NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 3 of 6): Personalized Learning, Digital Literacy, & Other Key Challenges

February 19, 2015

Intriguing educational-technology challenges ranging from “solvable” to “wicked” remain on the horizon for trainer-teacher-learners, the recently-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition reminds us.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverAlthough focusing on learning in formal higher education settings, the report’s summary of six “significant challenges impeding technology adoption in higher education” covers a set of challenges trainer-teacher-learners in a variety of learning environments would do well to consider—and attempt to address. In the short term (a one- to –two-year horizon featuring challenges “that we understand and know how to solve”), there are the challenges of blending formal and informal learning and improving digital literacy. In the category of “difficult” challenges—those “that we understand but for which solutions are elusive”—we find personalized learning and teaching complex thinking. And in that wonderfully knotty area of “wicked” challenges—those which become more difficult the more we attempt to resolve them—are the efforts to address competing models of education (massive open online courses—MOOCs; competency-based degree programs; and other alternative models of learning) as well as the need to find effective ways to reward teaching.

Cork_Lifelong_Learning_FestivalReport co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada begin with the solvable challenges by noting that “there is an increasing interest in the kinds of self-directed, curiosity-based learning that has long been common in museums, science centers, and personal learning networks.…Many workplaces already encourage informal learning methods for professional development…” (p. 22).  They help us better appreciate the roles social media and other resources are playing in helping us blend formal and informal learning, expose us to innovations including the Cork City Lifelong Learning Festival that “promotes and celebrates learning of all kinds, across all ages, interests and abilities, from pre-school to post-retirement” on an annual basis, and discuss numerous “informal professional development opportunities,” including NMC’s Academy; among the resources explored are the European Union’s Lisbon Recognition Convention—in essence promoting recognition of learning achievements across learning organizations—and the “Formalising Informal Learning” article written by Rory McGreal, Dianne Conrad, Angela Murphy, Gabi Witthouse, and Wayne Mackintosh and published in the Open Praxis distance- and e-learning journal in 2014.

NMC_Horizon_Project_WikithonIf we care to go beyond what is already copiously documented in the report, we might further explore efforts to support the blending of formal and informal learning by looking at proposals for a lifelong-learning database (item #6 in NMC’s 2014 Wikithon list of new topics in educational technology) and Stephen Downes’ efforts through the National Research Council of Canada to create and promote learning and performance support systems.

Remaining in the realm of solvable challenges, we join the report co-authors in a brief survey of efforts to improve digital literacy. They begin by noting that “[l]ack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs that address these challenges”—a failing that is equally prevalent in many other learning environments, including workplace learning and performance (staff training)—and point out that “[c]urrent definitions of literacy only account for the gaining of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes, but do not include the deeper components of intention, reflection, and generativity” (p. 24). But they don’t just leave us at that juncture where need and confusion intersect; they take us to “20 Things Educators Need to Know About Digital Literacy Skills” (from Innovation Excellence) and the “Jisc Developing Digital Literacies Infokit” as points for departure for addressing the challenge. The Public Library Association division of the American Library Association offers links to additional digital literacy resources for those interested in going beyond what the 2015 Higher Education Edition offers.

When we follow the report into the area of personalized learning, we find ourselves immersed in the intriguing world of learning designed to “enable students to determine the strategy and pace at which they learn”—learning opportunities that support the learning process at an individual learner’s own pace: “The goal is to give the student the flexibility to make…learning as effective and efficient as possible” (p. 27). Those already familiar with self-paced learning in settings ranging from the online staff training efforts to the flexible learning environments provided by connectivist MOOCs will find themselves on familiar ground here, and those wanting to become more familiar with the challenge and possible solutions can follow the report links to “Personalized Learning Changes Everything,” from the University of Maine at Presque Island, and Mike Keppell’s engaging “Personalised Learning Strategies for Higher Education” article that explores interrelated topics ranging from “learning in ubiquitous spaces” to “personalized learning strategies.”

Moving through the final three challenges (teaching complex thinking, working with competing models of education, and finding ways to effectively reward teaching), we find ourselves in areas interwoven with other topics covered in the report. We can’t, for example, explore competing models of education/learning without thinking about how we try to transform the formal-and-informal conversation from an either-or proposition into an and-and proposition. When we seek ways to effectively reward teaching, we find ourselves struggling to even define what “exemplary teaching” is: lecturing, facilitating learning in ways that encourage learner-centric approaches, guiding learners to a level of proficiency that allows them to pass competency-based tests, or a combination of these and additional learning goals and objectives we are still struggling to define within our various learning sandboxes?

One of the many strengths of the Horizon Project reports is that they help us focus on these challenges and, in the process of fostering that level of attention, encourage us to actively participate in the creation of effective, creative responses to these and other challenges to which curious, dedicated, innovative trainer-teacher-learners are drawn.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) and Flipped Classrooms


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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