11 EdTech Advances That Will Not Happen by 2020

Some negative predictions.

December 6, 2015

What are are the educational technologies that are perpetually “just around the corner?

Which edtech advances do we constantly hear about as “imminent”, but that always seem to fail to arrive?

My nominations are:

#1 - A Communications Platform That Will Cut Down on E-Mail:

When it comes to e-mail, I may be ready to surrender.  Perhaps it is better to accept defeat, and admit to ourselves that our professional lives will forever be dominated by e-mail.

The reality is that the more we grow our digital networks, the more people we become connected with. More connections means more e-mail. 

If we start to work together on Slack or Yammer or LinkedIn or whatever we find ourselves collaborating with more people, and these collaborations generate more e-mail.  

The very strategies that we are trying to use to reduce e-mail will inevitably increase the e-mails that we send and receive. Ironic, no?

#2 - A Portfolio System That Everyone Uses:

I’ve been working at the intersection of learning and technology since 1995. And back when I first got into this game we heard that digital portfolios were “just around the corner”.  

Is it time that we finally surrender the digital portfolio dream?

The thing with digital portfolios is that everyone thinks that they would be a great idea. What’s not to love in a digital portfolio? Nobody thinks that grades are a reasonable predictor of much of anything. 

A portfolio that showed off a learner’s best work to employers and grad schools seems like a much better option. 

But we’ve been trying to make this work for decades. I doubt 5 more years will make any difference.

#3 -  A Virtual Case File System for Instructional Design:

Does this scenario match your experience? You are working with a faculty member on the design of a course.  You want capture what you have been doing so that your colleagues can be in the loop, and so that other folks at your institution can also provide assistance. Right now, all the information is on e-mail and maybe a Google Doc - making any hand-offs or collaborations really difficult.

What if we could have a Salesforce for course development and faculty collaboration?  A virtual case file where the information on the work with individual faculty members can be captured and documented? 

This sounds great - and maybe someone will make it work (hint, hint) - but in my experience these systems never really get any traction. 

Virtual case file systems turn into productivity tracking tools. 

The real work happens in e-mail and Google Docs, and the virtual case file system becomes just another place to go.

#4 - A Mobile Learning Platform that Will Displace The Browser Based LMS:

Ever since the iPhone came out in 2007 we have been hearing that the future of learning is mobile. Our students are getting ready to ditch their clunky old laptops en masse, and will run their whole lives (including their higher ed lives) from their phones.

Have you ever tried to teach or participate in an online class from only your phone?  Have you ever experimented in doing everything you normally do on your browser based LMS through an app? 

Let me tell you, it is not a happy experience. There is just not enough screen real estate on a phone to make participating in an online course feasible. 

The killer app of online learning is a good keyboard.

#5 - Instructor Accessible Analytics That Will Enable Data Driven Teaching:

The next revolution in higher education was supposed to be the combination of big data and analytics. By this time, we were all supposed to be enjoying full visibility into individual learner profiles and performance, and we were supposed to be able to use all this data to inform our instructional decisions.

Why has the learning data and analytics revolution stalled? 

Part of the answer I think has to do with costs. Developing truly powerful instructor accessible analytics dashboards will be a very resource intensive exercise. 

We can do this, but we have consistently underestimated the effort and costs involved in getting this done.

#6 - A Learning Object Repository That Is Actually Used:

Don’t get me wrong. I thought that Merlot.org was a great idea. The people behind MIT OpenCourseWare should all get Nobel Prizes. 

It turns out, however, that digital learning objects are not all that valuable when they are divorced from the educator. Put another way, we want to teach with things that we create.  And our students want to learn from materials that are directly relevant to the course - which in practice often means from materials created by the professor who is teaching them. 

The real digital pedagogical revolution has been in the democratization of rapid authoring. 

Nowadays, we have less of a need for digital learning object repositories because digitally inclined instructors can create their own digital teaching materials.

#7 - A Cloud Based SIS / ERP That A Majority of Schools Are Willing to Migrate:

The immortality of the campus data center drives me nuts. Wouldn’t it make more sense to consume all of our enterprise administrative technologies as services? Shouldn’t we be investing in our core strengths of teaching and research, and be leaving enterprise systems such as SIS and ERP provisioning to dedicated cloud providers? Why should administrative and financial systems be any different then what we do for e-mail and LMS platforms?

It turns out that all of this is easier to say than to do. 

Our campus SIS and ERP systems are highly customized. They are deeply integrated with every other system on campus, and integrated in a custom way. 

We have worked very hard to have redundancy and resiliency. 

We have prioritized data security, and are cautious to have our data live outside of our direct control. 

At some point all these issues will be overcome, and the majority of schools will feel comfortable in moving their most precious data to the cloud.  I just don’t think that that change will come by 2020.  Any guesses as to when?

#8 - A Synchronous Online Teaching / Webinar Platform Where Audio and Video Always Works:

The iron rule of any web meeting or synchronous online class is that somebody’s camera or microphone will not work. 

The only time when virtual meetings work is when the same group of people have been meeting for a long amount of time, and there is ample support to troubleshoot. 

Synchronous online teaching is great - it is just very expensive to pull off well. 

Online webinars work well, but they only work well if the number of people who have camera and voice access is restricted.

I used to think that some company would dedicate themselves to simplicity and resiliency in the online meeting / synchronous teaching space. I have hoped and hoped and hoped. And I’ve always been disappointed. 

Adding new features is just too tempting. Higher ed buyers have not been disciplined enough to buy, and stick with, the simplest platform. The gap between the consumer world of virtual meetings, and the education world of synchronous online learning, and webinars will only grow wider in 2020.

#9 - An LMS Gradebook That Is Both Elegant and Powerful:

Quick, name the LMS with a gradebook that is simple, intuitive, and powerful. I bet that you can’t. 

This may not be all the fault of the companies that make our learning management systems. The number of use cases that a gradebook needs to accommodate is astronomical. Everyone wants every imaginable gradebook feature.

What can be done?  Someone should commit to creating a stripped down LMS. Included in this simple LMS would be a gradebook that is designed for elegance and and ease-of-use.  

This will not happen because we in higher ed are not good at being disciplined in scope in features, and we have trouble saying no to feature requests.

#10 - An Enterprise Educational Online Discussion Tool As Good As Consumer Communications Platforms:

The heart of any online class is collaboration. A course lives or dies in the discussions and the blogs. Why is it, then, that consumer collaboration platforms feel so much more natural and effective than enterprise learning collaboration platforms?

Part of the answer may be, again, feature creep.  We want our enterprise learning collaboration tools to do too many things. As they get more complicated they get harder to use. 

Some folks have argued for years that it makes no sense to use learning platforms that people stop using once they graduate. That we should incorporate consumer platforms into our teaching and learning, rather than try to make our teaching and learning tools match the reach and experience of consumer technologies. 

My guess is that the enterprise / consumer learning collaboration debate will remain as unresolved in 2020 as it is in 2016.

#11 - An Online Meeting Platform That Actually Cuts Down On the Number of Face-to-Face Meetings and Conferences:

At one point I think we all thought that we’d be going to less face-to-face meetings.  That our conferences would all mostly move online.  

Have you ever participated in an online professional conference that is as good as a face-to-face meeting?

The reason the answer is no is that we don’t go to conferences for the presentations. We go for the conversations. These conversations take place in hallways and over meals. They take place in sessions designed to promote conversations. 

We are having lots of online meetings, but these meetings only grow our networks and encourage us to attend more face-to-face meetings.

What is your vote for educational technology advances that will not occur by 2020?


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Joshua Kim

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