This story appears in the March 2017 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Parents may have rejoiced last year when their kids left the couch to run around outside, hunting imaginary creatures. But the kids still clutched digital devices: They were using an augmented reality (AR) app, which layers computer-generated images over a user’s surroundings, to turn the real world into a Pokémon Go safari.
Its ability to engage kids has made AR a powerful tool for education. AR technology can let students experience climate change and witness historic events. It can even assist them with homework assignments.
Some scientists contend that screen time may rewire the developing brain, hinder cognitive abilities, and cause behavioral problems. But unlike other forms of digital media, “the primary activity in AR is interacting with the real world,” says Chris Dede, a professor in learning technologies at Harvard University.
Dede foresees a future where academic lessons will be matched to augmented settings, from economics in malls to biology in zoos. Investors foresee a windfall: According to a Goldman Sachs estimate, AR and virtual reality education tech combined will generate $700 million annually by 2025.