Seamlessly blend what you live with what you learn.
by Christian David Vázquez Machado
Learning a second language is a journey that typically begins in the classroom. However, it’s not until we get out into the world that we validate our success (or failure) at learning by employing language to accomplish our goals. This transition, or rather transfer of knowledge, from a realm of conventional (curriculum-ready) interactions to an unpredictable reality comes with its own challenges. The language-learning classroom is (hopefully) an environment where we feel safe to make mistakes when we communicate with other learners. The real world, on the other hand, is not nearly as forgiving. When you’re up next in line to order a cup of coffee in a non-native language during rush hour, it’s easy to freeze up, make mistakes, and end up with the wrong drink! Expressing oneself becomes a challenge of finding the right words to transmit the right set of ideas in ever-changing situations. In a way, there is a disconnect between the context in which people learn, and the way that knowledge is catalyzed in real-life scenarios. (In fact, this is not an exclusive dilemma to language learners, but to learners in general.)
Many opportunities to learn a new language surround us everyday. Be it in the music we hear in the streets, the TV shows we watch in the comfort of our homes, or the people we interact with at work — we come across tiny bits of knowledge that we could employ to our advantage in our quest to master a new language. Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn Spanish while we enjoy the latest episode of Game of Thrones?
Unfortunately, these ubiquitous learning experiences tend to pass us by. Sometimes we lack the minimum expertise (e.g. vocabulary) to grasp them. Others are so nuanced and swift that are gone in the blink of an eye. In general, we don’t have the tools we need to leverage such experiences and turn them into instances of serendipitous learning. However, luckily for us, mobile technology has become an ever-present agent that can mediate these fleeting moments, allowing us to take advantage of these learning experiences that happen around us and bridge the gap between where we learn language and where we employ our new skills.
Mixed reality (MR) offers a promising way to mediate these learning opportunities on-the-go by projecting onto the learner’s physical reality. Think Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit and its ability to augment his environment with visual cues that allow him to swiftly address any situation. The core motivation behind MR as a medium for learning is simple and powerful: How can we extend the world around us with information and interactions that enable situated learning outside of a classroom?