On the Horizon

by John Doherty and Lorraine B. Elder

Cover image of the 2011 Horizon ReportThe annual Horizon Report, published by the New Media Consortium (NMC), describes educational technologies that are ripe for adoption in the coming year, the next 2 to 3 years, and 4 to 5 years out. The 2011 Horizon Report is now out. The full report (.pdf) is available on the NMC site. The work that went into the report is documented in NMC’s Horizon Report wiki.

2011 Horizon Report Predictions for
Educational Technology Adoptions During the Next One to Five Years
1 year or less 2 to 3 years 4 to 5 years
Electronic books
Mobile devices
Augmented reality
Game-based learning
Gesture-based computing
Learning analytics

Dead on or dead wrong?

Drawing of a targetPast Horizon Reports have included some notable hits and misses, perhaps stemming from the biases and interests of the researchers, many of whom inhabit the leading edge of educational technology and are removed from the laggard community. For example, the 2005 Horizon Report said social networks would be adopted within education in four to five years. Social networks went mainstream long before that but have seen less adoption in education than expected, perhaps partly because until recently they weren’t well integrated with learning management systems, and partly because many educators often viewed—and still view—social networks with suspicion.

Drawing of a game controllerAnother element of the 2005 report suggested that educational gaming would be widespread by 2008. The 2011 report says that game-based learning is still two to three years away, evidence that prognostication is an inexact business.

Still, it’s worth contemplating some of this year’s predictions.

Electronic books and mobile devices

Photo of Amazon KindleThese two technologies do seem to be obvious choices, and they’re not unrelated. For example, Amazon Kindles and Apple iPads are good devices for displaying ebooks, and both are popular with consumers (the National Federation of the Blind’s lawsuit against Arizona State University for its Kindle use notwithstanding). Last July, Amazon’s ebook sales outpaced hardcover sales, with 143 ebooks sold for every 100 hardcover books.

Photo of Apple iPad

However, digital rights management still acts as a bottleneck for adoption of ebooks in education, especially for books published outside the U.S. For example, the Kindle edition of Jerusalem: The Biography, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, is receiving very good reviews in British publications but is not yet published in the United States and won’t be available here until at least November 2011, a year after its British publication. Fortunately, some publishers realize the value ebooks can bring to teaching and learning, and they are decoupling the purchases of ebooks and printed books. McGraw-Hill now allows students to buy or rent—for much lower cost—an ebook without forcing purchase of its physical counterpart.

A new report by Rob Reynolds of Xplana indicates projections for the digital textbook market over the next five years. Their projections agree with the Horizon Report regarding coming adoption of ebooks, but their time frame is more conservative.

Graph showing percentage of projected digital textbook sales in the U.S. 2010-2017

Photo of  Samsung Galaxy TabThe 2011 Horizon Report notes that some tablet devices, such as the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab offer enough compelling additional features to make ebooks “a potentially transformative technology” because they can now include rich media and supplemental material not possible in a printed book. Book cover of Raven BiologyInkling’s edition of Raven Biology is cited as one example of a title that “brings the study of this science to life with detailed illustrations and animations, in-line keyword definitions, and interactive quizzes embedded in each chapter.”

On the mobile device front, the 2011 Horizon Report notes three converging points:

  • Within the next year, Internet-capable devices will outnumber computers.
  • In Japan, 75% of Internet users already choose mobile devices as their primary means of access.
  • By 2015, 80% of people accessing the Internet will do so from a mobile device.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has an interesting infographic showing rates of ownership of several types of mobile devices by age group. Tablets and ebook readers show comparatively low rates of ownership, but laptops, MP3 players, and cell phones show high rates of ownership across age groups. Only 9% of adults don’t own any of the devices, and 63% of those non-owners are age 66 or older. Take a look at the full-sized graphic for details.

Graph showing that 85% of all U.S. adults have a cell phone

Many educators are already challenged by the presence of mobile devices in classrooms, with some instructors issuing blanket bans on phones and tablets. We think that’s the wrong reaction. Instead, instructors should capitalize on the devices. Have students use mobiles to search for, create, and present content and to collaborate and interact with each other and with the instructor. For example, envision students examining 3D models of chemical structures while they work on lab experiments, or consider getting feedback from students by polling them and letting them respond from their mobile devices. Instructors who object to mobile devices in the classroom are missing a golden opportunity.

Augmented reality & game-based learning

Icon of the Star Walk applicationThink about the benefit of using augmented reality applications on anthropology or geology field trips. Star Walk, a popular astronomy app by Vito Technology, puts a virtual planetarium on your phone or tablet, showing you a real-time view of the night sky with informative overlays. These kinds of applications have obvious potential in higher education, and their cost is often low, once you discount the initial expense of purchasing devices capable of using them. Many developers have already jumped on this bandwagon, so the choices should increase rapidly.

Google Map showing Route 66 in ArizonaNorthern Arizona University’s Cline Library augmented an exhibit, Route 66 in Arizona: Don’t Forget Winona!, with a Google Maps add-on that lets users look at photo archives of towns highlighted along the route. The map works in web browsers and on smartphones.

Game-based learning has spawned several conferences and studies (.pdf), a sure sign that the topic is gaining traction among educators. However, given the time and cost of developing high-quality games across the many academic disciplines, as well as possible bias against games among faculty, we suspect widespread adoption of this technology will take more than three years. Pioneering educators are gaming already, but the masses will follow more slowly.


Illustration of a graph and pie chartAt the 2011 ELI Annual Meeting, David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University, defined learning analytics as a way “to harness the power of advances in data mining, interpretation, and modeling to improve understandings of teaching and learning, and to tailor education to individual students more effectively.” As an example, he described the development of strategic tutoring, which relies on data to help predict the need for proactive student support. You can view a video or download his slides for that presentation and others on analytics and openness in education.

Businesses have already capitalized on analytics. Think of the recommendations you get from Amazon or Netflix or the coupons you receive when you pay for your groceries. Given the current budget-slashing climate for higher education, analytics are a no-brainer, and savvy institutions are getting on board now, using the data they already have and not waiting five years. Any university seeking funding or even tuition dollars is going to have to rely on data to demonstrate the effectiveness of its programs. No convincing numbers? No dollars.

Illustration showing elements of Northern Arizona University's Grade Performance Status tool, including instructor messages and the ResourceConnect websiteNorthern Arizona University has already started using analytics in its Grade Performance Status (GPS) tool, which uses data on students’ academic performance, grades, attendance, and positive feedback to identify students who might be headed for trouble in their courses, and to prompt instructors to reach out to those students to assist them.

So what’s the immediate message of all this for educators? We think it’s get moving on getting mobile, look toward ebooks, and start analyzing your data now.

2 Responses

  1. […] original here: On the Horizon « Northern Arizona University's e-Learning Center Share […]

  2. See Kirsten Winkler’s thoughts about the Horizon Report and start-ups at http://bigthink.com/ideas/38781

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