International panel maps technology trends that will impact education in next five years

The 2014 NMC Horizons Report was released in February, the 11th annual edition of a long-running study that aims to identify emerging technologies that will have an impact in education in the coming five years.

The report is produced by the New Media Consortium (NMC), a not-for-profit consortium of hundreds of colleges, universities, museums and companies, and in collaboration with EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI), a network of 1,800 institutions and more than 300 corporations serving higher education IT.

The report’s findings come from the deliberations of an international panel of education and technology experts from 13 countries and six continents. The panel reached consensus on six key trends, six significant challenges, and six important developments in education technology “likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the globe.”

The timing aspect is an interesting feature of the Horizons model, and it lends extra weight and relevance to the consensus findings of the panel. In terms of key trends, the panel identified two “fast” trends that will drive change in the next one to two years, two more “mid-range” trends that will drive change in the next three to five years, and two “long-range” trends that will have an impact in five years or more.

Trend #1: Growing ubiquity of social media
(predicted impact: the next one to two years)

“Social media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and judge the quality of content and contributions,” say the Horizons authors. Certainly, the use of social media is exploding worldwide, across all demographics, and with profound implications for media consumption, communication, and knowledge exchange. As we have noted in our own coverage, social media also has an important impact in terms of driving user engagement online.

“For educational institutions, social media enables two-way dialogues between students, prospective students, educators, and the institution that are less formal than with other media,” notes the report. “As social networks continue to flourish, educators are using them as professional communities of practice, as learning communities, and as a platform to share interesting stories about topics students are studying in class.”

Horizons cites a couple of telling examples of social media in higher education, such as a partnership between Murdoch University and Duke University for a social mapping project through which students could share their observations about Northwestern Australia ecosystems, or the University of Hawaii’s Faculty Thought Leadership Series (FTLS), in which faculty discussions to re-envision higher education teaching were invigorated by YouTube broadcasts of the proceedings and real-time discussions on social media.

Please see our running coverage of social media trends and strategies for more on how these major platforms, both emerging and established, are impacting student recruitment practices.

Trend #2: Integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning
(predicted impact: the next one to two years)

Horizons finds that, “An increasing number of universities are incorporating online environments into courses of all kinds, which is making the content more dynamic, flexible, and accessible to a larger number of students. These hybrid-learning settings are engaging students in creative learning activities that often demand more peer-to-peer collaboration than traditional courses.”

The natural shift towards expanded online learning opportunities – “natural” because of the underlying shift in student behaviour to online – accounts in part for the considerable speculation about the impact of emerging MOOC platforms in recent years.

It remains to be seen what impact a greater emphasis on online learning will have on international education, but we already find ready examples of how online programmes are being used by international students to sample programmes abroad, or to complete entire programmes delivered by foreign providers, and also to provide for an expanded range of study and practice opportunities for language learning.

Trend #3: Data-driven learning and assessment
(predicted impact: the next three to five years)

“The emerging science of learning analytics, discussed in more detail later in this report, is providing the statistical and data mining tools to recognise challenges early, improve student outcomes, and personalise the learning experience,” says the report.

Among several other examples introduced in Horizons, NMC points to an interesting and highly practical use of data analytics at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK.

As we also noted late last year, “big data” analysis has broad implications in international education, both for programme delivery and student success but also for recruitment, retention, and admissions.

Trend #4: Shift from students as consumers to students as creators
(predicted impact: the next three to five years)

“A shift is taking place in the focus of pedagogical practice on university campuses all over the world as students across a wide variety of disciplines are learning by making and creating rather than from the simple consumption of content,” says the Horizons report. “Creativity, as illustrated by the growth of user-generated videos, maker communities, and crowdfunded projects in the past couple years, is increasingly the means for active, hands-on learning.”

This trend is of course technology-enabled but it reflects an enduring interest on the part of students to apply learning, to learn by doing, and to create something meaningful in the process.

The report again provides a number of real-world examples as to how this trend is playing out in higher education today, including several from the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship: “MHacks was a 36-hour nonstop hackathon. OptiMize was a competition where students created social innovation projects centered around the topics of health, poverty, environment, or education. As part of this, student business developers set up a storefront in the Student Union to sell their products directly to other students. 1000 Pitches was a contest where students created short video business pitches to solicit their ideas.”

As these examples illustrate, institutions may find compelling new opportunities for recruitment and competitive positioning through the introduction of new “learning by doing” opportunities that allow students to build portfolios, acquire real-world experience, pursue entrepreneurial interests, and connect with prospective employers.

Trend #5: Agile approaches to change
(predicted impact: five or more years)

“Institutions are increasingly experimenting with progressive approaches to teaching and learning that mimic technology startups,” says the report, and there appear to be two threads at work with respect to this trend.

First, it reflects an important, longer-term strategic issue for institutions that we have also looked at previously: the need to refine or even reinvent higher education business models. Second, it expands on the previous “student as creator” trend in pointing to a need for greater connections to real-world learning in higher education. In both respects, this trend bears not only on the structure and operations of higher education institutions but also on the important role that higher education plays in addressing significant labour market gaps or other structural economic or social challenges.

Horizons cites an October 2013 U.S. Department of Commerce report (The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University) that highlights ways in which American universities are encouraging entrepreneurship. “With the demand from employers for graduates to have real world experience before entering the workforce, more institutions are structuring learning activities that forge these opportunities early. Rice University, for example, recently raised over one million dollars to launch a business planning competition where students presented strategies to start their own companies; the money was also used to provide funding for the winning plans to get off the ground. Additionally, more institutions are developing mentorship programs for students to nurture this spirit of innovation.”

Trend #6: Evolution of online learning
(predicted impact: five or more years)

The report adopts a longer view for its sixth and final trend, and leaves some room for an expansion of the observations in trend #2 above (integration of online learning). “Over the past several years, there has been a shift in the perception of online learning to the point where it is seen as a viable alternative to some forms of face-to-face learning,” it says.

“The discussions among members of the 2014 Higher Education Expert Panel indicate that the advent of voice and video tools is not only increasing the number of interactive activities between online instructors and students, but also greatly improving their quality.”

The time horizon indicated here is important, as it is for all trends identified throughout the report, and it sets up a challenge for traditional programme models going forward to adapt and expand their current offerings for a future that anticipates a greater role for online learning.

Please see the complete 2014 NMC Horizons Report for additional background, examples, and further reading on each of the six trends.



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