NMC Horizon Report for Higher Education 2017

The annual NMC Horizon Report for Higher Education has just been released. It contains 6 key trends in educational technology, 6 challenges to overcome and predicts 6 developments in educational technology. It is similar to the previous editions (see my posts from 2016 and 2015). This year the report shows the trends, challenges and developments in educational technology over the past 6 years. This shows how the different topics change from year to year.

Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption in Higher Education

  • Collaborative Learning – based on the perspective that learning is a social construct.
  • Blended Learning Designs – Perceptions of online learning have been shifting in its favour as more learners and educators see it as a viable alternative to some forms of face-to-face learning
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces – Educational settings are increasingly designed to support project-based interactions with attention to greater mobility, flexibility, and multiple device usage.
  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning – an interest in assessment and the wide variety
  • of methods and tools that educators use to evaluate, measure, and document academic readiness, learning progress, skill acquisition, and other educational needs of students
  • Deeper Learning Approaches – mastery of content that engages students in critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and self-directed learning
  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation – campuses will become places for entrepreneurship and discovery. Creating a culture that promotes experimentation and accepting failure as an important part of learning.

Significant Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption in Higher Education

  • Improving Digital Literacy – Due to the multitude of elements comprising digital literacy, higher education leaders are challenged to obtain institution-wide buy-in and to support all stakeholders in developing these competencies.
  • Integrating Formal and Informal Learning – there is a lack of scalable methods of formally documenting and assessing skills mastered outside of the classroom and adapting pricing structures and financial aid models to fit new degree options
  • Achievement Gap: reducing the disparity in the enrolment and academic performance between student groups, defined by socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or gender
  • Advancing Digital Equity: improving access to broadband internet is necessary to promote full participation, communication, and learning within society
  • Managing Knowledge Obsolescence: Staying organized and current presents a challenge to academics  in a world where educational needs, software, and devices advance at a strenuous rate
  • Rethinking the Roles of Educators: Educators are increasingly expected to employ a variety of technology-based tools, active learning methodologies and the rise of competency-based education.

Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

  • Adaptive Learning Technologies: encompassed by the personalized learning movement and closely linked to learning analytics, adaptive learning refers to the technologies monitoring student progress, using data to modify instruction at any time.
  • Mobile Learning: the pervasiveness of mobile devices is changing the way people interact with content and their surroundings. As the processing power of smartphones, smartwatches, and tablets continues to increase dramatically, mobile learning, or m-learning, enables learners to access materials anywhere, often across multiple devices.

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

  • The Internet of Things: consists of objects endowed with computing power through processors or embedded sensors that are capable of transmitting information across networks. Connected devices are generating data on student learning and campus activity, informing the direction of content delivery and institutional planning.
  • Next-Generation LMS: the development of more flexible spaces that support personalisation, meet universal design standards, and play a larger role in formative learning assessment. Rather than existing as single applications, they are a confederation of IT systems and application components.

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

  • Artificial Intelligence: As the underlying technologies continue to develop, AI has the potential to enhance online learning, adaptive learning software, and research processes in ways that more intuitively respond to and engage with students.
  • Natural User Interfaces: There is a rising level of interactive fidelity in systems that understand gestures, facial expressions, and their nuances, as well as the convergence of gesture-sensing technology with voice recognition.

For a good review of the NMC Horizon Report 2017 (as well previous editions) see the blogpost by Audrey Watters What’s on the Horizon (Still, Again, Always) for Ed-Tech. It shows how “haphazard” predicting the future can be.

In terms of technologies, I do not think these technologies will be broadly adopted in the time frames suggested. However, where they refer to mobile learning, I see this as multiple device learning, which ties into my research, which I think is probably more of a medium-term horizon.


Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., Freeman, A., Hall Giesinger, C., and Ananthanarayanan, V. (2017). NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.


Trajectories for Digital Technology in Higher Education

Last week, EDUCAUSE Review Online published an article on 6 Trajectories for Digital Technology in Higher Education. The goal of these trajectories is to enable responsive and personalised digital learning environments in higher education. They make use of “trajectories” instead of predictions as working with trajectories means “we know where something is headed, but we refrain from guessing where it will end”.

There are 3 contextual characteristics provided before discussing the trajectories:

  • Personalisation – use of digital resources to create custom pathways for learning and degree success
  • Adoption of hybrid learning models – greater online dimensions
  • Analysis of ever-increasing amounts of data – more nuanced and timely insights into all kinds of learning processes

The 6 trajectories:

  1. Device Ownership and Mobile-First: More and more students are owning multiple personal devices. The increasing use of mobile devices for learning is leading universities to consider a mobile-first approach by integrating mobile technologies into courses. Students are no longer  constrained by campus IT networks and make use of non-university apps and services.
  2. The Textbook and Open Educational Resources (OER): The format of the textbook is changing, and the purchasing of commercial textbooks is declining (in part because of increased costs). The textbook is no longer the course requirement, but an option. There is an increasing abundance of open content and OERs.
  3. Adaptive Learning Technology: Adaptive learning technology is a kind of e-tutor to anticipate the types of resources and contents learners need to progress.
  4. Learning spaces: Learning spaces is an umbrella term referring to the physical spaces specifically designed to accommodate learning activities. The focus is not on places of presentation, but being places of discovery, invention, and knowledge construction. Students do not sit in rows but in groups around tables. Technology involved includes wireless projection.
  5. Next generation Learning Management System (LMS): A single system will not be able to meet all the future needs but will likely consist of a number of integrated applications.
  6. Learning Analytics and Integrated Planning and Advising Services (IPAS): Analytics for teaching and learning seeks to promote learner success by providing near real-time information to instructors and advisors, helping them build and sustain positive learner momentum.

As always with this type of list, it remains to be seen what will happen in each of these areas. From this list, I am happy to see the increasing awareness of OER. For some of the others, like Learning Analytics, there seems to be a great deal of discussion of potential, but little practical impact at the moment. I am still not convinced about the need for a next generation LMS, when so many academics still do not make use of many current LMS features. But my own research will definitely tie into trajectory 1 where I will be looking at how distance students use multiple devices for supporting their learning.