horizon report

#9: 6 essential technologies on the higher ed horizon


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

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on February 15th of this year, was our #9 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2017 countdown!]

Tablets are just the beginning of Natural User Inerfaces (NUIs) in college and university settings; and any institution interested in remaining relevant in the next five years should start redesigning their learning spaces to better promote collaborative learning. These are just some of the revelations part of the New Media Consortium’s (NMC) and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s (ELI) 2017 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 78 education and technology experts from 22 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 15 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):

  • Blended Learning Designs: This trend has topped the list of trends for the past five higher education editions of the NMC Horizon Report. The current focus of this trend has “shifted to understanding how applications of digital modes of teaching are impacting students. Many findings showcase an increase in creative thinking, independent study, and the ability for the student to tailor learning experiences to meet their individual needs,” states the report.
  • Collaborative Learning: According to the report, technology plays an important role in the implementation of this trend: cloud-based services, apps, and other digital tools promote persistent connectivity, enabling students and educators to access and contribute to shared workspaces, anytime. “Further, through adaptive learning and student advising platforms, data can be shared across an institution to illuminate student performance in order to inform improved instructional design and student advising,” notes the Horizon report.

(Mid-Term, 3-5 years):

  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning: As societal and economic factors redefine what skills are necessary in today’s workforce, colleges and universities must rethink how to define, measure, and demonstrate subject mastery and soft skills such as creativity and collaboration. “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,” highlights the report.
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces:  Educational settings are increasingly designed to support project-based interactions with attention to greater mobility, flexibility and multiple device usage. To improve remote communication, institutions are also upgrading wireless bandwidth and installing large displays that allow for collaboration on digital projects. Also, universities are exploring how mixed reality technologies can blend 3D holographic content into physical spaces for simulations. “As higher education continues to move away from traditional, lecture-based lessons toward more hands-on activities, classrooms are starting to resemble real-world work and social environments that foster organic interactions and cross-disciplinary problem-solving,” says the Horizon report.

(Long-Term, 5 or more years):

  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation: The focus of this trend has shifted from understanding the value of fostering the exploration of new ideas to finding ways to replicate it across a span of diverse learning institutions. According to the report, research has been conducted over the past year to better understand how institutions can nurture the types of culture that promotes experimentation. “A significant element for progressing this movement is the call for higher education to alter its status quo to accept failure as an important part of the learning process,” notes the report.
  • Deeper Learning Approaches: To remain motivated, students need to be able to make clear connections between their coursework and the real world, and how the new knowledge and skills will impact them. Project-based learning, challenge-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and similar methods are fostering more active learning experiences. “As the enabling role of technologies for learning crystalizes, instructors are leveraging these tools to relate materials and assignments to real-life applications,” states the report.

(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):

  • Adaptive Learning Technologies:  Encompassed by personalized learning and linked to learning analytics, adaptive learning refers to the technologies monitoring student progress, using data to modify instruction at any time.
  • Mobile Learning: “As the processing power of smartphones, smartwatches, and tablets continues to increase dramatically, mobile learning enables learners to access materials anywhere, often across multiple devices. Convenience is driving demand for this strategy, with potential for new mobile-enhanced delivery models that can increase access to education,” emphasizes the Horizon report.

(Mid-Term, 3-5 years):

  • The Internet of Things (IoT): IoT consists of objects endowed with computing power through processors or imbedded sensors that are capable of transmitting information across networks. Connected devices are generating data on student learning and campus activity, informing the direction of content delivery and institutional planning.
  • Next-Gen LMS: “Viewed as a centralized location for the ephemera of learning experiences, LMS have long been adopted by colleges and universities worldwide to manage and administer online and blended courses. However, some thought leaders believe current LMS are limited in capacity, too narrowly focused on the administration of learning rather than the learning itself,” notes the report. Next-generation LMS refers to the development of more flexible spaces that support personalization, meet universal design standards, and play a larger role in formative learning assessment.

(Long-Term, 5 or more years):

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): According to the report, AI is proving valuable for more sophisticated natural user interfaces through voice recognition and natural language processing, allowing humans to interact with machines similarly to how they interact with each other. “As the underlying technologies continue to develop, AI has the potential to enhancemonline learning, adaptive learning software, and research processes in ways that more intuitively respond to and engage with students.”
  • Natural User Interfaces (NUIs): NUIs accept input in the form of taps, swipes, and other ways of touching; hand and arm motions; body movement; and increasingly, natural language. NUIs enable users to engage in virtual activities with movements similar to what they would use in the real world, manipulating content intuitively. “While there are many applications of gesture and voice recognition already, developments in haptic technology, tactile sensations that convey information to the user, are creating new areas of scientific inquiry and application in education,” says the report.

(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):

  • Improving Digital Literacy: Due to the multitude of elements comprising digital literacy, “higher education leaders are challenged to obtain institution-wide buy-in to support all stakeholders in developing these competencies. Frameworks are helping institutions assess current staff capabilities, identify growth areas, and develop strategies to implement digital literacy practices,” states the Horizon report.
  • Integrating Formal and Informal Learning: The report reveals that there is a lack of scalable methods of formally documenting and assessing skills mastered outside of the classroom, and adapting pricing structures and financial aid models to fit new degree options.

(Difficult; understand issue but solutions are elusive):

  • Achievement Gap: The challenge facing higher education is to cater to all learners’ needs, “aligning postsecondary programs with deeper learning outcomes and the acquisition of 21st century skills, enabled by personalized learning strategies and data-driven student support systems that foster goal achievement and gainful employment,” says the report.
  • Advancing Digital Equity: The report states that more than 30 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. Technology plays an important role in advancing the availability of higher education for underrepresented student populations and ensuring accessibility of web materials for disabled students. Online learning is enabled by high-speed internet access, while use of open educational resources can provide cost savings to students.

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

  • Managing Knowledge Obsolescence: “Staying organized and current presents a challenge to academics in a world where educational needs, software, and devices advance at a strenuous rate,” highlights the report. Just as faculty and staff are able to master one technology, it seems a new version launches. “Institutions must grapple with the longevity of technologies and devise back-up plans before making large investments.”
  • Rethinking the Roles of Educators: The shift to student-centered learning requires educators to act as guides and facilitators. As technology-enabled approaches gather steam, many institutions across the world are rethinking the primary responsibilities of educators. “Related to these growing expectations are the implications of societal changes and evolving faculty models where an increasing percentage of classes are being taught by non-tenure track instructors,” says the report.

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: 2017 Higher Education Edition.