Dr Claudio Aguayo

Senior Digital Innovation Advisor, Centre for Learning and Teaching & AppLab

Digital learning technologies, i.e. technological tools capable of assisting and supporting educational processes, have proven to enhance learning outcomes across educational sectors and contexts. One key characteristic is that they are continuously changing and evolving in unpredictable ways at an increasingly rapid rate, representing an ongoing challenge to educators and practitioners. Some of the current examples of recent digital learning technologies are the ‘immersive’ technologies and platforms, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D visualisation. Up until recently, immersive digital ‘affordances’ (learning possibilities offered by technological tools) have commonly been addressed and considered in isolation in educational practice, probably due to their novelty and progressive evolution.

In the past ten to five years or so, this approach started to shift towards integrating immersive digital affordances around a particular context and/or setting, with the aim of creating a ‘continuum’ of digital experiences based on the combination of different technologies, tools, platforms and affordances. This notion of ‘digital continuum’ was initially proposed as such during the mid 1990s by Milgram and Kishino (1994), and is what is known today as ‘mixed reality’ or ‘mixed realities’ (MR) in educational practice – at least to most mainstream practitioners. The underlying notion is that a MR digital continuum goes from the ‘real environment’ (RE) end, where no digital immersion exists, all the way to the fully digitally immersive VR end, where digital immersion is at its full (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The mixed reality digital continuum (adapted from Milgram & Kishino, 1994).

Many scholars and practitioners regard MR as the natural evolution of the previously isolated use and application of immersive technologies, like AR and VR, in educational practice. MR as a learning mode, instead, places attention on the combination of digital tools, affordances and platforms offering integrated learning experiences. One crucial aspect of MR learning experiences in education is that they can offer a variety of learning ‘points’ to accommodate a range of users’ characteristics, expectations, cognitive frameworks and needs.

Today, state-of-the-art MR literature currently expands the digital continuum view – rooted in Milgram and Kishino (1994), to now consider MR environments including a multi-variety of dimensions, technological tools and platforms, and embodied user engagement modes, creating interconnected learning ecosystems (see for example Mann et al., 2018; and Speicher, Hall & Nebeling, 2019). This new approach is called ‘XR’, at least by some given the ongoing naming debate. Here the ‘X’ means ‘’anything’ reality’, accounting for the existing technologies and denoting the imminently yet-to-come emerging digital affordances. In this view MR/XR multi-dimensional immersive environments are approached and understood as a dynamic ‘medium’, offering targeted and flexible user experiences leading to user-centric learning processes, as depicted in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Examples of a conceptual MR/XR ecosystem medium offering multiple learning points to users. Artwork from PhD student Ali Taheri (AppLab & Te Ara Poutama), who is exploring embodied interaction design in mixed reality medium.

The relevant point here is that MR/XR as an educational approach opens the door to conceptualise technology-enhanced learning from a completely different and transformative epistemological perspective. From focusing on individual and isolated use of immersive technologies as ‘learning tools’ that can enhance and augment learning experiences and outcomes in education, to now going beyond hardware and software and consider collaborative contexts (space), situations (time), emotions, haptics, embodiment, and culture as key components of an integrated and intertwined dynamic ‘whole’.

The challenge remains in knowing how to ground such epistemological take in contextual practice; and most importantly, without leaving behind the importance of considering non-technology mediated experiences fleshly lived in the real world as a key component of MR/XR. This last does not simply means engaging with the real environment (RE) in passive ways almost by default just because it is ‘out there’, but on the contrary, as an actively facilitated authentic learning strategy where experiences in the real environment and the real world are clearly defined and complemented by the digital. This being what I call the ‘real reality’ (RR) component of MR/XR learning ecosystems.


Aguayo, C. (2017). AR/VR/MR & RR in learning and teaching digital projects. In Paper presented at the THETA 2017 Conference: Connecting Minds. Creating The Future, 7-10 May, Auckland, New Zealand: THETA.

Liu, D., Dede, C., Huang, R., & Richards, J. (Eds.) (2017). Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Realities in Education. Springer.

Mann, S., Furness, T., Yuan, Y., Iorio, J., & Wang, Z. (2018). All reality: Virtual, augmented, mixed (x), mediated (x, y), and multimediated reality. arXiv preprint arXiv:1804.08386.

Milgram, P., & Kishino, F. (1994). A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays. IEICE Transactions on Information Systems , 77(12).

Speicher, M., Hall, B., and Nebeling, M. (2019). What is Mixed Reality?. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Proceedings (CHI 2019), May 4–9, 2019, Glasgow, Scotland, UK. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 15 pages. https://doi.org/ 10.1145/3290605.3300767