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What Will Drive Technology Adoption in Colleges and Universities This Decade

The latest Horizon Report from the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative has identified the top six trends that will drive changes in higher education for the remainder of this decade.

The report, the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, focuses on trends in education technology, barriers facing ed tech and new technological developments that will help shape teaching and learning in the near future. Horizon Reports are released annually by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative.

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition identified six factors that will play a major role in driving technology changes in higher ed in the coming years, broken down by timeframe — the near term (one to two years), mid-term (three to five years) and longer term (five or more years).

The Near Term: Social Media and New Forms of Online Learning
Among them, the near omnipresence of social media is helping to shape the way technology is adopted on American campuses. Social media ubiquity is one of two trends identified as "Fast trends," or trends that will drive change in the next year or two.

Citing a study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth that "found that 100 percent of surveyed universities and colleges use social media for some purpose," the report's authors said there are significant implications for policy and leadership:

"There is room for leadership among universities and colleges to document creative social media projects that demonstrate the benefits of social media for education. Efforts such as Vanderbilt University's YouTube channel give students, faculty, and the general public a glimpse into important work happening on campus, for instance, while Texas State University leverages Facebook and Twitter as formal and informal discussion forums. Ultimately, social media is fostering opportunities for thousands of students to collaborate — even across institutions. A prime example is how Murdoch University in Australia partnered with Duke University on a social mapping project in which students could contribute their observations about Northwestern Australian ecosystems. Then there is the compelling dimension that field experts can be easily contacted on social networks to bring real world perspectives to the subject matter, which can supplement knowledge gained from formal lectures."

The other "fast trend" is the integration of online, hybrid and collaborative learning. According to the report:

"Education paradigms are shifting to include more online learning, blended and hybrid learning, and collaborative models. Students already spend much of their free time on the Internet, learning and exchanging new information. Institutions that embrace face-to-face, online, and hybrid learning models have the potential to leverage the online skills learners have already developed independent of academia. Online learning environments can offer different affordances than physical campuses, including opportunities for increased collaboration while equipping students with stronger digital skills. Hybrid models, when designed and implemented successfully, enable students to travel to campus for some activities, while using the network for others, taking advantage of the best of both environments."

Mid-Range Trends: Data-Driven Learning and Student Creators
In three to five years, according to the researchers, data-driven learning and assessment will be a key concern for academic institutions, particularly as it concerns policymaking.

"In online environments especially, students and professors are generating a large amount of learning-related data that could inform decisions and the learning process, but work remains on structuring appropriate policies to protect student privacy," according to the report. "An increasing number of universities are formalizing policies regarding the gathering and use of data in making instructional decisions. This shift in attitude, documented by the U.S. Department of Education's report Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics, has the potential to improve services across the university landscape."

Also in the category of mid-range trends, researchers identified a shift in the role of the student from consumer to creator, with students across a broad range of disciplines engaging ore in content creation and design.

"A continuous stream of new ways for creative ideas to be funded and brought to reality has put university students more in control of the development of their research than ever before," according to the report. "Through the crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indegogo, student-led projects that might have stalled at the concept or model stage can now be brought to fruition. A student at Cornell University, for example, is using Kickstarter to develop Kicksat, a project intended to launch a small spacecraft into low earth orbit. Greater access to media production tools and outlets has also allowed students to move from consumers of video to producers."

Longer-Term Trends: Agile Approaches to Change and the Continued Morphing of Online Learning
Agile approaches to change, which topped the list of longer-range trends (five or more years), refers to the adoption of agile business models in higher education to promote "a culture of innovation in a more widespread, cost-effective manner. Pilots and other experimental programs are being developed for teaching and improving organizational structure to more effectively nurture entrepreneurship among both students and faculty."

According to the researchers, the adoption of these models "could lead to the more efficient implementation of new practices and pedagogies." Other advantages include:

  • Providing students with opportunities to glean real-world experience that they can take with them wen they enter the workforce;
  • Expanded opportunities in the area of technology transfer; and
  • Increasing support for "innovative faculty and student work.

The report also cited the evolution of online learning as a significant longer-term trend.

"Over the past several years, there has been a shift in the perception of online learning to the point where it is seen as a viable alternative to some forms of face-to-face learning," the researchers reported. "The value that online learning offers is now well understood, with flexibility, ease of access, and the integration of sophisticated multimedia and technologies chief among the list of appeals. Recent developments in business models are upping the ante of innovation in these digital environments, which are now widely considered to be ripe for new ideas, services, and products. While growing steadily, this trend is still a number of years away from its maximum impact. Progress in learning analytics, adaptive learning, and a combination of cutting-edge asynchronous and synchronous tools will continue to advance the state of online learning and keep it compelling, though many of these are still the subjects of experiments and research by online learning providers and higher education institutions."

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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