The Horizon Report looks back for the first time

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This year, the Horizon Report premieres a section called “Fail or Scale” which provides an analysis of what technologies and trends were actually adopted or impacted teaching and learning.

Photo: Pxhere

Every year, since 2004, the New Media Consortium (NMC) has published the NMC Horizon Report, a document that explored the trends, challenges, and technology developments likely to have an impact on teaching and learning. Since then, the Horizon Report has been recognized for forecasting the six key trends, the six challenges and the six developments in educational technology with the potential to be adopted in the short, medium and long term.

In December 2017, the New Media Consortium announced it would be closing its doors. And just two months after, in February 2018, EDUCAUSE announced it would acquire NMC, taking charge of the Horizon Report as well and changing its name to EDUCAUSE Horizon Report.

Although the report has been well-received and has its hardcore followers around the world, it has also its detractors, who criticize the report’s lack of retrospective and reflection. Experts like Audrey Watters, argue that the report neglects the history of these predictions and the consequences these can inflict on the education sector, leading to the early adoption of certain technologies that might not be already well-tested and researched. Watters made an interesting chart of the history of the Horizon Report's predictions about the future of technology in higher education.

Perhaps these criticisms have finally reached the ears of the creators of the report, since this year, for the first time, the report includes a new section that re-examines previous forecasts. The EDUCAUSE Horizon Report 2019 Higher Education Edition premieres a chapter called “Fail or Scale” that provides an analysis of what technologies and trends were actually adopted or impacted teaching and learning.

According to the report, this new section provides hindsight of previous forecasts from the perspective of former panel members. In a series of essays, the experts offer insight into how higher education has been impacted by trends presented in reports from previous years, such as adaptive learning, augmented reality, and gamification.

But before reviewing these analyzes, let's take a look at the trends that the report predicts will impact higher education in the future.

Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption

This section displays the trends “expected to have a significant impact on the ways in which colleges and universities approach their core mission of teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.”

Short-term (1 to 2 years)

  • Redesigning Learning Spaces

  • Blended Learning Designs

Mid-term (3 to 5 years)

  • Advancing Cultures of Innovation

  • Growing Focus on Measuring Learning

Long-Term (+5 years)

  • Rethinking How Institutions Work

  • Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees

Key Developments in Technology for Higher Education

This section of the report includes “six technologies forecast to be important to teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in the future.”

Short-term (1 year or less)

  • Mobile Learning

  • Analytics Technologies

Mid-term (2 to 3 years)

  • Mixed Reality

  • Artificial Intelligence

Long-Term (4 to 5 years)

  • Blockchain

  • Virtual Assistants

Moreover, the report analyses the six challenges that could impede technology innovation, adoption, or scale in higher education. These challenges are divided into three difficulty-related categories based on the degree to which each could be solved at the institutional level.

Significant Challenges Impeding Higher Education Technology Adoption

Solvable (Those that we understand and know how to solve)

  • Improving Digital Fluency

  • Increasing Demand for Digital Learning Experience and Instructional Design Expertise

Difficult (Those well understood but for which solutions remain elusive)

  • The Evolving Roles of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies

  • Achievement Gap

Wicked (Those that require additional data and insights before solutions will even be possible)

  • Advancing Digital Equity  

  • Rethinking the Practice of Teaching

Now let's look back on the forecasts published in previous reports. The report starts with adaptive learning, an essay by Nicole Weber, Director of Learning Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. This trend first appeared in the report as an important trend to follow in 2015. Since then, the time-to-adoption predicted has moved from four to five years in the 2015 edition to one year or less in 2017 and increasing to two to three years in last year’s report.  This year, however, adaptive learning didn’t even make it in the list of developments.

Why has adaptive learning not been adopted by now? According to Weber, one of the most significant challenges is the investment needed to implement and scale it. Panelists feel that the technology required to implement this trend seem to be in their infancy, creating a substantial investment from the institution of time, money, and resources.

Likewise, the notion of using technology to create a virtual or a hybrid environment to improve students learning experience (such as augmented reality, virtual reality, or mixed reality), has been emerging as a trend for years now in higher education. Nevertheless, its wide-adoption remains elusive.

Kevin Ashford-Rowe thinks this is not new concept. “I believe that our first Australians, in creating the concept of the Dreaming or Dreamtime many thousands of years ago, were already augmenting or mixing reality,” says the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Digital Learning) at the Queensland University of Technology.

The adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality in education has not been widely achieved. The costs of implementing such approaches at scale could be the culprit, but in this case, ergonomics, comfort and basic utility could also have played a key role. Ashford-Rowe quotes AJ Agrawal who says that “no one wants to wear a pair of goggles on their head during daily routine [...] even the most mind-blowing AR glasses won’t matter until they look ‘normal’ enough for everyday wear.” Many institutions, especially those within health, medicine, and business, have been using VR and AR to deliver authentic learning experiences.

From 2012 to 2014, the Horizon Report forecast that games and gamification “would become a significant force in educational technology.” However, the topic never appeared again in any Horizon report from 2015 on. What happened? “Games seem to have become a niche rich-media tool, used in a handful of classes in a small number of departments,” explains Bryan Alexander, a futurist, researcher, and teacher. Alexander adds that the adoption of games in the classroom is time-consuming for faculty since teachers have to find games for each of their classes, test them out, and implement them. Moreover, the experience gained in commercial games is yet far too distant from the classroom experience.

For Alexander, there are several lessons to learn from this history. “A new technology—especially one that requires significant research and training—needs to be able to work across the curriculum and in sufficient numbers to merit institutional investment.”  

Indeed we need to go back and learn from our mistakes. It is crucial that every time we read or hear about a new prediction, go back to the forecasts that were made in the past and see what happened to them before taking any action.

Finally, I want to share this phrase that caught my attention: "We could say that what happens in the Horizon Report Expert Panelist Discussions stays in the Horizon Report Expert Panelist Discussions," said Nicole Weber on her essay on adaptive learning. I wonder what part from these discussions is not published and why.

You can download the full report here. And here is a link to dive in previous years’ reports.