Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 36 Number 3 2019 pp. 683-729

Framework of Affordances for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Steffen, Jacob H, Gaskin, James E, Meservy, Thomas O, Jenkins, Jeffrey L, and Wolman, Iopa


Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies continue to grow and present possibilities to change the ways we learn, accomplish tasks, and interact with the world. However, widespread adoption has continually languished below purported potential. We suggest that a more complete understanding of the underlying motives driving users to take advantage of VR and AR would aid researchers by consolidating fragmented knowledge across domains and by identifying paths for additional inquiry. Additionally, practitioners could identify areas of unmet motives for using VR and AR. To examine the motives for virtualization, we draw upon Gibson’s seminal work on affordances to create a framework of generalized affordances for virtually assisted activities relative to the affordances of physical reality. This framework facilitates comparison of virtualized activities to non-virtualized activities, comparison of similar activities across VR and AR, and delineates areas of inquiry for future research. The validity of the framework was explored through two quantitative studies and one qualitative study of a wide variety of professionals. We found that participants perceive a significant difference between physical reality and both VR and AR for all proposed affordances, and that for many affordances, users perceive a difference in the ability of AR and VR to enact them. The qualitative study confirmed the general structure of the framework, while also revealing additional sub-affordances to explore. Theoretically, this suggests that examining the affordances that differentiate these technologies from physical reality may be a valid approach to understanding why users adopt these technologies. Practitioners may find success by focusing development on the specific affordances that VR or AR is best equipped to enact.

Key words and phrases: augmented reality, virtual reality, technology affordances, virtually assisted activities, theoretical framework, adoption motivations, technology adoption