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Revolutionizing Career Preparation with Augmented Reality

September 6, 2023

At a Glance

AR programming as a foundational skill for community college learners.

Matthew Longo Senior Program Manager
Cydni Burton Program Manager
Practices & Centers Topics

Community college partners have found early success in implementing an augmented reality (AR) training program with participants across disciplines and academic levels. In a pioneering spring 2023 pilot at Isothermal Community College (ICC) in Spindale, North Carolina, participants and program champions showcased AR’s transcendence of instructional discipline and power as an emerging skill set for jobs.

In seeking to democratize AR and reach learners who typically do not have access to burgeoning technology training, Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Meta chose to launch the pilot programming at community colleges, which have always played a vital role in driving the economic development of their local communities as accessible and affordable educational institutions.

Guided by the beginner-friendly Meta Spark curriculum, program champions discovered AR’s potential as a low-lift building block for future extended reality (XR) offerings. Through this experience, participants who were initially drawn to the program with creative and actionable preconceptions of AR’s application to their interests gained a broader view of AR’s wide relevance to myriad careers and a sincere desire to continue developing skills.

Curiosity Sparked: Why Did Learners Choose to Participate?

I want to be able to function in a rapidly changing society rather than being left behind.

program participant

In the program’s recruitment phase, participants joined with a desire to stay ahead of the curve. Most believed AR technology could be used in all industries and would improve their prospects of getting a job, with some noting AR as a frequent topic of discussion in their fields, including graphic design, web development, and mechanical engineering and education. From the perspective of ICC’s program champions, participants capitalized on the newness and buzz of AR to fuel recruitment.

Interestingly, participants arrived with vibrant preconceptions of how AR might connect to their interests, despite having a lack of context for what AR is and how it applies to careers. A small business owner envisioned captivating AR car wraps, while another recognized the potential for immersive product marketing in the restaurant industry. Participants also saw fashion design, health care tech, web design, hospitality, and manufacturing as ripe for AR-driven possibilities.

Intentionality of Program Champions: AR Training as a Building Block for Future XR Programming

The accessibility of free platforms like Meta Spark, combined with the relatively modest hardware requirements of augmented reality, offers students a gateway to the realm of extended reality.

Dr. Greg Thomas, vice president of academic and student affairs, Isothermal Community College

XR offerings were uncharted territory for ICC, so the administration treated the AR pilot as a first step in building out future XR programming. As Program Administrator Dr. Greg Thomas noted, “Our motivation stemmed from the realization of the immense value in equipping our students with the essential skills needed to thrive in the ever-changing work landscape, regardless of their chosen career paths.” This overarching goal, preparing learners for future jobs and anticipated training and hiring requirements regardless of discipline, served as a central impetus for the training.

Program champions also viewed the program as a flexible tool for workforce development and community engagement. They intentionally engaged a fluid mix of for-credit and not-for-credit students from the two-year degree population as well as others pursuing continuing education, professional development, and industry-aligned credentials, including those without secondary or postsecondary degrees and those working full time.

Throughout the program, administrators discovered the unique qualities of AR as an entry point for broader XR programming. Due to its modest technical requirements (desktops or laptops and phones, in conjunction with the downloadable, free Meta Spark platform), AR may present the easiest path forward for a community college making its first foray into XR programming, especially when compared with the hardware requirements of virtual reality training.

Embedding the programming into an existing menu of noncredit certification offerings allowed the college to reach a wide group of program participants. This approach also required less lead time compared to incorporating the programming into degree tracks, reflecting a pragmatic and efficient strategy for rolling out this in-demand content for ICC’s program participants.

AR and Career Exploration: Transcending Academic and Professional Disciplines

I realized the scope of [AR tech] . . . I hadn’t understood how all-encompassing it is.

Megan Junge, program participant

Due to ICC’s broad recruitment strategy, the AR pilot program attracted and retained participants across educational levels and academic tracks, with represented interests in graphic design, marketing, web development, manufacturing, health care, engineering, and education, among others. With a cohort-based model, flipped classroom instruction, and wraparound support, all participants received the comprehensive guidance necessary to navigate such a new technology, which helped them overcome any early doubts. As Veta Torres, a program participant interested in scientific research, stated, “[I thought] maybe I had to already know a whole lot about computer science to even start. . . . Now, I wish I could tell myself to relax about it.” For the currently employed participants, the AR programming benefits of self-paced, individualized, and remote learning, in conjunction with in-person meetings for added support, were particularly salient.

While program participants arrived with little to no knowledge of AR’s applications, the cohort’s varied final presentations demonstrated a carefully considered and broad range of AR use cases. At a closing event with invited employers, college leadership, local policymakers, and family members, participants delivered impressive AR products related to concepts like health care tech (an application that reimagined the pain scale for hospital use), music education (an interactive tuning product for stringed instruments), higher education marketing (an ICC graduation filter designed to engage adult learners), and small business development. Information Technology Instructor and Program Champion Katlin Wright Mitchell noted, “Their finished projects blew me away . . . [especially considering] they came from all different academic backgrounds.”

Inviting local employers to the event assisted with career exploration. While the Meta Spark curriculum served as an accessible entry point to AR, complementing it with employer perspectives offered participants real-time insights into the many ways to apply their skills. Throughout the presentations and resulting roundtable talks, participants and employers discussed how AR can support various needs in the local communities, igniting excitement about AR’s potential effects on everyday life.

Community Colleges as XR Pioneers: Recommendations for Establishing AR Programming

​​My town is so small and isolated, and I see these small businesses open up all the time. . . . A lot of them are owned by women and other minorities, and the whole community is already underserved. If these people had the tools to get an online presence, it would really help. . . . I can definitely see [the possibilities of] that with AR.

Sarah Iamurri, program participant

AR has no bounds, so neither should your recruitment: AR will continue to shape the way we live, work, and learn in the coming years, and more learners and workers must gain familiarity with this technology in order to meet the demands of the jobs of the future. Community college administrators can expand the marketing of AR programming beyond traditional tracks like graphic design or computer science. While a background in coding or design can be beneficial, learners can excel in AR with no prior technical knowledge, especially with foundational platforms like Meta Spark.

Engage local employers and decision makers early on: Involving local decision makers (such as policymakers and board of trustee members) and employers through opportunities like closing events elevates the program experience for participants and plants the seed for college leadership and the local community to expand XR education.

Use AR programming as a feeder for related courses: Participants left the programming excited to continue AR exploration but also enthusiastic to learn more about 3-D modeling, coding, and additional design programming, with others indicating a renewed interest in exploring other noncredit offerings.

As metaverse and XR technologies reshape every aspect of education and work, JFFLabs is helping partners across this growing ecosystem ensure the benefits of these innovations reach everyone.

​​JFF is excited to continue working with ICC and other colleges to implement AR programming. We look forward to continuing to share lessons and recommendations. Get in touch to learn more.

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