Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Horizon 2014

One of the highlights of the edtech year is the release of the annual NMC Horizon Report with its predictions on the most important trends in educational technology for the coming years. We don't need to wait in suspense for this year's report because NMC (New Media Consortium) have already released a preview report listing the key trends and challenges facing higher education: NMC Horizon Report - 2014 Higher Education Preview. This preview gives a summary of the main findings in the report but does not provide all the excellent examples and case studies that the final report provides.

Here are the trends they see in the usual classification of short-term, medium-term and long-term. I have added some comments of my own on each point.

Fast moving trends (1-2 years)
  • Online, hybrid, and collaborative learning
    This refers to the integration of online and classroom learning where students are able to combine online collaboration and face-to-face instruction. Often referred to as hybrid or blended learning this is already a reality at many institutions where online is default in all courses. However what is often missing is systematic quality assurance to ensure that technology is implemented in a strategic and consistent manner. This is a trend that I see coming to the fore in the next couple of years, integrating technology use into mainstream quality assurance systems for higher education.
  • Social media use in learning
    This is no real surprise either since educators and students have been using social media for years but the issue here is that social media are now gaining mainstream acceptance and have gained credibility in the academic world. We can expect to see social media used more naturally in education and only by the pioneers.
Mid-range trends (3-5 years)
  • The creator society
    Teachers and students are increasingly creating their own learning resources in the form of videos, e-books, Wikipedia entries, podcasts etc. Creating such resources is a powerful learning process and moves the focus from content consumption (reading textbooks, listening to lectures) to content creation and co-creation.
  • Data-driven learning and assessment
    Learning analytics has been on the Horizon list for a few years now though has now changed name. Data is the new oil and we are now learning how to refine the raw data and develop tools to help us find the right educational resources that will be adapted to our learning preferences. Giants like Google, Facebook and Apple are hot on the trail and many speculate that MOOC consortia like Coursera are hoping to develop powerful tools that can exploit the vast archive of student data they have already acquired.
Slow trends (5 years and beyond)
  • Agile approaches to change
    The Lean movement is already well established in industry along with the concept of agile development. It's all about leading innovative organisations that are flexible and can react quickly to change. This is not something we generally associate with higher education to say the least. Does this mean universities functioning like Silicon Valley startups? I'm doubtful on this one but look forward to reading the full report's analysis.
  • Making online learning natural
    This is about integrating more natural communication into online learning by using more audio and video rather than the present text-only learning environments. I can already see this trend in progress with teachers giving feedback by audio or video and asynchronous video/audio discussion forums using tools like VoiceThread. Most learning management systems also offer voice or video communication options that are becoming increasingly attractive but it is taking time for educators and students to actually start using them. I don't see this trend on the long-term list, rather medium-term.
The report also highlights a number of significant challenges impeding ed tech adoption in higher education and these make all too familiar reading though all are well worth repeating and emphasizing. Teachers' low level of digital fluency and the lack of rewards for good teaching are placed on the list of factors that demand urgent attention. Linked to this is the problem of scaling up teaching innovations. Many teachers are innovative but how can this energy be transformed into new practice at institutional level?

One common thread I notice is that educational technology is finally moving into the mainstream of education but urgent work is needed to revise quality assurance systems to embrace technology integration and to develop faculty digital skills. The final NMC Horizon report should not just be read by the ed tech specialists but needs to be on the desks of all educational decision makers.

Read also David Hopkins' post on the Horizon preview on the University of Leicester staff blog.

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