Immersion or Augmentation: A culture or just another tool?

As well as developing technology and processes many of the Users and Innovation projects are also engaged in much wider debates, pushing our understanding of the role of technology in the wider education sector.

The Habitat project is currently exploring the role of virtual worlds such as Second Life, which may on one hand be described as ‘immersive’ but in some pedagogical circles may be described as ‘augmentative’ The immersion verses augmentation debate may become more important as the sector looks at integrating these technologies into educational and research practice.

The immersion ‘camp’ tends to describe virtual worlds as a culture or society in which we play a role and/or become a member while the augmentationist ‘camp’ describes them as simply an addition to the range of tools we already use to communicate. Whilst for people not in either camp the debate looks reasonably esoteric, the debate is actually quite divisive and feeds the desire of those involved to be in a particular ‘camp’. In this way it is similar to the classic mac vs PC discussion we all like to partake of occasionally. Nevertheless the immersion vs augmentation concept could act as a useful yardstick for the projects such as the Habitat project which is piloting the
educational use of virtual worlds with art & design students and philosophy students.

When the project is developing its pilots, for example, for their philosophy students, the students may simply want to have a discussion at a distance so the only valid reason to use something like Second Life is if it brings a sense of presence beyond that of a straight text chat. In this sense the measure for the success of the pilot is focused on immersion. In contrast to this the art & design students will be in the same room whilst building aesthetic artefacts in world. This is a direct extension of their real life practice in the studio and could be said to fall into the augmentation category. Clearly the division between these principles and between the pilots is not black and white. Each aspect of the pilots contains elements of both immersion and augmentation. The Habitat team’s role is to delicately use the distinction to guide the pedagogical design of the pilots and to evaluate the success of their activities.

To keep an eye on the debate, and to contribute, monitor the Project Blog. Alternatively, if you are attending the Next Generation Environments conference (further information from Lawrie Phipps) there will be a chance to engage the Habitat team in the debate on day one of the event.


  1. Immersion vs. augmentation debate is based on a false dichotomy. While ago, somebody put the wrong definitions of those terms in public and, as mobilising people in camps and making them fight is always easy thing to do, we now have a verbal battle that leads nowhere except in deeper misunderstanding of what is going on in virtual worlds.

    Immersion and augmentation are not extremes of the same spectrum
    . Actually, to fully explore and experience second life, one has to be both. SL is a platform, it is a tool for communication (in broadest possible sense due to its complexity and diversity of activities possible with it). With that in respect, it is augmetative tool, out humans extend themselves into virtual world.

    But that world is very different than meatspace our bodies exist in. It is another culture. And to access that world, that culture, one have to immerse in. That doesn’t mean that we have to hide our humans there (though that is an option and can be exercised for many reasons).

    I hope that it is clear that common attitude that we all fall somewhere on the spectrum and that we define our existence in VW by standing closer to one of the extremes is not so natural anymore. We, each of us, live here both augmented and immersed. Declining one of the principles means we live incomplete lives. Being a false “immersionist” is living without our physical part, a large and important part of our existence. On the other hand, being false “augmentationsist” is living like a tourist in the foreign culture. Visiting but lacking the true experience of the place we are in.

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