“Predictions are challenging, especially when predicting the future.”

For teenagers, the option of anonymity online gives them the freedom to ask whatever they want.

Every year for the past decade, I have blogged about what I think the big ideas and trends around eLearning will be for the following year.  Some of those predictions have been spot on (MOOC-fever in 2009) while others have missed the mark (Confidence based testing in 2007 – I still think we missed the mark by not pushing this concept…).  But, with 2014 on its way, the time has come for some more predilections.

Differently than previous years, I have decided to go for quantity this time.  I’m going to briefly describe 7 trends that I believe will hit their stride, really get (meaningfully) started, or otherwise dot the education landscape.  In other words, here are 7 things I believe you will see blogged about regularly, formally written about in education publications, the subject of grants and other financial opportunities, and represented in numerous conference presentation titles.  Enjoy!

1. Tablets  – Already the dominant product today (most computer manufacturers have already limited creation of laptops, etc), schools will see more utilization of these devices. iOS will settle into a “premium” model due to market penetration. (Yes, the irony of Apple’s dominant position as the market adopted leader is not lost on someone who attended high school in the 1980’s.)Android will be used by the masses because of the “freemium” model. But more than that, the “groove” of curriculum, content, and assessment for education is starting to be felt with regard to these devices that are ubiquitous in many other businesses today. 

While this does not mean more teachers will employ use of social media – one look at the Babson survey finds that college professors are just now reaching the norms of the general population for personal use, while use of these tools in the classroom are still quite low – nor does it mean that K-12 organizations will open up the security gates for more web usage. The fear of life outside a walled garden is still real and still high.But tablets, which can now be seen in several commercials touting their educational relevance, will move into a place of appropriateness in the classroom. From simulations to assessment “packages” combining both software and hardware to better searching/citation aggregation, tablets will find a more relevant home in the walls of academia.

2. Speech to Text – Talking to our devices has proven to be challenging.Training our devices to understand our particular nuanced dialects and verbiage choices has been frustrating and annoying – just look at the YouTube videos of people trying to ask their devices to act in one way, only to get another response. But, the detection of human vocal and semantic patterns is getting better every day. More and more people have come to rely on the “hands-free” options for their devices to save time, save from distractions, and save typos on those little keypads.

I think one of the more controversial predictions I’ll make is that 2014 will see a surge of “siri-esque” interactions for students (and occasionally for instructors). While I don’t know that we’ll see it on a test anytime soon (with perhaps second language courses being the notable exception), I’m seeing more and more teacher-bloggers talk about asking their students to keep audio journals and collections of “spoken thought” snippets. The natural evolution is to start simply telling the computers what to do, what to search for, and how to act and I think students will start making far more use of these time-saving tools. 

3. Learning Spaces – If the listservs I subscribe to are an indication, hundreds if not thousands of schools are looking to sink money into the creation of new learning environments. More anecdotal than researched, there is an assumption that changing the spaces of learning will lead to changing the ways students learn and the ways teachers teach. While I personally believe that much of this funding will be largely wasted as there will be a large disparity between innovative architecture, space design, and actual impact, the grants and donations for better, smarter, and more “21st Century” learning spaces will roll in. 

But again, while classrooms may soon look like the deck of the starship Enterprise or like the coolest Internet café, I hope those donors and builders ask questions about how to architect effective learning EXPERIENCES. After all, putting a candle on the table at a Burger Bash doesn’t make it a romantic date – likewise, adding moveable seating, dimming lights, and writeable walls does not a classroom any less boring if the lesson creator doesn’t use them effectively. 

(I’ll blog soon about a friend of mine who recently told the board of a major R-1 university that he could save them millions in learning space design. He emptied a grocery sack on a table with a candle, three colored light bulbs, a sound machine, and two tablets and pronounced, “Here is your learning space of the future…”)

4. Flattened Education World – in the past decade, colleges and universities have begun to see (and recognize) the “rock star” teacher. What used to be only viewed as a research proclivity (as it was research that brought in actual dollars), social media and awareness by governing agencies have created superstar educators. And so, as happens in any industry, some of those elite professors have been convinced to take positions in places other than their home schools which found them fame. In other words, the world of education has seen more professor leave their homes and even home countries to teach elsewhere. Some leave for research promises, some for more freedom to experiment with teaching, while others go because they have a heart for the world, and still others for money, and beyond. At the same time, more and more countries send their best and brightest to study under these Master teachers. 

Whether as graduate assistants or even just undergraduates, many of the innovative practices and strategic thinking around andragogy have been shared with students who are now back in their home countries, ready to educate. Add MOOCs into the mix, shared learning across borders, and co-taught courses between schools and again, across countries, and “rock star” teachers are becoming as available to students as ever before.While much of the education world worries about being a top X ranked school in the world, those titles are becoming less meaningful by the year – especially to students (and parents) for whom a real lack of transparency goes hand in hand with such rankings. And so, in 2014 I believe this will manifest itself in two significant ways.

First (and best) of all, with a few common languages (English still being the dominant), students are finding more and more global choice in higher education.Therefore, more transferability will take place than ever before.This will become obvious in organizations that help students with a “mapped” learning experience.Take any class from X, Y, or Z college and the credit(s) will transfer to A,B, or C University…guaranteed.  As well, 2014 will start to see institutions of higher education needing to find more ways to differentiate themselves.Ties to business and industry will be one decent marker. (“Our graduates get jobs in X profession 78% of the time…”) Others will start to push learning experiences that are personalized to schedules, learning preferences, and on and on.

5. A La Carte Learning – 2014 will see a major uptick in multi-modal programming.From badges to certifications to full degrees to diplomas and beyond, educators have stopped trying to find the single “best” way to educate and are now realizing that there are dozens of great ways to not only provide education, but also to determine success.While many Liberal Arts professors can still artfully debate the importance of a holistic education, the pragmatism of money, time, and other currency to consumers will matter.

In 2014, students will find more and more options, for some kind of credit, in both formal AND informal learning areas.Students will find more credit options in the MOOC space, the availability of micro-courses, via peer to peer studies, with cross-organizational / cross-country options, etc.As LinkedIn and other services push hard to get Badges and other “mini” certifications into the resume discussion, schools will follow their lead and provide smaller, “bit sized” solutions for hungry learners who don’t have time, money, or the desire for entire degrees.

6. Constructivism Will Flourish – Just like neuroscience (above), more and more “movements” have emerged out of and around constructivist teaching and learning that are finally getting both the press and the implementations they likely deserve. From the veteran PBL to up and comers like the Maker Movement, Flipped Learning, Challenge-Based Learning, Entrepreneurial Linked Education, etc., people are realizing that the old apprenticeship model is again possible, at scale, thanks to technology.

That connection between the learner and real products, services, or ideas is, to many, a fundamental “missing link” with most education today.2014 will see a surge of these models showcased in schools through grants won, research performed, and implementation ideas illustrated at conferences.Journal articles will see ties between these methods and everything from Common Core Standards to “high level” teaching and learning to assessment and beyond. At the same time more software and “app” solutions will make their way into the mix as OER and commercially driven solutions are needed to continue scaling the ways students and teachers create, consume, remix, and share. 

7. Competency Based Learning – This isn’t entirely fair actually.My “crystal ball” was more like a cheat sheet in this case.In fact, my prognostication was just ‘scooped’ as I read about in an Inside Higher Education article yesterday. 

In 2013 the DOE allowed financial aid to be given within the framework of a CBL program.At the same time, at a meeting I attended through Pearson, they suggested that Competency Based Learning will become the “norm” for colleges and universities within 5-10 years and as such, are seeking some “Experimental Design” programs to start delivering a CBL model today. This declaration will scare a lot of schools, but a few will step up to the challenge, trying to be first to market and also so as to learn what “not to do” early, as they strive to create meaningful competency assessment and reporting for their programs.Of course this also means that the rhetoric of CBL will begin to see a LOT more press as well.

After all, some opponents of CBL say that it will just bring the culture of heavy usage, high stakes testing to Higher Education like NCLB or Common Core produced in K-12. Some argue that competencies will dilute critical thinking and problem solving, instead giving priority to memorization and less meaningful, “lower level” education. On the other side of the debate is the notion that CBL will promote faster, cheaper, and more personalized education, giving students a realistic chance to graduate and get into the workforce both quickly AND highly qualified.2014 will see the start of an interesting decade (or more) of questions and answers around the future of higher education…

Here’s to a great New Year. May you and yours find the best possible education experiences at every turn.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D. Borden is the vice president of Academic Strategy & Instruction at Pearson.

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