NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 6 of 6): Adaptive Learning Technologies, Internet of Things, & Engagement

February 26, 2015

We might mistakenly think we’re moving into a place where technology becomes more important than people and engagement in the training-teaching-learning process as we look at the farthest reaches of the recently-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition on key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverThis, after all, is where we find concise descriptions of adaptive learning technologies (learning opportunities programmed to respond and adapt in an apparently personal way to an individual learner’s progress, performance, and unmet learning needs) and the Internet of Things (automated tracking and control of objects within our world) discussed within a four- to five-year time-to-adoption horizon.

We would even be well-justified in approaching these developments—particularly adaptive learning technology as part of a larger movement toward new levels of personalized learning—with a great deal of skepticism. We have, after all, seen well-intentioned colleagues in instructional design create asynchronous online learning modules that appear to offer learners different learning paths with personalized responses based on learners’ choices, only to discover in the worst of cases that the “different” paths all lead to one generic screen of feedback that is so broad as to be meaningless—particularly if a curious learner works his or her way back through a lesson and sees that the various allegedly personalized and divergent pathways all lead to the same meaningless one-screen-serves-all response.

nmc.logo.cmykBut this is not the world of adaptive learning technologies described within the Horizon Report. Here we really are seeing a well-documented “emergence of adaptive learning technologies” reflecting “a movement in academia [and in other learning environments] towards customizing learning experiences for each individual” in meaningful ways (p. 44): if a learner is clearly mastering a topic, the adaptive programming advances the learner to an appropriately more-challenging set of problems or to the next topic to be studied, while a struggling learner is moved to different content that offers additional supportive learning opportunities to plug that person’s learning gaps.

The winning element in the best of these examples is that learning facilitators are encouraged to remain integrally involved in the design and use of this technology to the benefit of the learners they serve; those trainer-teacher-learners understand that adaptive learning “is best suited to take place in hybrid and online learning environments” (p. 44), Report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada note.

Following resources cited within the NMC Horizon Project 2015 Higher Education Edition, we find descriptions of a “flurry of activity and experimentation around adaptive learning,” “the relatively recent emergence of sophisticated adaptive learning software and platforms,” and plenty of collaboration and partnerships between key players in training-teaching-learning (John K. Waters, “The Great Adaptive Learning Experiment,” Campus Technologies). If we follow that article to first-rate adaptive-learning technology reports prepared and posted online by Tyton Partners (formerly Education Growth Advisors), we are rewarded with two additional reports well worth reading to quickly immerse ourselves in the state of adaptive learning: the overview “Learning to Adapt: A Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning in Higher Education” and “Learning to Adapt: Understanding the Adaptive Learning Supplier Landscape,” a survey of several vendors engaged in producing and supporting adaptive learning technology.

The authors of the Tyton Partners “Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning” conclude their white paper with comments providing a fair assessment of where we remain for the moment: “…adaptive learning applications…still remain long on promise, and we must start where we are. But we are already somewhere quite interesting…fostering more personalized collaboration among students and with instructors by virtue of new tools and new data that promise to bring the power of learning to more learners more effectively and more efficiently than ever before” (p. 16). If trainer-teacher-learners collaborate to drive the process in ways that focus on learners rather than putting the tech tools at the center of the learning process, this remains a world well worth exploring, as we see in a brief video produced by Knewton, an accelerated-learning vendor.

When we turn our attention to the “no longer far-fetched” world of the Internet of Things/The Internet of Everything, we find ourselves in “a world where all people, objects, and devices are connected to act in concert, regardless of brand or vendor” (Horizon Report, p. 46). Our New Media Consortium guides, in this instance, write about how this technology provides the potential for learners to “carry connected devices with them” so they can “benefit from a host of interdisciplinary information that is pushed to them from their surroundings” and to “create an environment where learners are informed by crowdsourced contributions and observations from the community via networked objects” (p. 47). Examples of the Internet of Things in action within learning settings include those fostered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Internet of Things Lab, which features hands-on experimentation by learners, and efforts by University of Pennsylvania students to engage in product development.

If we engage in the spirit of the Horizon Project reports, we don’t stop here; we continue exploring the numerous resources available to us to learn more about the Internet of Everything and its potential to combine people, process, data, and things in ways that further support learning innovations, as described in Cisco’s brief “Education and The Internet of Everything” video. This ultimately reminds us that reading Horizon Project reports is the beginning, not the end, of an important process in our own lifelong-learning efforts; what matters most is what we do with the information and inspiration these reports consistently provide on educational technology, its key trends, and the challenges we face in the dynamic world of training-teaching-learning. 

NB: This is a final set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report.


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 1 of 6): Bursting Through Its Virtual Covers

February 13, 2015

New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project reports on key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology seem to be bursting beyond the boundaries of their virtual covers in spectacular ways, as the release of the 2015 Higher Education Edition this week makes abundantly clear.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverThere was a time when reading these free online training-teaching-learning resources involved little more than downloading the documents, taking a couple of hours to absorb the content, and then following a few selected links to learn more about the topics covered. Then the ever-increasing amount of content included within the reports created a need for a video synopsis posted on the New Media Consortium YouTube channel; the lavishly-produced and well-paced 2015 Higher Education Edition video clocks in at nearly seven minutes (compared to just under four minutes for the 2014 Higher Education Edition video). A very helpful infographic that further synthesizes the report through a single well-designed image for those who want to quickly grasp the high points of the report. A chart on page 35 of the report mirrors the online resource that lists the more than 50 technologies followed through the Horizon Project—a great gateway for anyone interested in exploring individual technologies they haven’t yet encountered. Increasingly numerous resources available through endnotes—nearly 300 spread over two pages near the final pages of the latest report—offer information-hungry readers a chance to explore the topics in greater depth. And the usual access to report expert-panel discussions within a well-facilitated wiki make the process of producing the report as transparent as possible while also providing an educational-technology resource unlike any others currently available online.

Simply compiling the endnotes for the report is a magnificent effort in collaboration, report lead writer Samantha Adams Becker explained via a recent email exchange: “Citations are split across three writers/researchers on the NMC team [Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada as co-authors]. Each of us is responsible for writing researching six of the 18 topics in the report. We have a rule to never write anything editorial or in our own opinion—we must back everything up with sources—hence the giant list of citations. We then review each other’s sections and provide feedback for improvement and check each other’s citations. We also have a research manager [Michele Cummins] who finds the further readings for each section, and I check that work as well. So while there are three writers of the report [supported by editor/Horizon Project founder Larry Johnson and Johnson’s co-principal investigator, Malcolm Brown], we meet weekly to critique each other’s work and then turn in revised drafts. I then compile all of our revised drafts into a master document and go over the entire report with a fine-toothed comb, editing for voice, cohesion, etc.”

The results are stimulating discussions of six key trends, six key challenges, and six technological developments expected to “inform policy, leadership, and practice at all levels impacting universities and colleges” in ways that have repercussions for any of us involved in training-teaching-learning within the ever-expanding lifelong learning landscape we inhabit.

NMC_2015_Horizon_Higher_Ed_Infographic

Key edtech trends documented within the Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition as “driving edtech adoption in higher education in five or more years” include “advancing cultures of change and innovation” and “increasing cross-institution collaboration.” Those expected to drive edtech adoption in a three- to five-year horizon include a “growing focus on measuring learning” and a “proliferation of open educational resources.” The short-term one- to two-year horizon includes an “increasing use of blended learning” and attention to “redesigning learning spaces.”

Key challenges impeding technology adoption in higher education within the short-term horizon include “blending formal and informal learning” and “improving digital literacy.” Mid-horizon challenges include those posed by “personalized learning” and “teaching complex thinking.” The “wicked” challenges—those “that are complex to even define, much less address”—include addressing “competing models of education” and finding ways to effectively reward teaching.

Important developments in educational technology for higher education in one year or less include the “bring your own device (BYOD)” movement and, for the second consecutive year, the flipped classroom model. Makerspaces and wearable technology are placed in a two- to three-year time-to-adoption horizon. “Adaptive learning technologies” joins “the Internet of Things” in the four- to five-year horizon.

What all of this means to those of us engaged in lifelong learning efforts will be explored more deeply in the remaining articles in this series of posts. In the meantime, those interested in playing a more active role in the Horizon Report process that many of us currently treasure are encouraged to complete the online application form.

NB: This is the first in a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: Key Trends


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