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Gazing at the Horizon
January 17, 2010 - 5:58pm

The annual Horizon Report is essential reading and discussion material in educational technology.

This is the report that I hope is passed around and discussed by academic IT departments. Better yet, a proactive leader could lead her department through the Horizon Report methodology, creating a structured opportunity for colleagues to discuss the most important trends and technologies in learning technology.

The Horizon Report identifies four trends as "key drivers" of learning technology from now until 2015. These trends include:

1. A transition from scarcity to abundance in both learning content and the ability to connect people and materials via the Web.

2. The expectations of anytime/anywhere learning opportunities.

3. The move away from a centrally managed and controlled IT infrastructure to cloud based (and consumer) learning and collaboration tools.

4. The emergence of a social learning paradigm that stresses collaboration and inter-disciplinary work.

In addition to these key drivers, the report goes on to identify four "critical challenges" to higher education and academic IT. These challenges include:

1. The need to insure that higher education prepares students for analytical and creative work.

2. A mismatch between the growing importance and relevance of open, online scholarship technology, including mediated contribution and collaboration, with traditional metrics for evaluating faculty productivity.

3. The need to instill "digital media literacy" as a core competency across disciplines for all students.

4. The new realities of shrinking endowments and public support of higher education, resulting in a narrowing of focus in learning technology around a restricted set of key goals.

Out of these trends and challenges a set of six technologies to watch emerge. These technologies are placed on a near-term horizon (the next 12 months), a medium term horizon (2 to 3 years), and a long-term horizon (4-5 years away). The report stresses that these are not "predictions", but rather descriptions of emerging technologies with "considerable potential for our focus areas of teaching, learning, and creative inquiry."

Of all technologies to watch, I find the inclusion of open content to be the most compelling. Sure, mobile computing, e-books, augmented reality, gesture-based computing and visual data analysis will contribute to "sustaining innovations" in higher ed. But open content has a potential to be a "disruptive innovation", fundamentally challenging both how learners receive education and how educators construct learning. Open learning is the one trend that I firmly believe that every institution of higher learning, and every professional working in learning technology, needs to grapple with and ideally find a way to participate and contribute to the movement.

Perhaps future Horizon Reports could identify other disruptive innovations, detailing how these technologies may displace incumbents and fundamentally alter prevailing models, roles and relationships.

Have you made it a priority to discuss the Horizon Report in your organization? How would you critique the key trends and challenges that the report identifies? Which of the 6 emerging technologies do you see as most relevant to your organization? Which technologies would you nominate as disruptive in higher education?


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