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AR vs. VR Training: How to Choose the Best Technology

Both AR and VR are great technologies that can elevate your learner engagement. But, if you have to choose one or the other, here’s a high-level recap on the differents of AR and VR technologies for training: 

  • AR adds to reality through phones, tablets, and glasses; VR creates a new reality via headsets
  • AR is better for isolated, technical topics; VR is better for complex, soft-skill content
  • AR training and VR training are both expensive, but the long-term ROI proves worthwhile

How many times have you thought you need more engaging training? And how many times have you read or heard that augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) is your ticket to such training? We’re guessing a lot — and for a good reason! 

But that knowledge alone doesn’t solve your original need. In fact, you’re still left with questions, a main one being this: Is AR training or VR training better for me? 

In this article, we’ll define AR and VR, discuss the differences, and help you to feel comfortable choosing an AR or VR training solution for your program.

What Is AR?

Essentially, AR is an extended reality technology (XR), which is an umbrella term we use for technology that:

  1. Adds to reality, or 
  2. Allows for the creation of an entirely new reality. 

AR allows you to use your smartphone, tablet, or AR headset to superimpose text, images, video, and even 3D models onto the world. In other words, AR adds to — or augments — reality. Two popular examples include Snapchat filters (think dog ears appearing on your face) and Pokémon Go (where gamers use their phone or tablet to catch Pokémon that seemingly appear in front of them). 

There are three types of AR:

  • Image Target — video, text, images, or 3D objects overlay a real-world 2D image
  • Object Recognition — a digital 3D model is fixed to a real-world 3D object that can pick up and move the digital 3D model around
  • Plane Detection — a digital 3D model is fixed to a real-world flat surface that is typically stationary, so you have to move around it

Now, let’s consider how you could use AR for training. 

How Can I Use AR For Training?

You can apply AR to training in many ways, but a strength of AR is the ability to enhance and spotlight one thing or process at a time.

For example, let’s consider how we could apply AR to auto mechanic training. Learners could focus their device on:

  • A real-world 2D inspection checklist, thus augmenting reality with a video that walks through the process (image target)
  • A real-world A/C compressor, thus augmenting reality with a digital 3D model that learners can interact with and use as a reference for disassembly and reassembly (object recognition)
  • A real-world flat surface (such as a parking lot), thus augmenting reality with a to-scale 3D model of a car in AR; learners cannot move the car, but they can pop the hood and see where to place parts, like an A/C compressor (plane detection)

Ultimately, AR training allows learners to address one thing at a time in a uniquely experiential way. We’ve used AR to help technicians study a new engine, and we’ve used it to help cashiers practice specific transactions on a POS (point-of-sale) system.

What Are The Advantages Of AR Training?

Knowing what you now know about AR and its training applications, you might still ask yourself why — why should you use AR for training? It has numerous benefits. 

  • Safe Experiential Learning — The opportunity to interact with digital 3D models provides a safe, experiential learning environment. There is no risk to the business, there is no safety risk to the employee, and there is no risk of an employee damaging any real-world products or equipment. 
  • Less Expensive Than VR — AR is less expensive than VR, especially if your business already has tablets, or if your employees have phones they can use. Plus, if you have the hardware necessary for AR training, you’ll have an easier time delivering it at scale. 
  • AR Is Well-Suited For Microlearning — We think of microlearning as training that focuses on one definable concept, idea, skill, object, or process. When creating microlearning, we’re governed by the scope of the subject matter, not the time it takes to cover it. AR can be an engaging tool to carry out microlearning.
  • Can Be Used As a Sales Tool — You can use AR to aid sales by educating customers about products on the sales floor. Everyone can use some help when they’re in the thick of things, and AR is a means for delivering that help in an easy, engaging manner. 

READ MORE: What Is Augmented Reality? Everything You Need To Know

What Are The Drawbacks To AR?

There are a few drawbacks to AR training that you should consider when choosing a solution.

  • AR Training Isn’t Optimized For Soft Skills Content — When it comes to more abstract, conceptual content, particularly soft skills, AR isn’t the best modality. For that sort of training, you don’t want to strip away the environment, since it’s an essential context for any and all soft skills training scenarios.
  • Not As Expensive As VR, But Still Costly — Although AR is not as expensive as VR, the start-up costs for AR can still be higher than alternative modalities, like eLearning and instructor-led training. It can also be costly in terms of the time it takes to develop it. That said, AR training can provide a steady ROI over time.
  • May Need Occasional Updates — As with any of the latest tech, AR is subject to occasional updates. This may require you to press pause on training every now and then, allowing your team or your vendor to make necessary updates and upgrades.

Training Tip: Find a partner who will advise you on the right technology to invest in now and prove agile enough to update as needed. 

What is VR?

Now we come to VR training, which accounts for the second manifestation of XR (extended reality technology). VR allows you to place learners in an entirely new reality. By way of headset, learners enter a world that’s:

  1. Loaded with pre-recorded video, or 
  2. 100% simulated. 

Either way, VR training is a more thoroughly immersive technology than AR, as it takes away your view of the real world and any distractions in it. Even AR headsets or glasses leave a view of the real world intact. This is a significant difference to call out right away since it’s relevant when considering how each XR solution can be applied to training (remember, the whole environment is important for something like soft skills training). 

We’ll consider examples of VR training soon, but first, let’s explain the two types of VR: 

  • 360° Video — Uses an environment made of recorded video shot with an omnidirectional camera, providing a 360° view
  • Full VR — Uses a fully simulated environment

Though there are stylistic differences between the two solutions (namely, real-world footage vs. simulated environment), the central difference is a technical one — and it has major training implications. That difference relates to a concept called Degrees of Freedom.

What Are Degrees Of Freedom?

Degrees of Freedom, or DoF for short, refers to the number of ways that a rigid object can move within a 3D space. In other words, DoF refers to how humans can move in a VR environment. 

In total, there are 6 Degrees of Freedom, as there are six ways an object can move. With VR, you can have 3DoF or 6DoF. Here are the differences: 


  • 360° Video offers 3DoF
  • Learners can look left and right, up and down, and pivot left and right
  • Learners can interact with the environment via gaze control or a laser pointer controller


  • Full VR offers 6DoF
  • Learners can move forward and backward, up and down, and right and left
  • Learners can observeand interact with objects placed in the environment, just like they would if those objects were real

With 360° Video, learners are fixed to a location; with Full VR, learners can move throughout the virtual space.

READ MORE: What Is Virtual Reality Training? Everything You Need To Know

How Can I Use VR For Training?

There are many ways to apply VR to training. To get a sense of the possibilities, consider what makes VR unique. Compared to other learning technologies, VR offers the closest thing to a wholly immersive experience. That allows for meaningful experiential learning related to soft skills and more complex, sprawling technical skills or processes. That could include:

You could challenge learners to coach frustrated employees; you could help learners to practice stacking and wrapping pallets in a warehouse, and you could help learners to practice following safety protocol in the event of an emergency. All of that can be done in a safe, virtual environment without real coworkers, real equipment, or real emergencies.

With VR, the experience is “real” only for the learners. That is the key advantage of VR training; it’s the safe experiential learning that AR training provides, and then some. It allows for:

  • Soft skills development
  • Advanced scenario-based learning 
  • Large-scale operations and technical practice (think operating large machinery, stacking pallets, etc.)

What Are The Drawbacks To VR Training?

There are drawbacks to VR, of course. Let’s take a look. 

  • May Need Occasional Updates — VR shares this drawback with AR. You’ll need to plan on occasional updates and upgrades. It’s important to work with a learning partner who can help you to invest in the right technologies and limit any disruptions in training.
  • High Upfront Costs — VR solutions can have higher costs initially than other solutions, but as with AR, the long-term ROI can negate it. The upfront costs related to traditional headsets can make scalability difficult, though there are less expensive alternatives to getting started with VR, such as cardboard headsets. You can read in detail about the cost of Full VR here.
  • Physical Side Effects — Some people can experience physical side effects when using VR. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, and eye strain. It’s essential that you take steps to ensure your VR training is safe and prepare alternative training for those who can’t participate.

So, What’s Your Reality?

We’ve covered a lot! Hopefully, you feel more comfortable about having to choose between AR training or VR training. Of course, you can always embrace a blended learning strategy and implement both XR solutions into your training! 
Didn’t see your project reflected in this article? Tell us your project details, and we can help you to figure out your options!

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