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


NMC Horizon Library Report 2014 (Pt. 6 of 6): Educational Technology on the Four- to Five-Year Horizon

September 5, 2014

It’s all about connections, we realize as we read the final section of the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries. Skimming that section about technologies “very likely to drive technology planning and decision-making” in academic and research libraries four or five years into the future leads us through concise discussions of the state of the Internet of Things and Semantic Web/Linked Data developments—two technologies that are firmly grounded in connections.

NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderThe Semantic Web/Linked Data section of the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition has plenty to say to anyone involved in libraries and other training-teaching-learning organizations: “Semantic applications and linked data have the potential to be immensely powerful educational resources” that allow us to “more effectively sift, query, and gather relevant information,” Horizon Report lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues remind us.

As is the case with big data, the semantic web “might be able to help people solve very difficult problems by presenting connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, individuals, events, or things—connections that it would take many people many years to perceive, but that could become obvious through the kinds of associations made possible when the semantics of the data are exposed” (p. 44).

For libraries and those who staff them, the implication is obvious: as organizations and people dedicated to providing access to information—and, more importantly, helping others find meaningful uses for that information—they become even more dynamic in their roles as community partners and resources when tools like a semantic web speed up the search process. For other trainer-teacher-learners, the implications are a bit more subtle, but no less important: semantic-web applications almost certainly would facilitate the training-teaching-learning process in ways we can’t even begin to imagine and change the way we support the process of change/transformation that is at the heart of successful learning.

nmc.logo.cmykThe 2014 Library Edition does not paint an unrealistic picture of where we are in terms of developing and employing a semantic web in our work: “While the evolution of the semantic web is still in its infancy for libraries, the worldwide linked open data movement is just beginning to adopt international standards for digital repositories that contain bibliographic information” (pp. 44-45). It is equally blunt about the state of development of the Internet of Things: “While there are many examples of what the Internet of Things might look like as it unfolds, it is still today more concept than reality, although that is changing rapidly” (p. 42).

But the fact that the report does help us focus on what is possible and what is being imagined—and provides examples of current semantic-web and Internet of Things initiatives—does help us understand some of what is currently happening and, more importantly, what may be possible within the four- to five-year adoption horizon described in this section of the report. Looking back over more than five years of reading and being involved in Horizon Project work, I realize how quickly those four- to five-year horizons become today’s horizons—and how important it is for all of us involved in training-teaching-learning to keep up with what is developing in the world of educational technology if we don’t want to be left behind the learners we are attempting to serve.

NB: This is the final set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition.


NMC Library Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 1 of 6): Documenting Where We Are and Where We Might Be Going

August 21, 2014

When a wonderful friend and colleague retired from library work after 40 years in the industry, he wistfully reflected upon one consequence of his departure: that he would not be part of all that would be happening with libraries over the next 20 years.

NMC_HorizonReport_2014_Library_cover_borderIf he were to read the newly-released (first ever) New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project educational-technology report on libraries, he would have even more cause to wish he had additional time to invest in these essential partners in community-development and lifelong learning.

The report—available online free of charge and focused on trends, challenges, and developing technologies in academic and research libraries, but essential reading for the much larger audience of people interested and involved in academic, public, and other types of libraries worldwide—is likely to quickly become a seminal work; more than 100,000 people downloaded the report within 24-hour period immediately following its formal unveiling. By documenting where we are and where we might be going, the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition will contribute substantially to conversations and decisions that help sustain libraries as responsive key players in the extended and expansive onsite and online communities they serve.

As an essential reference tool in and of itself, it provides a wonderful grounding in the basic language and learning landscape of the continually-evolving world we inhabit within and beyond the physical and virtual spaces of libraries as lifelong-learning centers. To read the report is to become aware of critically-important terminology including “device-agnostic” and “ubiquitous learning” (p. 9), “distant reading” and “macroanalysis” (p. 16), “creative destruction” (p. 29), and “competency-based learning” (p. 31). It also draws attention to first-rate learning resources including JISC (p. 4), the University of Leipzig research group Agile Knowledge Engineering and Semantic Web (AKSW) and its cutting-edge projects (p. 6), the 23 Mobile Things online course (p. 9), the Coalition for Networked Information (p. 14),  the Center for Digital Education (p. 26), the Ohio State University Libraries “Digital Initiatives Program Guiding Principles,” and others. It provides links to numerous articles while also mentioning more specialized reports and books. And as if all of that were not enough, it has a feature not included in previous Horizon Project reports: an extensive section of endnotes and links to online articles and resources that could keep us busy for many months to come. All in all, it’s a magnificent and well-written work of scholarship (crafted by lead writer Samantha Adams Becker and her New Media Consortium colleagues) that documents what we are—and should be—considering as trainer-teacher-learners working on behalf of dynamic communities worldwide.

nmc.logo.cmykAs is the case with all Horizon Project reports, the library edition provides concise descriptions of important developments in technology—“the technologies which the members of the expert panel agreed are very likely to drive technology planning and decision-making over the next five years” (p. 32)—placed within a one-year horizon/time frame, a two- to three-year horizon, and a four- to five-year horizon indicating when those technologies are “forecasted to enter…mainstream use…”

Anyone wanting an expansive overview of the ed-tech landscape will find it on page 33 of the report, as well as on the project wiki. (Going online takes us to yet another magnificent resource, one in which we discover that each technology is linked to a brief description—in essence, a concise tour of contemporary educational technology—and the list is far from static: “new technologies are added within these categories in almost every research cycle” for the various Horizon Project reports.)

The central sections of the final pages of the report lead us through discussions of how electronic publishing and mobile apps are driving technology planning and decision-making within the current (one-year) horizon; how bibliometrics and citation technologies and the open-content movement will have the same impact during a two- to three-year horizon; and the Internet of Things, along with the semantic web and linked data are likely to have significant impacts within the four- to five-year horizon.

With all of this before us, we engage with the 2014 Library Edition as a stimulating report on libraries, learning, and technology as well as a document that will serve effectively as a primer for those earning a degree in library studies to become part of a global community of practice. And the report also serves as a stimulating refresher course for experienced library staff members and library users. By documenting important elements of the library landscape of our times, it helps us identify and celebrate our successes while shaping the conversations that will build upon our past and present to lead us into a dynamic future.

NB: This is the first set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 Library Edition. Next: Key Trends


On the Horizon Report 2012: Technology in Learning Over the Next Five Years (Part 2 of 3)

May 30, 2012

The heart of any New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report is its list of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.” The 2012 Higher Education edition offers us a particularly healthy heart.

As noted in the first of these three articles, the near-term (one-year) horizon includes two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. And the far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and what the report refers to as “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

It takes little imagination for any of us to see that mobile apps and tablets are technologies no longer on a distant horizon; they are becoming mainstream in the best training-teaching-learning venues just as they have become common in day-to-day life for any of us with access to tech tools. The Horizon Report Higher Education edition, as always, itself serves as a first-rate learning object by leading us to tremendous examples of these tools in use. There is, for example, the Stanford University iPhone and iPad Apps coursefreely accessible online as an example of how a learning opportunity about iPhones and iPads is delivered on the very devices it helps learners master. There is also the story about Drew University’s “Wall Street Semester” program, which provides an innovative and adaptable example of how tablets become a central tool in creatively engaging learning opportunities. There is something wonderfully circular and cohesive in how these two technologies in this horizon intersect with others such as gesture-based computing—the technology we so comfortably use on our smartphones and our tablets—and the Internet of Things.

As we move a bit further out—into the two- to three-year horizon—we see how game-based learning continues to play an increasingly important role in learning, and how learning analytics—using “the interpretation of a wide range of data produced by and gathered on behalf of students in order to assess…progress, predict future performance, and spot potential issues” (p. 22 of the report)—puts technology to use in producing significant and enviable results for learners and those who fund learning opportunities. A University at Albany research team provides a game-based learning example—one that helps learners “overcome critical decision-making biases”—and helps all of us begin dreaming about how we can adapt that model into our own training-teaching-learning endeavors. An article through EDUCAUSE, a collaborative partner with NMC on the Horizon Report Higher Education  edition, offers a concise and enticing summary of where we may be headed through our use of learning analytics tools in ways that would assist instructors as well as learners.

And then there is that relatively distant—four- to five-year—horizon where the somewhat dreamy yet completely imaginable tech tools are continuing to develop: gesture-based computing and the Internet of Things. The report notes that “an extensive review was unable to uncover many current examples in higher education of gesture-based software or devices being applied to specific learning examples” (p. 27), but a few online samples show us what we may be seeing in the not-too-distant future.  And when we move into the Internet of Things—“shorthand for network-aware smart objects that connect the physical world with the world of information” (p. 30)—we’re looking at a world where simple tasks such as documenting learners’ attendance in a class or workshop and disseminating information including class schedules, announcements, and information about homework are handled technologically through tagging systems while trainer-teacher-learners spend more time on what they should be doing: engaging in learning-oriented endeavors.

Next: What the Horizon Report Process Reminds Us About Collaborative Learning


On the Horizon Report 2012: Conversation, Community, and Learning (Part 1 of 3)

May 25, 2012

It behooves us to pay attention when an online document with a limited print run becomes an integral element in creating, fostering, representing, and sustaining a dynamically innovative community of trainer-teacher-learners. Which is why I once again am spending time with the New Media Consortium (NMC) flagship Horizon Report—the Higher Education Edition—at a time when the 2012 K-12 Edition is about to be released.

NMC playfully and accurately describes itself, in an introductory video, as being about “leadership, community, technology, research, creativity, experimentation, imagination, optimism, community, imagination, and passion…We want to help our members stay at the leading edge of technology…[while engaged in] research on emerging technology”—a goal it continually fulfills by drawing in participants and hundreds of thousands of readers from all over the world.

The process of producing those reports—to be reviewed again more thoroughly in the third of this three-part series of articles—creates its own ever-expanding community. Through documenting what is happening at the intersection of people, technology, and learning, the report actually extends the reach of that teaching-training-learning community—an an onsite-online community that keeps people in the forefront and sees technology as a tool supporting and enhancing successful learning.

NMC’s series of annual reports, including the Higher Education edition we are exploring here and others in the works, is an inspiring as well as thought- and world-changing tool no teacher-trainer-learner can afford to ignore. And it is amply augmented through its Navigator: “Part extensive library, part global project database, and part social network, Navigator allows users to easily search through the information, insights, and research of past NMC Horizon Projects, as well as the NMC’s expert analysis and extensive catalog of sharable rich media assets,” we read on the Horizon Report website.

The 2012 Higher Education edition of the report—part of a continuing collaboration between NMC and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative–continues the tradition of identifying key trends and significant challenges faced by those involved in higher education—a process that received further attention and refinement during a Horizon Report Advisory Board retreat in January 2012. It doesn’t take much for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors to see how valuable and relevant this information is to us.

Our expectation that we will “be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever [we] want to” (p. 4 of the report) is true of anyone interested in not being left behind by the magnificent and seemingly endless changes that are occurring around every one of us in the contemporary workplace. The idea that “the world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured” (p. 4) is something we are seeing in the evolving ways we are approaching workplace learning; this is actually becoming increasingly important as today’s students quickly join us as workplace colleagues—and bring their expectations with them. The “new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning” (p. 6) is something we already are rightfully confronting and addressing in our onsite-online workplace learning offerings so that we aren’t left behind.

Furthermore, the challenges (that “individual organizational constraints are likely the most important factors in any decision to adopt—or not to adopt—a given technology…”) are also far from unique to academic settings. It remains true, unfortunately, that companies struggling to compete in a competitively creative marketplace can (and often do) actually tie their own organizational hands behind their institutional backs by stifling rather than encouraging the use of social media tools in their workplace.

The focal point of each new Horizon Report edition is the listing of “six technologies…placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely timeframes for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry” (p. 6) The near-term (one-year) horizon this year includes the two topics—mobile apps and tablets—that “have become pervasive in everyday life” (p. 6). The mid-term (two- to three-year) horizon features game-based learning and learning analytics. The far-term (four- to five-year) horizon includes gesture-based computing and “the Internet of Things” (smart objects).

To explore these topics through the Horizon Report is to treat ourselves to one of the most inspiring and rewarding learning experience we are likely to have this year.

Next: What the 2012 Higher Education Report Tells Us About Emerging Technologies


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