Posthuman Pedagogy

Augmented Reality Learning Environments – A posthuman pedagogy

Although philosophical idealists will argue that there is no such thing as a common reality, in everyday practice we have chosen to believe in one. Through our senses and communications, we live in a shared reality that we refer to as the real world, but by degrees, this shared reality is being extended, enhanced and personalised through the use of tools that allow for a richer interpretation of what is considered to be “real”.  Such tools exist in many forms, from cognitive frameworks right through to actual physical devices that extend the senses and create “new forms of human presence, half-real, half-virtual” (Ascott, 2003, quoted in Bayne, 2010).  Perhaps the most conspicuous of these is the growing use of augmented reality as an layer of information on top of the physical world.  “Augmented reality (AR) refers to the addition of a computer-assisted contextual layer of information over the real world, creating a reality that is enhanced or augmented”, (Horizon Report, 2011).  When one first uses augmented reality to view the world, the experience is uncanny in the extreme.  The physical world is suddenly extended to include a rich layer of multimedia that the viewer can interact with to better understand their environment.  High end augmented reality systems can be very complex and may include many subsystems, such as head mounted displays, data gloves or global positioning systems; but for the average consumer (and therefore the average student), something as simple as a smart phone application can achieve a similar result.  An excellent example of such an app is Streetmusuem:Londinium.




Streetmusuem:Londinium is an iPhone app, developed in collaboration between the Museum of London and the History Channel, which recreates portions of London city as it might have appeared during the Ancient Roman era.  Layers of video and text, maps and 3D models of ancient architecture can be viewed on top of the real world.  As the user moves about their environment the scene changes in real-time.  These layers of reality combine within the consciousness mind of the learner. “From two, one—something different, new, and tasty”, (Carpenter, 2009).

“One of the most promising aspects of augmented reality is that it can be used for visual and highly interactive forms of learning, allowing the overlay of data onto the real world as easily as it simulates dynamic processes”, (Horizon Report, 2011).  When a person interacts with these layers of media, they are essentially engaging in a constructivist and exploratory learning session within a new reality.  Because such media layers are fluid and may change based on user input, this new reality is individual and uniquely distinctive both for each learner and for each learning session.  When we connect augmented reality systems with other networks, the potential of new layers of reality grows exponentially, as does our capacity to create new realities for ourselves, or to share them with others.  One might argue that when we augment our reality, we simultaneously augment our own consciousness, and when we share our reality, we likewise  share our conscious state with others. “Just as the brain needs the body to create conscious activity, so the body needs the environment to create conscious activity”, (Pepperell, 2010).



The interface to an augmented reality system is a tool that allows the user to modify their own reality, extending it in directions never before imagined.  Graphical user interfaces allow us to visualise complex data sets but when those data sets correspond directory to our immediate physical environment, we suddenly gain the ability to understand that environment and our place within in it, in profound new ways.  Through the use of symbolic languages and well designed semiotic icons, we allow humanity to communicate without regional linguistic variation, achieving precision of expression and clarity in the transfer of meaning that is simply impossible in the “natural” world.


Augmented Reality Examples

MovableScreen at Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam


35 Awesome Augmented Reality Examples



Bayne, S. (2010).  Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies.

Carpenter, R (2009). Boundary Negotiations: Electronic Environments as Interface.

Pepperell, R. (2009). ‘Art and the fractured unity of consciousness’ in New Realities: Being Syncretic Consciousness Reframed.

The Horizon Report, 2011.  Two to Three Years: Augmented Reality



  • Austin Tate says:

    Daniel, I think Augmented Reality is a great choice to illustrate the posthuman pedagogy possibilities. AR augments the human sensors and reach, so we can argue it gives additional facilities beyond the unaided human,. And the examples you quote like the Londinium app show some of the education potential. The provision of meta data about places, objects and people around you through AR I think will be a big thing. And as you say it will be accessible to a lot of people via simple devices they may already carry like a mobile phone.

    • Thanks Austin,
      Yes AR is really maturing as a usable consumer technology now! And I definitely agree that the layer of meta data can only grow and become more important over time. We are really on the verge of something amazing happening in this space… it’s going to be exciting to watch the developments.

  • I was blown away by the way BMW is experimenting with AR to assist their staff in highly technical work. A video to watch
    Great choice of the task, Daniel!

    • Thanks for the link Ania,
      That’s a perfect example! Imagine when this becomes mainstream and we can fix a leaky pipe using the same method! Suddenly everyone is an expert in everything.

  • Jeremy Keith Knox says:

    I think there is some great potential for augmented reality systems in education, particularly projects which involve mobile devices. With reference to your initial point about the nature of shared reality, I like the way that AR appears to problematise the distinctions between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’, and seems to emphasise the idea that individual perception is a kind of ‘meta data’ that alters the observable. I wonder, if you could design an educational augmented reality scenario, what kind of thing do you think you might come up with?

    You may be aware that some of the posthuman literature, particularly Katherine Hayles and Cary Wolfe, discuss autopoiesis, via the systems theory of Maturana and Varela, in relation to posthumanism. Essentially, autopoiesis defines a closed system which perceives the external world as a kind of metaphor; an ‘actual’ from a wider horizon of possibility, a particular pattern from noise. So, wherever there is an ‘actual’, there is simultaneously a broader potential, and these two coexist. Autopoiesis might be a way you can further explore the posthuman dimensions of AR.

    • Thanks for the tip about Autopoiesis, I hadn’t heard of it before. Fascinating stuff, I look forward to digging deeper. Your question about an AR scenario made me pause… I’d been thinking of AR for use in teaching very traditional topics and in very practical terms, much like Streetmusuem:Londinium or Ania’s BMW example; but really it can be so much more than that. I’m reminded of the, by now famous, Virtual Hallucinations example in second life:

      Imagine how much more effective this would be if experienced through AR? The incredible potential of AR is that it brings the unreal into the real world, rather than with VR where we move from the real world into the unreal. The benefit here of course is that we experience something we can relate far more easily to.

      • Grace Elliott says:

        Hi Daniel,
        I hadn’t heard of autopoiesis either and need more than one reading for it to sink in. I found the virtual hallucination example interesting (I’m only now being able to access links). I agree with you, that we can relate better to something we experience. There is so much potential…. maybe then I’ll be able to think like an octopus and you can think like skynet. :)

  • Grace Elliott says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Augmented Reality sounds so exciting. Being able to bring things to life, so to speak, is invaluable for use in education. For some reason after reading your blog I made a connection with a book my daughters enjoyed when they were younger. It was called The Intergalactic Omniglot. This was a device that allowed the user to understand any language in the world and outerspace. I always thought that was such a great idea. I enjoyed your blog and found it so informative.

    • Hi Grace,
      I took a look online for The Intergalactic Omniglot, and you are right! It’s practically a prototype for computer assisted learning. Very prescient! Cheers.