Cloud computing is one of multiple technologies that schools will implement over the next five years.

An annual report reveals that mobile learning and cloud computing are poised to reach widespread adoption in schools in one year or less, with game-based learning and open educational content not far behind.

The New Media Consortium Horizon Report: 2011 K-12 Edition is the third annual report from the New Media Consortium (NMC) that focuses on emerging K-12 technologies. It is supported by a grant from HP’s Office of Global Social Innovation.

The Consortium for School Networking, the International Society for Technology in Education, and the NMC collaborated on the research.

Each year, the NMC identifies a group of 40-45 people who are considered experts in technology and education. Then, collaborating on a wiki, those experts engage in a systematic conversation about what technologies are important to education over the coming five years. The experts also identify schools with projects or pilots that are real-world examples of how schools are using the technologies on the implementation list.

Larry Johnson, CEO of the NMC, encouraged those finding interesting or relevant articles to post links to the articles using the hashtag hzk12. Those who know of a school conducting a unique or interesting implementation also are encouraged to use the Horizon Report hashtag and call attention to that particular school or district.

At the end of the day, Johnson said, students must be adept at using technology.  “And I don’t mean they’re able to use spreadsheets; I mean they really understand it and use technology like air,” he added.

Cloud computing and mobile devices have a “time-to-adoption” period of one year or sooner.

“Mobile learning is an interesting category because it’s so ever-present,” Johnson said. “For the last several years conversations have focused on why we shouldn’t have them,” including the potential for students to become distracted or use the devices to cheat.

“As phones have become more capable and we have access to hundreds of thousands of applications, including cameras, audio recorders, accelerometers, gyroscopes, compasses, and GPS, they’re starting to get too capable to ignore.”

Coming in two to three years on the NMC’s “time-to-adoption” horizon are game-based learning and open content.

Game-based learning still presents challenges, but they are mainly related to what it takes to produce good, high-quality games, said Johnson. The military uses and produces a large quantity of game-based learning.

Game-based learning blends well with a concept called challenge-based learning, he added. Challenge-based learning was initially designed for professionals to respond to global crises, but researchers have discovered that students worry about these sorts of problems as well.

“Those kind of games where you tackle real-world problems can be really, really interesting,” he said.

Open content appears on the list for the first time in 2011, and is particularly prevalent in schools outside the United States.

“Open content is hugely interesting,” Johnson said. They’re a way to have access to quality, professionally-reviewed learning materials—that are remixable and modifiable–for free.

And reaching wider use in four to five years are learning analytics and personal learning environments.

Learning analytics “are not well-defined, but draw on what we’ve learned from data mining,” Johnson said. If education leaders can examine enormous amounts of data and extra patterns, they can examine those patterns and discover real-time information to better inform teaching and learning.

Personal learning environments have always been a part of the Horizon Report expert committee’s conversation, but now people are seeing the potential, Johnson said. Still, there is much work to be done before personal learning environments leave the conceptual phase and become more of a reality.

The report reveals five key trends:

  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the internet is increasingly challenging educators to revisit their roles
  • As IT support becomes more and more decentralized, the technologies we use are increasingly based not on school servers, but in the cloud
  • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to
  • The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing
  • Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate, and succeed

With the good comes the bad, Johnson said, and he discussed five significant challenges facing education technology:

  • The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices
  • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession
  • Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of schools
  • A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment, or “the system”
  • Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom, and thus are not part of our learning metrics

A good example of the constraints of “the system” is textbooks, Johnson said. Electronic publications, along with eBooks and eReaders, are taking the marketplace by storm. However, “publishers’ hands are often tied by the way that states make a decision about textbooks,” he said.

A printed copy of the report will be released in June, but the report appears online here.