Towards change in educational technology

The NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition, prepared by NMC in conjunction with the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, describes a new edition, the thirteenth, with the annual results of the NMC Horizon research project, designed to identify and describe the emerging technologies that have an impact on learning, teaching and educational research.

In almost 60 pages, 18 subjects related to educational applications of technology are examined. Six key trends, six significant challenges and six important developments in educational technology are placed directly in the context of their likely impact on the central missions of universities and colleges, and are detailed in a concise, objective and non-technical way.

The six trends are organised into three categories based on timescale:

Short term:

  • Growing focus on measuring learning: this describes a renewed interest in evaluation and the wide range of methods and tools used by educators evaluate, measure and document academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition and other educational needs of students.
  • Increased use of blended learning designs: this is on the rise in universities and schools as a result of practical improvements in online and face-to-face methods.

Medium term:

  • Redesign learning spaces: universities are increasingly helping to implement emerging pedagogies and strategies, reorganising learning environments to accommodate more active learning.
  • Shift to deeper learning approaches: this refers to the mastery of content which engages students in critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and self-directed learning.

Long term:

  • Advancing cultures of innovation: in order to encourage innovation and adapt to economic necessities, higher education institutions must be structured in such a way that they allow creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.
  • Rethinking how institutions work: emerging models, such as hybrid training and skills-based education show the inefficiency of a traditional system aimed at untraditional students.

With respect to challenges, due to the fact that not all of them have the same scope, these have been classified into three categories, according to their nature.

Solvable, those that are understood and it is known how to solve them:

  • Blending formal and informal learning, less typical ways of learning get classified as informal learning and can be used to improve the participation of students, encouraging them to go their own way in terms of learning and their interests.
  • Improved digital literacy, with the presence of Internet, mobile devices and other technologies that are now pervasive in education, the traditional view of literacy as the ability to read and write has expanded to cover understanding digital tools and information.

Difficult, those that are understood but for which solutions are elusive:

  • Competing models of education: institutions are looking for ways of providing a high-quality service with more learning opportunities at lower costs.
  • Personalizing learning: this refers to the range of educational programmes, learning experiences, educational methods and academic support strategies intended to address the specific learning needs, interests, and aspirations of students.

Wicked, those that are complex to even define, much less address:

  • Balancing our connected and unconnected lives: universities and schools have the task of encouraging mindful use and making students aware of their digital footprint and the consequences that this has.
  • Keeping education relevant: in other words, imagining new ways of obtaining a university degree to equip students with specific skills while maintaining the ethical training and credibility of traditional academia.

Technological developments are likely to drive decision-making and technological planning over the next five years. They are divided into three time-based categories:

Short term (one year or less):

  • BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): the practice of students bringing their own laptops, tablets, smartphones or other mobile devices to learning or work environments.
  • Learning Analytics and Adaptive Learning: the educational application of web analytics aimed at learner profiling, a process of gathering and analysing details of the interactions of individual students with online learning activities.

Medium term (2 to 3 years):

  • Augmented and virtual reality: both flexible immersion technologies encourage similar educational results, providing students with a high cognitive level as they attain new perspectives on underlying data.
  • Markerspaces: informal workshops located in community facilities or educational institutions, where people gather to create prototypes or products in a collaborative, do-it-yourself environment.

Long term (4 to 5 years):

  • Affective computing: the idea that human beings may program machines that recognise, interpret, process and simulate the range of human resources.
  • Robotics: the design and application of robots, machines that carry out a series of automated tasks.