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6 Emerging Trends Driving Technology in Education

The burden is on universities to advance the culture of innovation, "to foster environments that accelerate learning and creativity" and "to create the conditions for innovation to happen," according to a new report released Wednesday by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative.

That's is one of the longer-term trends identified in the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition that will impact decision-making over the next five years, particularly in the areas of technology policy, leadership and practice.

The annual Horizon 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 trends are divided up into three categories by the researchers: near-term trends, those that will drive technology adoption for the one to two years; mid-term trends, those driving adoption for the next three to five years; and long-term trends, those driving technology adoption for the next five or more years.

Long-Term Trends: Advancing the Culture of Innovation and Increasing Cross-Institution Collaboration
In order to advance the culture of innovation, the researchers argue, university leaders will have to embrace policies that will support agility.

"There is a growing consensus among many higher education thought leaders that institutional leadership and curricula could benefit from agile startup models," according to the report. "Educators are working to develop new approaches and programs based on these models that stimulate top-down change and can be implemented across a broad range of institutional settings. In the business realm, the Lean Startup movement uses technology as a catalyst for promoting a culture of innovation in a more widespread, cost-effective manner, and provides compelling models for higher education leaders to consider."

Increasing cross-institution collaboration was also cited as a longer-term technology driver and a trend that can be seen as a survival mechanism in the long run.

"A sense of solidarity with learners is leading institutions to join together with the objective of increasing accessibility, affordability, and the quality of education on a global scale," according to the report. "Deemed as a long-term trend, the prevalence of consortia underscores a vision of institutions as belonging to part of a larger ecosystem in which long-term survival and relevance in higher education relies on the mutually beneficial partnerships."

Mid-Term Trends: Measuring Learning and Open Educational Resources
Measuring learning was one of two mid-range trends identified by the Horizon Report's expert panel. There's been a growing push to measure learning data in order to drive personalized instruction, while also protecting student privacy.

"Education is embarking on a ... pursuit into data science with the aim of learner profiling, a process of gathering and analyzing large amounts of detail about individual student interactions in online learning activities," according to the report. "The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success. For learners, educators, and researchers, learning analytics is already starting to provide crucial insights into student progress and interaction with online texts, courseware, and learning environments used to deliver instruction. Data-driven learning and assessment will build on those early efforts."

The proliferation of open educational resources was also identified as a mid-range trend. OER was defined in the report as "a broad variety of digital content, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, tests, software and any other means of conveying knowledge. OER uses Creative Commons and alternative licensing schemes to more easily distribute knowledge, media and educational resources, which guarantees that content is freely copyable, freely remixable and free of barriers to access, cultural sensitivities, sharing, and educational use."

Unlike other technological solutions, OER is viewed in a positive light by faculty, though among faculty members, implementation of OER and deep knowledge of available resources seems to be not too terribly widespread. The report cited a Babson Survey Research Group publication that said that while a majority of faculty members (of more than 2,100 surveyed) had a positive view of OER, just 5.1 percent of respondents answered "that they were 'very aware' of OER and its use in the classroom."

Further, the report noted, "More than half of the respondents said they were deterred by the lack of search tools or a comprehensive catalog of materials. While understanding about OER is lacking, Babson researchers highlighted why knowledge in this area has the potential to increase greatly over the next three years; more than three-quarters of faculty members indicated that they expected to use OER or would consider using OER in the future."

Short-Term Trends: Blended Learning and Redesigning Learning Spaces
In the shorter term, blended learning and a renewed focus on redesigned learning spaces will play key roles in ed tech decision-making, according to the report.

According to the report: "Drawing from best practices in online and face-to-face methods, blended learning is on the rise at universities and colleges. The affordances blended learning offers are now well understood, and its flexibility, ease of access, and the integration of sophisticated multimedia and technologies are high among the list of appeals. Recent developments of business models for universities are upping the ante of innovation in these digital environments, which are now widely considered to be ripe for new ideas, services, and products."

In addition to blended learning, the rethinking of how learning spaces should be laid out and equipped —  all in an effort to promote active learning and foster collaboration — will drive ed tech adoption in the short term.

The shift affects both the design of formal learning spaces and the reimagining of informal learning spaces — lobbies and hallways, for example — as spaces where students can congregate and get academic work done.

These reimagined informal spaces "often feature comfortable furniture, power outlets for charging mobile devices and LCD monitors for connecting laptops," according to the report.

The complete report is freely available at

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