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The ed tech trends on the cusp of mainstream

First preview of K-12 Horizon Report notes big ed tech shifts

horizon-trends [1]This year, BYOD and makerspaces have their stars on the rise—they could be in 20 percent of classrooms by year’s end. And over the next few years, 3D printing, adaptive software, and even wearable technologies in schools could do the same, according to an advanced preview of this year’s K-12 Horizon Report [2], an annual trendsetting look at the current state of technology and learning produced by the New Media Consortium. Each year, the report confers with a panel of education experts and takes a close look at the trends, challenges, and underlying developments driving today’s education technology adoption and implementation.

The final product whittles dozens of emerging and established ed tech topics into just 18, arranged by category—the trends, challenges, and developments referenced above—and time to adoption (or, in the case of challenges, complexity of the problem and how close we are to solving it).

Now trending

The report’s list of trends serves as something of a snapshot of the current state of education technology adoption in schools. But it’s not all plucking out the hottest buzzwords—there’s a methodology behind it, according to Larry Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of NMC. “Our approach looks at when a trend will have its maximum impact in schools, and the degree of that impact,” he said. “Will it ‘flame out’ in a year or two (e.g. Second Life)?  Or will it persist (like mobile) for years, and continuously surprise us with its growing utility and capability?”

Next page: Deeper learning and flexible schools impact technology adoption

As far as driving education technology adoption over the long term, the report singles out two movements: First, the shift to deeper learning approaches, perhaps best typified by the move to putting greater emphasis on project-, inquiry-, and challenge-based learning; and second, the rethinking of how schools work, away from traditional bell schedules and siloed subject instruction. Instead, schools are starting to turn toward multidisciplinary approaches that are, according to the report preview, leading “some teachers and administrators [to] believe that schedules should be more flexible to allow opportunities for authentic learning to take place and ample room for independent study.”

Over the next three to five years, collaborative learning approaches, affecting the way both teachers and students learn, and a shift from “students as consumers to creators” could help drive the types of technology schools adopt. Of the latter, the report points to “the growth of user-generated videos, maker communities, and crowdfunded projects” increasingly becoming the means for active, hands-on learning.

And in the short term, over the next year or two, the rise of STEAM learning (science, technology, engineering and mathematics, plus the arts) is impacting technology adoption, especially, according to the report, “as there is more multi- and cross-disciplinary learning taking place at schools, revealing how these seemingly disparate subjects are interconnected.” Similarly, blended learning is noted to be “on the rise,” even after accounting for the “burnout of massive open online courses (MOOCs),” thanks to “progress in learning analytics; adaptive learning; and a combination of cutting-edge asynchronous and synchronous tools.”

In development

The bread and butter of the report, however, is the popular list of “Important Developments,” which predict which technologies could reach mainstream status—a place in 20 percent of classrooms. Compared with the report’s list of trends, which focus on the conversations and needs of schools that lead to technology purchases, the developments section “is much more influenced by what is happening in the world around schools,” Johnson says.

And as ed tech movements enter the mainstream, or else stagnate, they naturally drop off the list. This year, the report pegs makerspaces and BYOD as the two most likely to enter mainstream in the next year. The latter is a holdover from last year described as having the potential to save districts money while mirroring the contemporary shift to using personal devices in college and career settings. Makerspaces, a term virtually absent from last year’s report, “came on the radar due to grassroots support from a passionate community,” according to the preview.

In a similar vein, 3D printing could enter mainstream in just two or three years, buoyed by both falling prices and the rise of makerspaces. Adapted learning technologies, which “refer to software and online platforms that adjust to individual students’ needs as they learn,” are given the same prognosis. “In schools,” the report notes, “many teachers envision these adaptive platforms as new, patient tutors that can provide personalized instruction on a large scale.”

Farther out, badges and microcredit—a movement somewhat linked to gamification—could gain momentum over the next five years, although its adoption to the mainstream has stalled in the past as companies and efforts come and go. Despite the fizzle of Google Glass, the report notes wearable technology—think education-focused uses for Oculus Rift or even the Apple Watch—could see wide adoption in the same time frame as price points, technology advances, and new learning applications put it within reach for more and more schools.

Next page: What almost made the cut

Under the radar

The report isn’t necessarily the final word on education development and trends, and the NMC’s panelists frequently make tough choices in narrowing down their list. This year, Johnson said, trends such as redesigning learning spaces and an increasing focus on the measurement of learning were in the running up until the final vote. On the development side, cloud computing, learning analytics, and visual data analysis came close to making the cut.

Other efforts, even those that have appeared in past reports, were dropped altogether. Gaming, Johnson said, is a good representative example: “We retired games and gamification this year, as we do not see it entering the mainstream any time soon, despite the broad interest in the topic and the evidence of its efficacy,” he said. “It is just out of reach for most people, and the developments most experts thought were coming that might make it easier have not materialized yet. If that changes, it could come back.”

On a final note, something to watch going forward might be how teaching innovations are being scaled from the few to the many, which is mentioned in the report under the “Challenges” section as one that is “complex to even define, much less address.” Says Johnson, “There are a lot of good minds thinking about how to scale teaching innovations—we are watching places like India, Africa, and Latin America, where the need for innovation is far greater than in the U.S.  We expect that the challenges faced in those countries is so great that we will need fresh new ideas to have any hope of meeting the needs there.”