NMC Horizon Project Technology Outlook: Where Our Learners Are Going

With the release of their first Technology Outlook: Community, Technical, and Junior Colleges (2013-2018), our colleagues at the New Media Consortium (NMC) have provided the fourth of a four-part comprehensive overview of how the learners headed for our workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs are using technology in their own learning endeavors. (The other three parts of that overview are the 2013 K-12 report, with a brief overview video; the Technology Outlook for STEM + Education 2012-2017; and the Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report with its own video overview.)

NMC--Tech_Outlook_Community_CollegesAlthough the flagship Higher Education report remains one of NMC’s key publications each year (as I documented in four interrelated blog posts earlier this year after serving on the report advisory board), the K-12, STEM + Education, and Community/Technical/Junior Colleges editions help us see how technology continues to be an important element of the learning experience for everyone, from our younger (K-12) learners through those involved in colleges and universities. And if that weren’t enough for those of us working with graduates of our formal academic system, NMC also has facilitated annual future of education conferences over the past couple of years to produce lists of metatrends and essential challenges in teaching-training learning to guide us in our own efforts to keep up with what our learners and colleagues involved in facilitating learning are experiencing.

As is the practice with other NMC reports, the Community, Technical, and Junior Colleges report focuses on highlight lists of technologies that are likely to have significant impacts within short (one-year), medium (two- to three-year), and longer (four- to five-year) horizons. Top trends impacting technology decisions within the venues are explored within the report; significant challenges facing learners and learning facilitators within those venues are also summarized and highlighted.

But most interesting in terms of bridging the venues covered by those four (K-12, STEM + Education, community/technical/junior colleges, and higher education) complementary reports is a section in the new report comparing final topics across various NMC projects.

Community_College_Research_Center_LogoWhat we see from that summary on the first few pages of the new report is that innovations including flipped classrooms, the use of mobile apps in learning, augmented reality, games and gamification, and wearable technology are finding their way into learning at all levels—just as they are in our own workplace learning and performance endeavors. We also see that attention-grabbing innovations including massive open online courses (MOOCs) are changing the way we view our approach to online education, but they are entering our learning landscape at differing rates. (Higher education seems far better positioned to effectively incorporate MOOCs into our learning landscape than do community colleges, where a recent first-rate study—“Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas,” published through the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, at Columbia University—documented the difficulties that community-college students face in learning how to learn in online environments.)

And this is where the new report makes a firm connection to what we are doing and facing in workplace learning and performance: “The workforce demands skills from college graduates that are more often acquired from informal learning experiences than in universities,” the report writers note (p. 2). This provides new challenges for teacher-trainer-learners in community, technical, and junior college settings, they continue: “As technology becomes more capable of processing information and providing analysis, community college efforts will focus on teaching students to make use of critical thinking, creativity, and other soft skills.”

The learning circle becomes complete when we acknowledge that our own training-teaching-learning roles are rapidly changing in ways many of us still have not completely understood or accepted; just as our colleagues in academia are having to come to terms with facilitating learning as much as attempting to control it, we are going to have to argue—with our employers, our colleagues, and our clients—that one-size-fits-all learning was never a great model under any circumstances; that learning offerings that remain focused on learners passing exams and achieving certification/recertification really don’t serve anyone very well; and that creating communities of learning where technology facilities rather than drives learning ultimately produces learning that meets learner and business goals in magnificent ways.

Reading, thinking about, and acting upon the contents of any single NMC report certainly places each of us—and our learners—in a great position: we walk away from these reports with our own crash courses in what is happening in our ever-expanding and wonderfully challenging learning landscapes. Reading, comparing, and acting upon the content of the various reports helps us viscerally understand what we need to know so we can help our learners more effectively shine in a world where learning never stops—to the benefit of all involved.

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