AR vs VR in the e-learning industry (and why we think AR has the edge)

You’ve heard of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) — they are among the industry’s favorite buzzwords today. The two terms are often confused with each other and used interchangeably, but they are actually quite distinct, with each bringing a unique set of benefits to the e-learning table.

AR is a technology that superimposes virtual data on top of a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. It modifies the environment by the addition of visual elements, sound, or other sensory stimuli.

On the other hand, VR is a computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact within an artificial three-dimensional environment that incorporates visual, aural and sensory elements.

In short, in e-learning, VR replaces reality, AR adds to it, while both aim to engage the learner in a highly immersive experience. Here are some of the key factors where AR and VR diverge in terms of how they deliver content, and their relative merits and demerits.


This is perhaps the most consequential difference in terms of adoption of these two technologies in a learning application.

VR is dependent on purpose-built and expensive headsets that take over your vision. These headsets are opaque, meaning they block out your surroundings when you wear them, and visually, the outside world is replaced with a virtual one.

Given the high cost of equipment acquisition, from an e-learning perspective this immediately puts VR at a major disadvantage for larger scale, lower value learning needs, like say in a K12 scenario or even for most undergrad requirements. For highly complex, low volume and industry focused needs, however, the headsets are a worthwhile investment to train skilled resources on life-like simulations to achieve business outcomes.

In the case of AR, on the other hand, since you are looking to add a layer of data over a real-world field of view, any device that captures and displays the real world — such as your smartphone or tablet cameras for example — can function as an AR device. There are AR glasses available too, but unlike VR headsets, the key difference is that great AR experiences can be delivered with no specialized device at all.

As a result, AR is a far more accessible technology, making it well suited to wider roll-out. If you can get your AR content and application right, your learners will be able to access it easily, effectively and at nil to minimal cost. At the same time, this does not mean that AR can be used only in lower criticality learning. The ability to superimpose rich data on a real backdrop is of tremendous value in applications like , engineering, oil and gas, and more.


Both tethered and standalone VR headsets detect the direction in which you’re facing as well as any movement you make in those directions. This lets you move around in a virtual space, but with movement limited to a few square meters of real space. VR can be experienced only from certain controlled locations, such as training labs or learners’ homes for instance.

AR on the other hand is designed for free movement, while projecting information over the learner’s immediate environment. AR-based learning content can therefore be made available to explore from anywhere, and in cases where browser-based AR, or WebAR, is used, you don’t need to download or install anything either. Therefore, AR experiences can be delivered to learners on the go with just a phone and internet connection, wherever they may be.


With VR, the learning experience is personal and individual — each user needs their own equipment to “move” around their virtual environment of a few square meters. AR on the other hand can be tapped to create a more social learning experience.

To take an example from the world of gaming, AR is used in the game Pokémon Go, where players move through a real world environment while using a virtual map. As real-world locations (for instance a real park bench or bus stand) are used to place virtual collectibles, there is emphasis on collaborating with other players. This is an approach that has great potential if applied to a learning context.

According to the ARtillery Intelligence: AR Usage & Consumer Attitudes, 2020 report, the most interesting content areas for VR are cinematic, gaming, and travel and tourism. The most wanted AR experiences, on the other hand, are educational and history. VR is clearly seen more widely as a technology for entertainment, while AR is perceived to have more practical application in e-learning.

Both AR and VR are revolutionary new technologies that are opening up new learning possibilities, with each technology finding compelling usecases in different applications.

At Hornbill FX, we work with customers to create highly immersive learning experiences using both AR and VR, in domains ranging from healthcare to engineering to even K12. We’re well equipped to guide you on which technology is more appropriate for your learning requirements, and when to steer clear of these technologies in cases where they add little value to the learning journey. Talk to us today for a detailed consultation.

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