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The 6 Technologies That Will Change the Face of Education

3d printer and MacBook Pro laptop 

Makerspaces, wearable technologies and adaptive learning technologies are three of the six technologies that will have a profound impact on higher education within the next five years, according to the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition, released Wednesday by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative.

The annual report is developed by a panel of higher education experts to identify major developments in education technology and technological trends that will help shape teaching and learning in the near future. The researchers also identify the six most significant challenges facing education in the coming years.

Technological developments are sorted into three categories: those whose impact will be felt soon (or is being felt now), those that will come into p[lay in the mid-term (two to three years) and those that are a bit further out on the horizon (four to five years).

The Near Term: 1 Year or Less
Leading off the 2015 list of important technological developments in the near term is BYOD, followed by the flipped classroom.

BYOD made this list this year, according to the report, not because it's new or having a major effect on IT spending at this point but because of the growing evidence that BYOD is leading to productivity gains and allowing for more personalized instruction and learning.

"The link between the use of personal devices and increases in productivity gets stronger each passing year as more organizations adopt BYOD policies," according to the report. "The integration of personal smartphones, tablets, and PCs into the workflow supports an on-the-go mentality, changing the nature of work and learning activities so that they can happen anywhere, at anytime. Employers and higher education institutions are finding that when given the opportunity to choose their device, users are saved from the effort and time needed to get accustomed to new devices and can therefore accomplish tasks with more ease and efficiency."

The flipped classroom, which also appeared in last year's Horizon Report as a significant near-term technological development, is a model of teaching in which traditional methods of instruction instruction are experienced outside of the classroom — and where classroom time is spent discussing, rather than presenting, material.

About 29 percent of faculty in the United States are now using flipped instruction to some degree, and another 27 percent plan to add it to their repertoire within a year.

According to the report: "Flipped learning is seen as especially suited for higher education because the rearranging of class time gives students in large introductory lecture courses more opportunity to engage and interact with their peers. Instructors also make more efficient use of their time by focusing on content that is especially challenging for students — handheld clickers in large seminars are often paired with this method in order to help understand students' comprehension of material and customize discussions accordingly."

The Mid-Term: 2 to 3 Years
In the mid-term, researchers identified makerspaces and wearable technologies as significant technological developments.

The report defined makerspaces as "community-oriented workshops where tech enthusiasts meet regularly to share and explore electronic hardware, manufacturing tools, and programming techniques and tricks."

These spaces are, according to the researchers, becoming increasingly relevant owing to a dramatic shift in "what types of skillsets have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world. In this landscape, creativity, design and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational considerations, as tools such as 3D printers, robotics, and 3D modeling Web-based applications become accessible to more people. Proponents of makerspaces for education highlight the benefit of engaging learners in creative, higher-order problem solving through hands-on design, construction and iteration. The question of how to renovate or repurpose classrooms to address the needs of the future is being answered through the concept of makerspaces, or workshops that offer tools and the learning experiences needed to help people carry out their ideas."

Wearable technologies are also becoming increasingly relevant to education.

"Wearable technology is poised to see significant growth in the coming years, spurring experimentation in higher education because the demand for wearables is seen to be coming in large part from college-aged students; a recent poll showed that 21 percent of U.S. adult students use wearables," the report noted. "Further, another report by GlobalWebIndex revealed that 71 percent of students ages 16 to 24 want to use wearable technology such as smart watches, wristbands or glasses."

Consumers are adopting wearables at a faster pace than academic institutions. Universities for the most part have yet to incorporate wearables formally into the curriculum, except in athletics and medicine, where the applications are obvious.

The Long Term: 4 to 5 Years
Researchers identified adaptive learning technologies and the Internet of Things as the two most significant technological developments hitting education in the next four to five years.

Adaptive technology is seen as a means to break free of a "one-size-fits-all" approach to education and is suited well for online and hybrid learning environments, "where student activities are conducted virtually and can be monitored by software and tracking applications," the report noted.

"While adaptive learning technologies are still at least four years away from widespread use in higher education, a number of studies highlight their potential for transforming traditional learning paradigms...."

The researchers noted that the next step in extending the use of adaptive learning technologies is the development of standards and best practices.

The Internet of Things was the final technological development identified by the researchers as one that will have a major impact on education in the coming years.

"Use of IoT in educational environments is finally coming into focus as terms such as 'hypersituation' are being coined to explain the potential of IoT in learning situations," according to the report. "Hypersituating is the ability to amplify knowledge based on the user's location. In other words, learners that carry connected devices with them can benefit from a host of interdisciplinary information that is pushed to them from their surroundings. For instance, a learner exploring a city with a rich historical past can explore their environment through an architectural, political, or biological lens, depending on how the surroundings are equipped. IoT can also create an environment where learners are informed by crowdsourced contributions and observations from the community via networked objects."

The complete report is freely available as of today at

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