6 influential technologies on the higher ed horizon

6 influential technologies on the higher ed horizon

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The rise of robots is no longer science fiction; and any institution interested in remaining relevant in the next five years should start advancing “cultures of innovation.” These are just two…

Annual Horizon Report details short-and long-term technologies, trends that will impact higher education in the next 5 years.


The rise of robots is no longer science fiction; and any institution interested in remaining relevant in the next five years should start advancing “cultures of innovation.” These are just two of the revelations part of the New Media Consortium’s (NMC) and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s (ELI) 2016 Higher Education Edition of the annual Horizon Report.

The report, which decides which trends and technologies will have a dramatic influence on higher ed in the next 5 years thanks to a panel of 58 education and technology experts from 16 countries on 5 continents, aims to help inform the choices that institutions are making about technology to improve, support, or extend teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in higher ed across the world.

With more than 14 years of research and publications, NMC says that the report can be regarded as “the world’s longest-running exploration of emerging technology trends and uptake in education.”

Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption

According to the report, the trends that will affect technology use and adoption in higher ed are:

(Short-Term, 1-2 years):

  • Growing focus on measuring learning: a renewed interest in assessment and the wide variety of methods and tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, and other educational needs of students. “The proliferation of data mining software and developments in online education, mobile learning, and learning management systems are coalescing toward learning environments that leverage analytics and visualization software to portray learning data in a multidimensional and portable manner. In online and blended courses, data can reveal how student actions contribute to their progress and specific learning gains,” states the report.
  • Increasing use of blended learning designs: According to the report, higher ed institutions are upping the ante of innovation in these digital environments, which are widely considered to be ripe for new ideas, services, and products. “Progress in learning analytics, adaptive learning, and a combination of cutting-edge asynchronous and synchronous tools will continue to advance the state of blended learning and keep it compelling, though many of these methods are still the subjects of research by online learning providers and institutions.”

(Mid-Term, 3-5 years):

  • Redesigning learning spaces: “More universities are helping to facilitate emerging pedagogies and strategies, such as the flipped classroom, by rearranging learning environments to accommodate more active learning. Educational settings are increasingly designed to support project-based interactions with attention to greater mobility, flexibility, and multiple device usage. Institutions are upgrading wireless bandwidth to create ‘smart rooms’ that support web conferencing and other methods of remote, collaborative communication. Large displays and screens are being installed to enable collaboration on digital projects and informal presentations.”
  • Shift to deeper learning approaches: To encourage student motivation, instructors need to be able to make clear connections between the curriculum and the real world, and how the new knowledge and skills will impact their students. “Project-based learning, challenge-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and similar methods are fostering more active learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom.”

(Long-Term, 5 or more years):

  • Advancing cultures of innovation: “There is a growing consensus among many higher education thought leaders that institutional leadership and curricula could benefit from adopting agile startup models,” notes the report. “Educators are working to develop new approaches and programs based on these models that stimulate top-down change and can be implemented across a broad range of institutional settings.
  • Rethinking how institutions work: With an emphasis on making students more work-savvy, institutions are looking to new policy initiatives, programs, and curriculum that encourage students to work with peers from different disciplinary backgrounds on innovative solutions to complex problems. There is also an emphasis on exploring alternate methods of delivery and credentialing “in order to accommodate a rapidly increasing student population and the diversity of their needs.”

(Next page: The 6 influential technologies on the horizon)

Important Developments in Ed-Tech in Higher Ed
According to the report, due to the trends currently affecting higher ed, the technologies that institutions should take note of include:

(Short-Term, 1-2 years):

  • BYOD: “While BYOD policies have been shown to reduce overall technology spending, they are gaining traction more so because they reflect the contemporary lifestyle and way of working,” explains the report.
  • Learning analytics and adaptive learning: Today’s educational tools are now capable of learning the way people learn. Enabled by machine learning technologies, they can adapt to each student in real time.

(Mid-Term, 3-5 years):

  • Augmented and virtual reality: “Augmented reality (AR), the layering of data over 3D spaces to produce a new experience of the world, sometimes referred to as ‘blended reality,’ amplifies access to information, bringing new opportunities for learning,” says the report. “Virtual reality (VR) describes computer-generated environments that simulate the physical presence of people and objects to generate realistic sensory experiences.”
  • Makerspaces: “Creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational considerations as tools such as 3D printers, robotics, and 3D modeling applications become accessible to more students. The question of how to renovate or repurpose classrooms and labs to address the needs of the future is being answered through the concept of makerspaces, which offer tools and learning experiences to help people carry out their ideas.”

(Long-Term, 5 or more years):

  • Affective computing: Refers to the “idea that humans can program machines to recognize, interpret, process, and simulate the range of human emotions,” describes the report. “In higher education, a potential application of affective computing is in online learning situations wherein a computerized tutor reacts to facial indications of boredom from a student in an effort to motivate or boost confidence.”
  • Robotics: Its potential uses are starting to gain traction in higher ed, says the report, especially in the medical field. New outreach programs are also promoting robotics and programming as multi-disciplinary STEM skills.

(Next page: The challenges associated with the trends and technologies)

Challenges to Technology Adoption

The report highlights significant challenges impeding technology adoption in higher ed, which include:

(Solvable; understand how to solve):

  • Blending formal and informal learning: Institutions have not yet been able to incorporate informal learning experiences across their courses and programs at scale. “An overarching goal is to cultivate the pursuit of lifelong learning in all students and faculty. However, methods of formally acknowledging and rewarding skills both instructors and students master outside of the classroom are compounding this challenge.”
  • Improving digital literacy: “Lack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many institutions from formulating adequate policies and programs that address this challenge,” emphasizes the report. “Compounding this issue is the notion that digital literacy differs for educators and learners, as teaching with technology is inherently different from learning with it.

(Difficult; understand issue but solutions are elusive):

  • Competing models of education: While MOOCs were at the forefront of discussions a few years ago, “competency-based education, coding boot camps, and general unbundling of products and services are also disrupting existing credit hour systems and degree programs.”
  • Personalizing learning: While there is demand, personalized learning is “not adequately supported by current technology or practices — especially at scale,” says the report. A major barrier is that “scientific, data-driven approaches to effectively facilitate personalization have only recently begun to emerge…Compounding the challenge is the notion that technology is not the whole solution — personalized learning efforts must incorporate effective pedagogy and include faculty in the development process.”

(Wicked; complex even to define, much less address):

Balancing connected and unconnected lives: “To prevent students from getting lost in the abundant sea of digital tools, universities and colleges are tasked with encouraging mindful use while making them aware of their digital footprint and the accompanying implications,” explains the report. “As education aligns more closely with technological trends, instructors will have to promote this balance, facilitating opportunities where students feel, digest, reflect, and pursue sensorial experiences that are crucial to developing character and integrity.”

Keeping education relevant: According to the report, many countries (Like the U.S.) have responded with initiatives prioritizing STEM training, “yet critics of this movement defend studies of the humanities as promoting ethical inquiry and social justice. Although vocational education and training (VET) has been framed as a promising solution, negative cultural perceptions are still driving students into formal education.”

For much more in-depth information on these trends, technologies and challenges, as well as information on methodology, resources, and technology planning guides for institutions, read the full report, “NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition.”

View the work that produced the report on the official project wiki.

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