More students will have access to personalized learning opportunities, and competency-based learning will begin to take hold in 2012, experts predict.

We recently asked a handful of education and ed-tech experts for their thoughts on what the future holds for 2012—and beyond.

Nearly all agreed that technology’s potential to create personalized, student-centered learning environments will be even more fully realized in the coming year, thanks to powerful developments in blended instruction, data analytics, formative assessment, and more. But one expert warned that achievement gaps between privileged and disadvantaged children will only increase if income gaps and unemployment rates aren’t brought under control.

Here’s what the experts had to say. What do you think? Share your thoughts—and your own ed-tech predictions for 2012—in the comments section below.

“Competency-based learning will lead to greater efforts in bridging informal and formal learning … by demonstration of competencies. A global push for learning beyond textbooks using Open Educational Resources for innovative online learning will change the instructional materials market forever to allow personalization and deeper learning in ways never before possible.

“Governments will research and invest in sustainable policy and funding models for education innovation, such as performance-based funding of students to the course level—with incentives for successful completion.

“Blended learning will be seen less as an either-or [option] and more as a way for teachers and students to have targeted Response to Intervention for every student—for acceleration and advancement, as well as credit recovery and supplemental education—exactly when a student needs the intervention and support.

“Student voice and advocacy—having kids learn how to control some aspects of their own learning—will continue to push the field to serve a diverse array of needs, passions, and interests while engaging adults in new ways to support kids. This will require further expansion of online and blended learning as a design feature for student-centric models.”

Susan Patrick, president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)

“Public school budgets will continue to shrink, so more districts will do more business with online learning providers to fill in the gaps, and an increasing number will create full blended-learning models to get better learning results and save on costs. Just as technology has made virtually every other sector in society more productive, the same will happen in K-12 education out of necessity.

“The charter school sector in states such as California will lead the way in creating blended-learning models. Despite the state’s poor digital learning policies, because of the state’s budget crisis, these schools increasingly have no choice but to reinvent how they operate if they want to survive and serve students well.

“In 2012, several states will follow Utah’s lead and implement policies based on the recommendations of Digital Learning Now!, a national campaign co-chaired by former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise. Expect a serious push in at least two states for policies that allow dollars to follow students down to the online course and pay in part for the success of students, and expect several states to reconsider their policies and regulations around seat time and look to New Hampshire’s lead on competency-based learning.

“Powered by increasing disruption in the mobile learning space, thanks to devices such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the $35 Aakash Android tablet from India, expect mobile learning to explode not only in the United States but also worldwide—especially in developing countries. Increasingly, hardware and connectivity will not be the barriers to students accessing high-quality digital learning. With the growth of open-source, free, and user-generated content such as that in the Khan Academy, the future of learning and innovation in education is bright.”

Michael Horn, executive director of education for the Innosight Institute and co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

“2012 will usher in an exponential growth in the opportunity to learn for all Americans, as we welcome newly evolved and more valuable digital environments designed and built by brilliant designers, entrepreneurs, and engineers, informed by researchers and educators, and with student-centered, personalized learning in mind.

“We will see expanded broadband access, and new assurances that all learners will have access in and out of school. We will see improved tools for content and resources to be found, improved, shared, and found again. Learning Analytics will spin up a whole new ecosystem of evidence and information in full support of learning about learning.

“And, we will see social networks deployed to more fully connect and inspire the incredibly important work of education professionals.”

Karen Cator, director of the office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education

“The first prediction is that a student learning revolution will take off. Over the last few years, educational technologies have flooded into classrooms nationwide. In 2012, the ed-tech boom … will blossom into a true revolution in student learning occurring largely outside classroom walls.  Driving that revolution will be (1) the creative integration of technology and digital content into curriculum; (2) an increased focus by school administrators on tracking student performance data, and the thoughtful analysis and application of this data by educators to design personalized instruction; and (3) an increased focus on supporting educators as they gain and sustain the skills needed to address the evolving needs of students. Together, these elements will drive a sharp upturn in creative and innovative blended learning opportunities for students occurring in traditional and non-traditional settings.

“The second prediction is that the student learning revolution will demand a professional development revolution. Technology is changing the way teachers teach and students learn, increasing the demand for effective professional development. In 2012, this demand will intensify, due primarily to a sharp upturn in creative and innovative blended learning opportunities for students occurring in traditional and non-traditional settings. Mirroring the student-centric movement toward highly differentiated instruction and anytime-anywhere learning, technology will revolutionize the way teachers learn, banishing top-down, one-size-fits-all models in favor of highly differentiated, customized, and personalized professional development models driven by teacher needs.”

Gene R. Carter, executive director and CEO of ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)

“The trend I’m most excited about is what a handful of companies are beginning to offer: the ability of third-party formative assessment systems to inform other third-party software application systems as to student learning needs. This portends the automation of individualizing learning experiences for students. This is not taking the place of instruction, but is providing the teacher with an assistant that can fill in knowledge gaps for students and build understanding of concepts to enable the student to continue with whole-class learning.

“While the ‘flipped classroom’ and ‘virtual schools’ and ‘student devices’ and ‘interactive classroom systems’ (necessary for companies who have wrung out all of the profits from their ill-advised interactive whiteboards) may get the hype, it’s the growing understanding of how to help students accelerate their learning as needed that deserves everyone’s efforts and attention.”

Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for technology, Plano Independent School District, Texas

“I make a discouraging prediction: Academic achievement gaps between advantaged children and the various categories of disadvantaged children will grow in coming years, and education policy will be powerless to prevent this.

“A recent Economic Policy Institute analysis suggests the impact of our stagnant employment rate on children’s welfare. Consider, for example, the unusually severe labor market adversity experienced by black families, and how this is likely to affect the black-white achievement gap that receives so much well-deserved attention in education policy.

“• Although the national unemployment rate for whites is now 8 percent, for African-Americans it is 17 percent.

“• Although the underemployment rate (including those who have given up looking for work, and those who have taken part-time jobs because full-time work is unavailable) for whites is now 13 percent, for African-Americans it is 25 percent.

“• Although 8 percent of white children had an unemployed parent during an average month in 2010, 16 percent of African-American children had such a parent.

“• Because African-American children are more likely to be in single-parent homes than whites (67 percent vs. 24 percent), they are also more likely to have been in homes where no parent was working at some time during the past year.

“Parental unemployment has a demonstrable impact on student achievement. Even if the modest job creation policies now being advanced by President Obama were to be enacted, and unemployment were to fall somewhat, the accumulated effects of the economic crisis will permanently damage a generation of children. The first five are the most important years of a child’s development. When parents are in economic crisis during their children’s infancy and early childhood, the damage to children’s healthy maturation permanently diminishes their future prospects. Today’s disparate experience of unemployment by parental group will be reflected not only in their young children’s relative school readiness, but in an achievement gap of high schoolers a decade hence and then in disparate adult earnings throughout their working careers.”

Richard Rothstein, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and former national education columnist for the New York Times (republished with permission from the author; for the full post, see http://www.epi.org/blog/dire-prediction-achievement-gap-grow/)

“2012 will be a tipping point for mobile learning, particularly with many districts allowing students to Bring Their Own Technology to school.”

Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking

“I predict an increased use of electronic books in K-16; an increased use of iPads to replace laptop and desktop computers; and an increased use of game-based learning programs.”

Tracy Gray, managing director at the American Institutes for Research