When we move into the four- to five-year horizon (time frame) of the latest Higher Education Edition of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project reports, we are at the dreamiest expanses of this annual review of key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology—which is just where trainer-teacher-learners need to be.
It’s a lovely area, where we find an intriguingly new kind of virtual assistants—ed-tech tools rather than the current human beings working from a distance to meet employers’ needs: “The latest tablets and smartphones now include virtual assistants…Apple’s Siri, Android’s Jelly Bean, and Google Now…Students are already using virtual assistants in their personal lives, yet most institutions have yet to explore this technology’s potential outside research settings” (p. 46).
Stepping beyond the virtual pages of the Horizon Report, we find a variety of resources already exploring where we may be going with virtual assistants: “7 Pros and Cons of Using Siri for Learning” from TeachThought; “Does Apple’s Siri Belong in the Classroom?” from Concordia University Online; and “How to turn Google Now into a powerful personal assistant” from CiteWorld.
Moving into the other element explored in that Horizon Report four- to five-year horizon, we find people looking for the quantified self based on data that their tech toys provide them: “…the phenomenon of consumers being able to closely track data that is relevant to their daily activities through the use of technology…these large data sets could reveal how environmental changes improve learning outcomes” (pp. 44-45 of the report). Most importantly, we see visions of where learning, creativity, and technology may be intersecting in significant ways in the not-too-distant future.
If we’re inclined to think the quantified self and these redefined virtual assistants are the latest pre-fad incarnations of technology that offers little to trainer-teacher-learners and those we serve, we need to look back only a few years to remember a period when tablets had not become a standard item in much of our learning environment. A time when massive open online courses (MOOCs) were barely a topic for discussion, and wearable technology was not on the cusp of mainstream adoption in learning via Google Glass. Then think about how quickly we have moved along adoption horizons.
Many of us have come to value our tablets as magnificent access points to information and learning resources—a form of mobile library in the palm of our hands—and can already imagine Google Glass and other forms of wearable technology becoming part of that learning environment. (Imagine John Butterill incorporating Google Glass into his virtual photo walks and you can already see the potential.) We are beginning, as Associate Instructional Design Librarian John Schank suggested during a panel discussion at the American Library Association Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia last month, to see MOOCs—particularly connectivist MOOCs—as a new form of textbook (a comment that, much to my surprise, seemed to receive little attention from anyone at the session but which strikes me as an incredibly perceptive and right-on-target observation as to one of the many roles MOOCs are assuming in training-teaching-learning). And we’re also seeing MOOCs as ways to inspire as well as evolve into long-term sustainable communities of learning providing ongoing experiential learning opportunities.
We really have never seen anything quite like this because we’ve never had the combination of technology tools and platforms (Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ Hangouts) we now have to create extended in-the-moment flexible learning environments that can facilitate just-in-time learning and create another way to sustain communities of learning long after a course formally ends.
And now we’re looking at the possibility of quanitifed self technology that could provide important information, filtered through learning analytics tools, to make real-time course adjustments to enhance learning experiences. We’re looking at virtual assistants that might be programmed to anticipate and respond to learners’ information and learning needs to the benefit of everyone involved.
If we connect learners through their tools and through collaborations between learning organizations (K-12, higher education, museums, libraries, and workplace learning and performance), we see the potential to further create, foster, and sustain the sort of onsite/hybrid/online lifelong learning that the New Media Consortium inspires and supports through the Horizon Project and its other innovative offerings. It’s a great example of how a learning organization not only provokes thought, but also provokes us to take the actions necessary to create the world of our dreams.
NB: This is final set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report.