts and experiences.

Tim Buff
Author: Tim Buff

This article was published by Tim Buff on 20.07.2016. Tim is CEO and Chief Learning Strategist at Agylia. Tim's role is to help people and companies design and implement digital learning strategies - this often involves pushing boundaries to develop innovative and creative solutions.

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