The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K–12 Edition identifies and describes six emerging technologies or applications likely to have a large impact on school education over the next one to five years. The report also notes critical trends and challenges that will affect teaching and learning over the same time frame. The article provides edited extracts from the report.

Key trends accelerating educational technology adoption in schools

Rethinking the roles of teachers (next one to two years)

Teachers are increasingly expected to be adept at a variety of technology-based approaches for content delivery, learner support, and assessment. Students, along with their families, add to these expectations through their own use of technology to socialise, organise, and informally learn on a daily basis. The integration of technology into everyday life is causing many educational thought leaders to argue that schools should be providing ways for students to continue to engage in learning activities—formal and informal—beyond the traditional school day. As this trend gathers steam, schools across the world are rethinking the primary responsibilities of teachers. Related to these evolving expectations, are changes in the ways teachers engage in their own professional development, much of which involves social media and online resources. While fully online schools are still relatively rare, an increasing number of teachers are using more hybrid and experiential learning exercises and experimenting other ways of building learning communities.

Shift to deeper learning approaches (next one to two years)

There is a new emphasis in the classroom on deeper learning approaches. Project-based learning, problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning, challenge-based learning, and similar methods foster more active learning experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. As technologies such as tablets and smartphones are becoming more readily accepted in schools, educators are leveraging these tools to connect the curriculum with real life applications. These active learning approaches are decidedly more student-centred. The hope is that if learners can connect the course material with their own lives and surrounding communities, then they will become more excited to learn and immerse themselves in the subject matter.

Increasing focus on open educational resources (three to five years)

Open educational resources (OER) are growing in breadth and quality, matched by their use in classrooms, networks, and school communities worldwide. The uptake of OER materials is increasingly a matter of policy in schools. Understanding that the term ‘open’ is a multifaceted concept is essential to following this trend; too often it is mistaken to mean simply ‘free of charge.’ Advocates of OER have worked towards a common vision that defines it more broadly — not just free in economic terms, but also in terms of ownership and usage rights. Open content uses Creative Commons and other forms of alternative licensing to encourage not only the sharing of information, but the sharing of pedagogies and experiences as well. The goal is that OER materials can be freely copied, mixed, and accessed.

Increasing use of hybrid learning designs (three to five years)

As teachers and students become more familiar with the Internet, classroom-based learning increasingly includes online learning components and an increased focus on collaboration within and outside the classroom. Schools that are making use of hybrid learning models are finding that using both physical and virtual learning environments allows teachers to further personalise the learning experience. Hybrid models can enable students to use the school day for group work and project-based activities, while using the network to access readings, videos, and other learning materials in their own time.

Rapid acceleration of intuitive technology (five or more years)

Thanks to touchscreens and other natural user interfaces, today’s students do not have to be technical experts to personalise their devices. It is already common to interact with devices entirely by using natural movements and gestures. A growing list of devices built with natural user interfaces (NUIs) accept input in the form of taps, swipes, and other ways of touching. These intuitive technologies allow users to engage in virtual activities with movements similar to what they would use in the real world.

Rethinking how schools work (five or more years)

There is a movement to reinvent the traditional classroom paradigm and rearrange the entire school experience. Methods such as project- and challenge-based learning call for school structures that enable students to move from one learning activity to another more organically, removing the limitations of the traditional bell schedule. These new arrangements encourage renovation of classroom layouts with the express focus of facilitating group interaction. As learning becomes more fluid and student-centred, some teachers and administrators believe that schedules should be more flexible to allow opportunities for authentic learning to take place.

Significant challenges impeding educational technology adoption in schools

Challenges are sorted into three categories. Solvable challenges are those that we understand and know how to resolve. Difficult challenges are more or less well-understood, but solutions remain elusive. ‘Wicked’ challenges are too complex to define and require additional data and insights before solutions are possible.

Creating authentic learning opportunities (solvable challenge)

Authentic learning, which brings real life experiences into the classroom, is still uncommon in schools. It is seen as an umbrella for several important pedagogical strategies with great potential to increase the engagement of students. Use of learning strategies that incorporate real life experiences, technology, and tools that are already familiar to students, are ideal approaches that can bring authentic learning into the classroom. These practices may help retain students in school and prepare them for further education, careers, and citizenship in a way that traditional practices often fail to do.

Integrating personalised learning (solvable challenge)

Personalised learning includes a wide variety of approaches to support self-directed and group-based learning that can be designed around the individual’s goals. Solving this challenge means incorporating concepts such as personalised learning environments and adaptive learning tools. Using a growing set of free and simple resources, it is easy to support one’s ongoing social and professional learning with a collection of tools that is always on hand. While the concept of personalised learning is fairly fluid, it is becoming clearer that it is individualised by design, different from person to person, and built around the vision of life-long learning.

Complex thinking and communication (difficult challenge)

It is essential for young people to understand the networked world and to understand the difference between human and artificial intelligence. Learning how to use abstraction and decomposition when tackling complex tasks, and to deploy heuristic reasoning to complex problems are vital skills. Mastering modes of complex thinking does not make an impact in isolation; communication skills must also be mastered for complex thinking to be applied meaningfully. Indeed, effective leaders are outstanding communicators with a high level of social intelligence.

Safety of student data (difficult challenge)

Safety of student data has long been a concern in education. This is evident through legislation that has been passed to safeguard students and their personal data. As schools embrace ubiquitous technology, and more learning takes place online, researchers see great potential to leverage these digital learning environments to decipher trends in student behaviour and create personalised software. Schools around the world are adopting cloud computing to support adaptive learning, promote cost-savings, and encourage collaboration. Sometimes the safety of student data is threatened when third-party vendors provide low-cost software as a service in return for access to student data that they then profit from.

Competition from new models of education (wicked challenge)

New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to schools, especially for students whose needs are not being well served by the current system. Charter and online schools have particularly gained traction in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. Many students do not formally attend any type of school; the National Center for Education Statistics reports that nearly 3% of the school-age population was home-schooled during the 2010-11 school year. Ninety-one per cent of the parents of these children cited concern over the environments of traditional and charter schools when asked about their choice. For school leaders and policy makers, the challenge is to meet such competition head on, offering high-quality alternatives to students who need them. As new platforms emerge, there is a growing need to evaluate models frankly and determine how to best support collaboration, interaction, deep learning experiences, and assessment at scale.

Keeping formal education relevant (wicked challenge)

As online learning and free educational content become more pervasive, stakeholders and administrators must seriously consider what skill sets schools are in a unique position to provide. It is no longer necessary for parents to send their children to school for them to gain skills that will lead to gainful employment. There are, however, valuable skills and attitudes that many believe can only be acquired in school settings. Generally speaking, trends in hiring make it clear that soft skills are differentiating outstanding applicants from the rest of the pack. Work ethic and the ability to persevere through tough challenges, both social and academic, are reinforced in formal education environments.

Important developments in technology for K-12 education

In the NMC Horizon Project, educational technology is defined as ‘tools and resources that are used to improve teaching, learning, and creative inquiry’. While many of the technologies considered were not developed for the sole purpose of education, they have clear applications in the field. These technologies, which the expert panel agreed are likely to drive technology planning and decision-making over the next five years, are sorted into time-related categories.

Bring your own device (one year or less)

Bring your own device (BYOD), also referred to as BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology), refers to the practice of people bringing their own laptops, tablets, smartphones, or other mobile devices with them to the learning or work environment. In schools, the BYOD movement is growing; many students are entering the classroom with their own devices and using them to connect to the school’s network. While BYOD policies have been shown to reduce overall technology spending, they are gaining traction because they reflect the contemporary lifestyle and way of working. A 2013 Cisco Partner Network Study found that BYOD practices are becoming more common, particularly in education, with over 95% of educators surveyed responding that they use their own device for work purposes. Although administrators and educators have cited IT security concerns, technology gap issues, and platform neutrality as challenges to the uptake of this technology, a growing number of models in practice are paving the way for BYOD to enter mainstream use.

Cloud computing (one year or less)

Cloud computing refers to expandable, on-demand services and tools that are served to the user via the Internet from specialised data centres and consume almost no local processing or storage resources. Cloud computing supports collaboration, file storage, virtualisation, and access to computing cycles. The number of available applications that rely on cloud technologies has grown to the point that few education institutions do not make some use of it. Over the past few years, cloud computing has been firmly established as an efficient way for businesses to protect data, develop applications, deliver software and online platforms, and to collaborate. Schools are deploying similar cloud-based strategies to boost collaboration, productivity, and mobility in teaching and learning.

Games and gamification (two to three years)

The culture around digital games is growing to encompass a substantial proportion of the world’s population. The gaming industry is producing a steady stream of games that continue to expand in their nature and impact. Many allow massive numbers of people from all over the world to participate simultaneously. A 2013 study by the American Psychological Association highlights the cognitive, motivational, emotional, and social impact video games have on human behaviour; this significant body of research underlines the overwhelming potential of games to teach new forms of thought and behaviour. Studies like these are encouraging the uptake of games into the worlds of commerce, the military, and education. Gamification—the integration of gaming elements, mechanics, and frameworks into non-game situations and scenarios for training and motivational purposes—has added another level of complexity to discussions surrounding the potential of games to transform teaching and learning. Although still in its nascent stages in education, the gamification of learning environments is gaining support among educators who recognise that effectively designed games can stimulate large gains in engagement, productivity, creativity, and authentic learning.

Learning analytics (two to three years)

Learning analytics is an educational application of web analytics, a science that is commonly used by businesses to analyse commercial activities, identify spending trends, and predict consumer behaviour. Education is embarking on a similar pursuit into data science with the aim of learner profiling, a process of gathering and analysing large amounts of detail about individual student interactions in online learning activities. 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. Learning analytics is already starting to provide crucial insights into student progress and interaction with online texts, courseware, and learning environments. Students are beginning to experience the benefits of learning analytics as they engage with mobile and online platforms that track data to create responsive, personalised learning experiences.

The NMC Horizon Report series and the NMC Horizon Project

The NMC Horizon Report series and regional NMC Technology Outlooks are part of the NMC Horizon Project, a 12-year effort established in 2002 that annually identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in every sector of education, in 65 countries around the globe. Each of the three global editions of the NMC Horizon Report—higher education, K-12 education, libraries, and museums—highlights six trends, challenges and emerging technologies that are likely to enter mainstream use within their focus sectors over the next five years.

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition is the sixth in the annual K-12 education series of reports and is produced by the NMC in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Via the Curriculum and Leadership Journal

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