The Alchemy of EdTech – Predicting Future Trends

Prognostication is an occult art usually left to wizards, be they charlatans or visionaries; Nostradamus or Kurzweil. In EdTech, however, there is a global cooperative engaged in predicting future trends on a yearly basis – and they’re pretty good at it.

The New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report is an annual view into trends in education technology. Just as impressive as the report’s six identified trends, and the supporting evidence behind the choices, is the process used to arrive at such a consensus. Through a moderated wiki, complete with deadlines, discussion rooms, and polling, The New Media Consortium engages a global community of educators, business leaders, and technology professionals to produce a well-written, well-referenced resource. Download it now.

There are two versions of the report. One for the postsecondary landscape, and a second for K12. In this first of two posts I briefly examine the more interesting findings of the postsecondary report. The second post will examine the K12 report in greater detail.

The video linked below reviews the key findings of the report.

There you have it. The six postsecondary edtech trends to look out for in the next five years.

Here they are again in print for my discussion:

Near term technology adoption predictions (within 12 months)
1. Electronic Books
2. Mobiles

Medium Term (2 to 3 years)
3. Augmented Reality
4. Game-based learning

Far Term (4 to 5 years)
5. Gesture-based computing
6. Learning analytics – enabling real-time response of an instructor

Most models are strongest near to the initial condition. So it is with predicting future trends. Mobile computing and electronic books are already infiltrating postsecondary learning around the world. Less certain, but also more interesting, are predictions in the more distant future.

My sense is that game-based learning is more likely to find its way into the K12 world than into the postsecondary one, but I am always happy to be surprised by the adoption of valuable edtech.

Augmented reality seems like a technology that will have a place in the postsecondary space. Near Field Communication, an even more recent technological development, is likely to help this along by allowing creators of information to associate physical objects in the real world with deeper context through RFID. I look forward to seeing field trips to museums, through the downtowns of cities, and even places like arboretums look like the self-guided tours of Alcatraz – add video, personalization, and interaction.

Given the pressure that postsecondary institutions are facing to justify their existence I definitely see those that survive using learning analytics to demonstrate their worth. The institution must demonstrate that it can compete with the growing availability of open courseware, and the emerging badges system that will allow the self-motivated learner to uncollege their way to a career.

Gesture-based computing has already taken hold, but I’m not sure we will see the Minority Report scenario (warning: some graphic violence), especially if we are talking about pre-cogs, in the five year term. This video of surface technology development at Microsoft is certainly interesting, though.

Out of curiosity, I revisited the 2005 Horizon Report to see how well they had done on their far term predictions. Keep in mind that the first iPhone did not come out until 2007, and that the collapse of the global economy did not happen until 2006. Below is the list.

Near Term
1. Extended learning (beyond the classroom), blogs, wikis, etc.
2. Ubiquitous wireless

Medium Term
3. Intelligent searching
4. Educational Gaming

Far Term
5. Social Networks and Knowledge Webs
6. Context-aware computing/Augmented Reality

You can’t fault anybody for not recognizing the rate at which Facebook would grow, but it is somewhat comical that by 2008, Facebook already had 100 million users.

Besides that one major underestimation, I find the Horizon Report to be slightly optimistic, if accurate. By their estimation, intelligent searching and game-based learning should have been widely adopted at the postsecondary level by 2008. We are still waiting on that.

The Horizon Report is a must read for anyone making edtech policy decisions. The predictions are supported by brief descriptions of early examples of use with links for deeper examination, and a filtered reference list that enables the reader to find out what the larger community is saying about each technology.

Stay tuned for my next post in which I will take a close look at the Horizon K12 report. Nostradamus participated in the consortium wiki for this one.

About Jack West

Consultant, writer, analyst, teacher, coach, maker.

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