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The 6 Most Important Technologies To Impact Teaching and Learning in the Next 5 Years

Virtual assistants, flipped classrooms and "the quantified self" are three of the six technological developments that will have a significant impact on higher education within the next five years, according to the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, released by the New Media Consortium and Educause Monday.

The annual NMC Horizon Report is compiled by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative. It examines key trends in education technology, barriers to implementation, and technologies that are expected to have a significant impact on education in the near future.

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition identified six key technologies that are likely to impact teaching and learning in the near term (one year or less), mid-term (two to three years) and longer term (four to five years).

Half of the technologies identified in this year's report have made the list in previous reports and won't come as a major shock to anyone working in education. But there are three new additions to this year's report — along with some notable omissions. For example, MOOCs, which topped the list last year, didn't make the 2014 list at all. Neither did tablets or wearable technologies, both of which were in the 2013 report. The Internet of Things, which made the 2013 K-12 Horizon Report, also failed to make the 2014 higher ed report.

The Near Term: One Year or Less
Topping the 2014 list of important technological developments in the near term are the flipped classroom and learning analytics.

The flipped classroom, which has been a major phenomenon in K-12 education for the last few years, is a model of teaching in which recorded lectures (and other types of classroom instruction) are viewed outside of the classroom — and where classroom time is spent discussing, rather than presenting, the day's lesson.

"Seven years after the first iteration of flipped learning and the launch of the Khan Academy, educators all over the world have successfully adopted the model, substantiating the topic's near-term position on the horizon," according to the report.. "Whereas many learning technology trends first take off in higher education before seeing applications in schools, the flipped classroom reflects an opposite trajectory. Today, many universities and colleges have embraced this approach, enabling students to spend valuable class-time immersed in hands-on activities that often demonstrate the real world applications of the subject they are learning."

The report indicated that the flipped classroom is becoming increasingly popular in higher education because it allows professors t use classroom time more efficiently and because it helps students develop collaborative sills that they may need in the workplace.

"Beyond watching recorded video lectures, other technologies such as digital readings with collaborative annotation and discussion software enable instructors to be more in tune with their students' learning patterns and needs," according to the report. "By reviewing the comments and questions that students pose online, instructors can better prepare for class and address particularly challenging ideas during face-to-face time. The learning environment transforms into a dynamic and more social space where students can participate in critiques or work through problems in teams. An instructor at Marshall University noted that he no longer needed to spend precious class time with an individual student if they missed a class; he could instead hand him a tablet loaded with content and continue working on hands-on projects among the whole class."

Learning analytics, which made last year's report as a mid-term technological development, was bumped up this year to the near-term category. Learning analytics refers to a combination of traditional strategies used in student retention and methods that pull data from a variety of disparate sources to help provide a clearer picture of individual students' educations and to help improve teaching and learning.

The Mid-Term: Two to Three Years
3D printing and games/gamification were the two mid-term technological developments cited in this year's report. Both made the list last year as well, though 3D printing was predicted to be a longer-term technology in the 2013 report.

3D printing has helped to fuel the maker movement in recent years and had become a viable and productive tool in prototyping and commercial manufacturing. Its role in higher education has been a bit less clear, though the technology has made the Horizon Report since as early as 2004.

According to the 2014 report, 3D printing is having an impact in research institutions, where students are able to invent new objects and use 3D printed objects to further their work. But it's also being used increasingly by libraries to support students' independent activities.

"As 3D printing gains traction in higher education, universities are beginning to create dedicated spaces to nurture creativity and stimulate intellectual inquiry around this emerging technology. Examples include North Carolina State University's Hunt Library Makerspace, the 3DLab at the University of Michigan's Art, Architecture, and Engineering Library, and the Maker Lab in the Humanities at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. These spaces, equipped with the latest 3D scanners, 3D printers, 3D motion sensors, and laser cutters, not only enable access to tools, but they also encourage collaboration within a community of makers and hackers."

Also on a two- to three-year timeline are games and gamification. This category includes educational gaming, digital simulations and gamified instruction — or the "integration of gaming elements, mechanics and frameworks into non-game situations and scenarios."

"Gamification is ... appearing more in online learning environments," according to the report. "Kaplan University, for example, gamified their IT degree program after running a successful pilot in their Fundamentals of Programming course. Students' grades improved 9 percent, and the number of students who failed the course decreased by 16 percent.... Gamification can also incentivize professional development. Deloitte developed the Deloitte Leadership Academy, a training program that leverages gamification to create curriculum-based missions. Learners earn badges for completing missions, which they can display on their LinkedIn profiles."

There is a risk to gamification, however. As the report's authors noted: "As gaming continues to dominate discussions among educators, some believe it could disenchant students if executed poorly. To negate this challenge, more universities are partnering with companies to conduct research that is relevant to both the curriculum and students' lives."

Longer Term: Four to Five Years
Both of the technologies making the longer-term list are new to this year's report.

The first is the "quantified self" — which is to say, "the phenomenon of consumers being able to closely track data that is relevant to their daily activities through the use of technology."

This includes, for example, technologies that let people track their activities as part of a fitness regimen or monitor their work or sleep habits.

The significance for education is in the potential intersection of personal data tracking with academic data tracking. "It is imaginable that if test scores and reading habits gleaned from learning analytics could be combined with other lifestyle tracking information, these large data sets could reveal how environmental changes improve learning outcomes," the report's authors argued.

Virtual assistants also made the list of technological developments that will have an impact on education in the slightly longer term.

"While crude versions of virtual assistants have been around for some time, we have yet to achieve the level of interactivity seen in Apple's classic video, Knowledge Navigator. Virtual assistants of that caliber and their applications for learning are clearly in the long-term horizon, but the potential of the technology to add substance to informal modes of learning is compelling," according to the report.

The complete report, NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, is available under a Creative Commons license and may be freely downloaded from NMC's site. Additional details, including work not published in the final report, can be accessed on the Horizon Report wiki.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.


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