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NMC's New List of Metatrends--It's Not Just About The Technology

Q & A: The NMC Horizon Project's latest research on global trends informs IT decision making on campus.

For a decade the New Media Consortium's Horizon Project has, through its research, obtained consensus from experts about the technologies that most impact teaching, learning, and creative inquiry. NMC Horizon Project research, shared in its annual NMC Horizon Report > Higher Education Edition and other NMC Horizon Project publications, also identifies metatrends and global challenges for education--providing some important perspectives and context for campus technology planners. Here, CT talked with NMC CEO Larry Johnson (photo, right) about the latest list of metatrends from the NMC Horizon Project.

Mary Grush: How did the Horizon Project's latest list of metatrends come about?

Larry Johnson: It came out of our tenth anniversary Horizon Project retreat this past January, where a hundred thought leaders from 20 countries identified the most important metatrends for the next ten years. What's interesting about the list is that it is not really about technology, per se. It's about how people expect the world to work--such as how they collaborate, or openness as a value… 

Example of work on the metatrends list at the 2012 Horizon Project Retreat. Used with permission. Courtesy David Sibbet, The Grove,

We actually identified a list of 28 metatrends, but our initial release from work done at the retreat was of the ten we thought were especially compelling and important. There's also a more comprehensive wiki for ongoing discussions stemming from the retreat, with a full--and growing--list of metatrends.

Grush: Why are metatrends of interest to technology decision makers?

Johnson: These types of trends have permeated people's perceptions and decisions about technology, certainly for as long as I can see, which is the span of my family--from my grandparents and my parents, to my kids and grand kids. So I think these trends can be very illuminating for how we think about the future.

Most Significant Metatrends for the Next 10 Years

1. The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative. As more and more companies move to the global marketplace, it is common for work teams to span continents and time zones. Not only are teams geographically diverse, they are also culturally diverse.

2. People expect to work, learn, socialize, and play whenever and wherever they want to. Increasingly, people own more than one device, using a computer, smartphone, tablet, and e-reader. People now expect a seamless experience across all their devices.

3. The Internet is becoming a global mobile network--and already is at its edges. mobiThinking reports there are now more than 6 billion active cell phone accounts. 1.2 billion have mobile broadband as well, and 85 percent of new devices can access the mobile Web.

4. The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based and delivered over utility networks, facilitating the rapid growth of online videos and rich media. Our current expectation is that the network has almost infinite capacity and is nearly free of cost. One hour of video footage is uploaded every second to YouTube; over 250 million photos are sent to Facebook every day.

5. Openness--concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information--is moving from a trend to a value for much of the world. As authoritative sources lose their importance, there is need for more curation and other forms of validation to generate meaning in information and media.

6. Legal notions of ownership and privacy lag behind the practices common in society. In an age where so much of our information, records, and digital content are in the cloud, and often clouds in other legal jurisdictions, the very concept of ownership is blurry.

7. Real challenges of access, efficiency, and scale are redefining what we mean by quality and success. Access to learning in any form is a challenge in too many parts of the world, and efficiency in learning systems and institutions is increasingly an expectation of governments--but the need for solutions that scale often trumps them both. Innovations in these areas are increasingly coming from unexpected parts of the world, including India, China, and central Africa.

8. The Internet is constantly challenging us to rethink learning and education, while refining our notion of literacy. Institutions must consider the unique value that each adds to a world in which information is everywhere. In such a world, sense-making and the ability to assess the credibility of information and media are paramount.

9. There is a rise in informal learning as individual needs are redefining schools, universities, and training. Traditional authority is increasingly being challenged, not only politically and socially, but also in academia--and worldwide. As a result, credibility, validity, and control are all notions that are no longer givens when so much learning takes place outside school systems.

10. Business models across the education ecosystem are changing. Libraries are deeply reimagining their missions; colleges and universities are struggling to reduce costs across the board. The educational ecosystem is shifting, and nowhere more so than in the world of publishing, where efforts to reimagine the book are having profound success, with implications that will touch every aspect of the learning enterprise.

[An excerpt of the top ten metatrends identified in A Communiqué from the Horizon Project Retreat, January 2012, an NMC Horizon Project publication under Creative Commons attribution license.]

Grush: Do the metatrends shed any light on how higher education institutions will keep up in the future, given a pervasive and rapidly changing IT environment? What is your own outlook on that?

Johnson: We are moving away from a model of universities as the providers of technology--people no longer need to go to the university to get their technology. If I want to get on the Internet, I'm not going to go to a lab at a university to do that--I'm going to do it on my mobile device, or on my laptop, or on my iPad... So, an important trend on campuses globally is that we are moving toward more of a utility model. We're still in the middle of this complex and long-term transition, but it's clear that for higher education, this means entering into a very different paradigm than trying to keep up with technology in the way that we have for the past 10 or 20 years.

That really makes me very optimistic about the future, because in the next 10 years the conversations are going to be much less about devices and software, and much more about learning and the real mission of an education institution. And the metatrends suggest that mission is changing now, in ways that have very little to do with technology and everything to do with the ways people work and learn today.

[Editor’s note: Larry Johnson will give the opening keynote at the CT Forum 2012 conference in Long Beach on April 30.]

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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