Trends to watch in 2016: education and technology

What can we expect in 2016 from the intersection of technology and education?

Here I’d like to identify trends from 2015 which seem likely to persist or grow over the next year.  I’m building on previous posts about trends in technology and educational contexts, plus my FTTE report, naturally.

Soundtrack for this post is Ace of Spades, by the late great Lemmy and Motörhead (here’s a big mix if you need it).

I. Educational technology trends

Online learning, or the teaching formerly knows as “distance learning” Will this keep growing?  There are all kinds of reasons for it to, including funding support, state political support, the aging of American higher education students, decreasing difficulties in using technologies.  There’s now a movement to teach humanities seminars online.

This rising tide could pause.  The crisis in for-profit education could reduce student numbers, especially as for-profit learners tend not to shift to the rest of higher ed.  Skepticism about the quality of online learning could migrate to the general population.

MOOCs?  The hype bubble burst in America, but other countries seem to be interested.  And the MOOC numbers look like they’re rising.  Unless the worm turns globally, I’d expect planet MOOC to keep growing in 2016.

Faculty using technology The big picture seems to be that college and university instructors are gradually, incrementally, slowly using more technology each year.  That should extend into 2016.  There are, however, weird cuts to that curve.  We still see the majority of campuses failing to formally recognize professors’ digital work.  Yet we also see academic deans and provosts showing more interest in digital learning than their faculty.

Here’s a thought for campus support: stop helping tenured faculty members so much.  They are a minority nationwide, and there are fewer of them every year.  Instead, pay more attention to adjuncts.  Their numbers are growing, they face fierce market pressures to compete for teaching spots, and there’s evidence they are more likely than their fellow employees to try innovative teaching approaches.

CEHD students collaborating

Mobile: as humanity continues to migrate ever-increasing swathes of life into handhelds, educators slowly follow suit.  The forthcoming Horizon Report thinks BYOD is one of the two major tech trends for 2016.  Let’s see if higher ed figures out mobile-first design, as ELI recommends. Primary and secondary schools are a battleground between iPads and Chromebooks, it seems.

One crucial impact of mobile technologies in education is the way they tear down our old boundary walls, the ones around in-session classes, or conferences, or meetings.  I expect to see numerous stories along these lines in 2016.

Another aspect is the gradual disintegration of computing, as we move from desktops to laptops to tablets, phones, cameras, trackers, and gewgaws attached to various locations in our spaces and on our bodies.  We’re just starting to think about this in terms of pedagogy and IT support.

By the way, I do love saying “I told you so.”  I’ve been telling educators about the importance of mobile since 2000.  It’s very sweet to see things coming to pass at last.

Ebooks These are gone almost nowhere in education for years, despite the general ebook boom.  I’m looking for quiet signs of etextbooks in 2016; the CIO crowd at this year’s EDUCAUSE seemed interested.  2015 had a martyr for textbook costs, but I haven’t seen this inspire any movements towards cheaper texts.

Gaming and gamification should continue to attract experimental and creative faculty, plus allied staff, but that looks like a very slow growth area for now.  Financial pressures don’t help, and America’s divided attitudes about gaming suggest opposition, on top of apathy, will continue.

Big data and data analytics: interest in this is widespread and has some hefty power behind it.  The forthcoming Horizon Report sees a “Growing Focus on Measuring Learning” as something to watch in 2016, along with “Learning Analytics & Adaptive Learning”.  The EDUCAUSE CIO and vendor population was very keen on data and analytics this year.

Personalized learning is winning a growing amount of attention, but no off-the-shelf tech solutions.  Instead it seems to be a learning strategy, sometimes driven by state governments.  Let’s see how this unfolds in 2016.

Flipped classes seem to simply be a thing without much buzz or venture capital.  The technology is out there, and the concept is easily grasped.  Unless I see data to disprove it, I imagine we’ll just see more classes and class content items flipped in 2016.

3d printing I want you, dear reader, to think of this phrase: “3d printing across the curriculum.”  Because that’s where things seem to be headed in 2015.  Pedagogies and support strategies are growing now.

Video One friend insists on telling me that “video is the new paper,” which drives me crazy, but is also a good probe for making us think about just how much people love video.  Even academics.  Let’s see if 2016 doesn’t see more tv-studio-style classrooms.

Open is powerful, but advances only incrementally.  CIOs aren’t too noisy in their support.  One major old-school open project shut down.  Perhaps 2016 will be more of this two steps forward, one step back arc.

The LMS A few themes: first, LMSes trying to resemble the modern (i.e., post-2001) web.  Second, continued churn in that marketplace.

Digital storytelling has been exploding over the past half-decade, at least in terms of strategies, forms, and tools.  I haven’t seen good numbers on this, but suspect a creative minority of college faculty use digital storytelling, and that that number won’t fall next year.

Libraries Many trends collide here, and really deserve a full post.  One possibility is research-oriented libraries mutating into entrepreneurial entities, aimed at business and with fewer professional librarians.  Another is that we see libraries fighting hard for new information habits, especially as tv news descends even further into the muck. (See also “privacy challenges” below)

Informal learning via digital tools seems to be growing (cf Jimbo Wales).  Unless we experience a major technological catastrophe or a serious cultural shift, this should keep on growing through 2016.

II. From non-edutech trends

Social media is something higher ed is ambivalent about.  Many academics use it (i.e., watch YouTube, at least), but many criticize it.  Let’s see if the 2016 political campaigns don’t encourage both sides: some people using more social media than ever to keep up, with others supporting cracking down on social media as political expression.  In the meanwhile, look for younger, female earth science faculty as people most likely to use social media for academic purposes, generally.

Let’s also think about mobile messaging apps (Snapchat, etc).  Will significant numbers of educators use these for academic purposes in 2015?  Or will (younger) students inhabit this largely adult-free world?

Podcasts have seen a massive second wave in 2015.  Will educators partake by assigning podcasts as curriculum, having students make podcasts, and/or podcasting themselves?

Virtual reality is on the rise, appearing in some high profile projects. If this keeps on we should expect some demand for campus VR projects.

Automation keeps racing ahead.  As Audrey Watters has shown, there’s a fierce pressure to introduce more automation in education.  Unless there’s a spectacular blow up, we should expect more of this in 2016.

If privacy challenges rise in 2016 (see here for more), what is the role of educators?  Librarians may see their role as instructing members of the community in ways they can minimize surveillance and protect their privacy.  IT staff may build on their established FERPA habits to protect student information.  On the other hand, such practices could run afoul of state desires to increase surveillance for security purposes.  What are the ethical choices in 2016?

Indeed, 2016 may be the year educational technology becomes openly political.  It hasn’t been so (not openly), and some, like Sir Ken Robinson, make careful arguments for innovative teaching to avoid any political dimensions.  But perhaps the combination of technological change, political pressures of various stripes, and financial pressures on campuses could lead campus IT departments to become more outspoken, or even active.

If we see financial pressures keep ratcheting up on campuses (from enrollment declines, anxieties about debt, sunk costs, etc), then it’s going to be harder, generally, to find money for campus technology work.  Queen sacrifices are something educational technologists have to watch, along with rumblings about mergers (how many IT staff would be cut in the name of new efficiencies?).  We should also watch for financial incentives to restrict expression.  If you’re at the majority of campuses, keep an eagle eye on enrollment shortfalls. Wait for being asked to teach technology to seniors. Look for rising competitors. And look for faculty, and even some deans, to admit they’d like to see fewer students around.

If American campuses keep expanding their overseas presence (see here for more), tech support issues become more… interesting.

If we keep on funding athletics there may be blowback against technology.  I’m not referring to the uses of tech in sports, but funding.  Some schools are adding student fees to support teams in an era of overall financial pressure.  This may, eventually, trigger resistance from students, and they might not support paying extra fees, which are sometimes ways we support technology.

What do you think about these?  Are any especially likely to have an impact where you work?  Are any trends going to fall short?

(students collaborating photo by cehd.comm; embarrassing typo corrected, thanks to Dave Gannon)


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11 Responses to Trends to watch in 2016: education and technology

  1. David Allard says:

    My students still don’t like the etexts.

    • What do they say about them, David?

    • Something about the “physicalness” of books… “I remember that fact, it was on the bottom left side of the page – right below the graph, toward the end of the book.” Most publishers say that to be successful, etexts must shed the physical book paradigm and be made in a way that allows following of links, multimedia and exploration. Too distracting for me…I already have to fight ADD! I like the organization of a well written text (well written is key!). My favorite kind of etext: a scanned pdf of the original!

  2. I have moved away from textbooks as more material is available online. For art history, this is possible.

  3. Should the articles title be trends for 2016?

  4. Scott Robison says:

    Greetings Bryan,

    This group had OER at #2 behind ESSA for things on the K-12 horizon…

    Happy New Year!


  5. shei1amac says:

    Hi Bryan, Great piece and full of ‘truth bombs’ (which I love), but the link (“Technology to the Rescue ” (pdf )) to the study in the following story is broken. Public universities confront changes Regards, Sheila

    *Sheila McCarthy* Innovation Projects Manager [Innovation Projects Team] Learning Futures Griffith University Nathan Campus 170 Kessels Road, Nathan, 4011 Phone: +61 (07) 37357987 * *

    *I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Country on which I work and pay respect to Elders past and present.*

    *PRIVILEGED PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL* This email and any files transmitted with it are solely for the use of the addressee(s) [or responsible for the delivery of the mail to the addressee(s)], please disregard the contents of the email, delete the email and notify the author immediately.

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