What technologies will shape the future of Higher Ed?

What technologies will become important in modern classrooms?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

According to the latest NMC Horizon Report released by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative, six technologies are heavyweight contenders to change the face of classroom learning -- including game-based learning, gesture-based computing and network implementation.

The 2012 NMC Horizon Report predicts that in light of the ever-increasing popularity of mobile gadgets and technology, advances in tablet computing and smartphone use have become integral to the catalyst which will permanently alter the fabric of traditional learning methods.

Malcolm Brown, Director of the Educause Learning Initiative said in a statement:

"Identifying the key emerging technologies for learning is vital at a time when all institutions are forced to make very careful choices about investments in technology. The Horizon Report goes beyond simply naming technologies; it offers examples of how they are being used, which serves to demonstrate their potential.

The report also identifies the trends and challenges that will be key for learning across all three adoption horizons. This makes the Horizon Report essential for anyone planning the future of learning at their institution."


In the next few years, the NMC Horizon report suggests that there are six main contenders that will become more widely used within education:

1.) Mobile Apps. Time to adoption: One year or less.

According to a report from Ericsson, by 2015. 80 percent of people accessing the Internet worldwide will be doing so from a mobile device. Mobile applications are no longer considered cutting-edge technology, and their potential academic value is becoming more apparent -- students can use them for anything from note-taking to learning a new language, checking a timetable or sharing a file.

What's more, resources are widely available for both students and academic institutions -- such as Apple's iTunes U.

2.) Tablet computing. Time to adoption: One year or less.

More than simply being viewed as an add-on to mobile devices, tablets have become a branch in their own right -- blending features of laptops and smartphones, applications and Internet access.

Students are already beginning to use tablets in some schools and colleges, and the trend is likely to continue as books become digital, students are issued with their own devices, and presentations are created & presented on tablets. Their visual interfaces can appeal to students, and they can be convenient mobile tools for learning purposes.

3.) Game-based learning. Time to adoption: Two to three years.

Video-gaming in the classroom, what student could resist? There's a fine line between interactive activities that promote a core of a lesson, and those that simply waste time -- but according to the report, we are likely to see more integration of a technology which is known to keep many students occupied.. and generally for too long.

Developers are working towards using game environments to promote learning which is goal-orientated, promotes social skills, team work, and collaborative problem solving.

4.) Learning analytics. Time to adoption: Two to three years.

Learning analytics -- a broad term that encompasses the way in which educational data can be transferred and analysed in relation to students and their progress. This may include academic record data, future performance predictions, assignments, exam results and activities. Data is collated and used in order to tailor educational opportunities in accordance to an individual's needs and abilities -- requiring more sophisticated and customised applications.

5.) Gesture-based computing. Time to adoption: Two to three years.

It is now commonplace for those in the West, including younger generations, to own devices that function through the use of gestures rather than just via typing or moving a mouse. From smartphones such as the iPhone, to gaming devices such as the Nintendo Wii, taps, swipes and body movement are normal ways to interact with a device.

The use of gesture-based control mechanisms allows a user to engage virtually, as well as manipulate digital information in a more intuitive fashion. The report suggests that more gesture-based control will be a valuable tool in maintaining student interest and could become a widely-used learning method.

6.) Internet of Things. Time to adoption: Two to three years.

Simply put, the 'Internet of Things' is a means to describe network-aware smart objects that connect the physical world with the world of digital information and communication.

Such objects have four key attributes -- a unique identifier, information storage capabilities, ease of connection and the capacity to communicate with an external device when required. Furthermore, while conveying data via TCP/IP, it is also assigned an address, and therefore findable online.

Having been used in the past for tasks including equipment monitoring, point-of-sale purchase and tracking, 'smart objects' now have developed to be able to detect additional information -- such as cost, age, colour and pressure -- which can be passed along through its communication capabilities.

The 'Internet of Things' would allow easy access, analysis and research concerning this kind of additional information.

The key trends identified by the report stand as:

1.) Data saturation stands as a challenge to current education professionals.

Information is now everywhere, and we are living in a world of data-saturation. As such, education professionals can use this to their advantage in learning-based environments. Not only can a wealth of information be freely accessed, but it may be that education professionals now have the task of preparing students to live in this kind of world.

Emerging certification programs, online learning versus campus-based programs -- elements of this connected world are eroding traditional learning methods. Not only this, but teachers now have to mentor students in the pitfalls of such a world -- including the evolving methods employed to plagiarise, transferring private information online, and what online activity can jeopardise a student's educational prospects.

2.) Education paradigms are shifting to accommodate online learning, 'hybrid' learning and collaborative models.

Academic institutions are in a constant state of re-evaluation, in order to remain attractive to prospective students and to weather the current economic storm. As such, hybrid learning models have entered the fray as a popular trend, forcing universities to adapt in order to remain competitive.

Independent of academia, students spend time on the Internet, learning and exchanging information through various platforms -- something that universities are beginning to take advantage of more readily.

From online courses to supplementary material in digital formats, hybrid learning can both equip students for skills needed in today's marketplace, and allow them more flexibility to suit their lifestyles.

3.) People now expect flexibility in how they work, learn and study.

Mobile technology, and the ability to be contactable at all times, is now often expected from employers. Easy and timely access to information is demanded by business, and corporate models are adapting to take in to account the potential advertising and marketing online has for expanding a client base and improving a reputation.

The current work force, Gen-Y included, expect more flexibility in both work and study. However, far from being a 'job hopping' generation as often expressed, the exchange is two-fold. Employers expect a worker to be flexible in their time, travel, working hours and sometimes even insist on relocation -- and as such, workers begin to expect the same of their employers.

In terms of learning methods, a variety of widely-available tools that allow for study in your own pace is expected to become more substantially utilized.

4.) Technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based.

There appears to be an emerging trend that lessens the importance of where our information is stored, as long as it is secure and immediately accessible. Cloud-based applications and services are more widely used not only in the educational field but in many other industries, and can allow users to be able to share files and collaborate quickly and effectively.

There are still many issues associated with cloud-based services to be ironed out -- including privacy concerns and consumer protection -- but a search for solutions is being promoted due to the effectiveness and the lessening cost of this technology.

5.) Classroom emphasis is now often placed on challenges and 'active' learning models.

Learning methods can either be focused on one of two things: the teacher or the student.

TTT: 'Teacher talking time' is known as passive learning, where a student's attention, in an ideal world, will be focused on the educator -- who may be explaining a task or conducting a lecture.

STT: 'Student talking time', however, is active learning. A student may be involved in a team project, working on a presentation, or performing an independent task.

Traditional learning leaned heavily in the midst of TTT, whereas modern methods, at least in certain subjects, attempt to promote STT in order to engage students and encourage student self-learning, where they collaborate and teach each other. Student-centered approaches and 'minimalist' teaching have taken root more in modern times -- this is how I was trained -- and the use of technology such as tablets and smartphones can further promote how a student wishes to engage with a topic independently.

6.) Work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in how student projects are structured.

As collaboration is more widely expected within a working environment, in order to prepare students, academia has to follow suit in its learning methods. In a world of digital information and continual information exchange, projects are now not only marked based on content, but group dynamics and teamwork.

To facilitate this concept in education, tools including Google Docs, Skype, social networks and wikis are expected to be implemented more widely in the next few years.

Are there any other tools or trends you believe the report a overlooked -- such as free online resources?

Image credit: Michael Surran


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