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2017’s Technology Trends in Higher Education

Date Posted Mar 22, 2017

For the last 14 years, the New Media Consortium has issued an annual Horizon Report, detailing six key trends, six significant challenges, and six technologies that it predicts will soon impact colleges and universities. Over the past few years we have witnessed the vast impact that technology has had in Higher Education which is why we want to share some of these ideas with you.  The report’s predictions are classified into three categories according to adoption forecasts: four to five years, two to three years, and one year or less.

2017’s Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education

4-5 years to adoption

Adaptive Learning Technologies

Framed around the personalized learning movement, adaptive learning technologies refers to the tech that monitors student progress and allows for modification of instruction at any time.  Imagine you are enrolled in a language course and you breeze through Unit 1’s content.  The system would then assign less problems/exercises from that unit as homework.  If you struggle with Unit 2’s concepts, it might assign more scaffolded problems from that unit until you reach mastery.  This would happen automatically without the instructor having to change anything once the course has launched.  It is a marriage between personalized and machine learning that enhances and customizes the learner’s experience.  The instructor can get a more global view of what students struggle with and respond accordingly— reaching out to individual students or perhaps changing the design or delivery of  content.  Ultimately adaptive learning tech can provide a consistent and constant stream of feedback that can continually improve instruction.

Mobile Learning

Mobile learning aims to get learners where they spend most of their time: on mobile devices! In this way not only are students able to access course material on the go, but they can also create content anywhere to submit to instructors.  The report cites examples such as apps that allow learners to post questions/comments in real time during class which the instructor can use to gather feedback, modify instruction, and gauge student understanding.  Faculty and students can produce media to provide immersive tours of remote venues, field locations, personal experiences, etc. elevating how course content is received and created. Western Sydney University has posted some interesting information about using mobile devices in your teaching.  


2-3 years to adoption

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data via the Internet.  This term has been around for a few years and we’ve seen an ever increasing number of smart and web-enabled devices flooding the market.  This technology allows for remote management, monitoring, tracking, and alerts (think Amazon Echo, smart thermostats, Sonos speakers, smart watches etc.). Some of these connected devices can collect data about student learning and habits. Some institutions have implement the IoT to enhance safety and security on campus, lower energy consumption, improve connectivity, and monitor students for signs of depression.

Next-Generation Learning Management System

A Learning Management System (like Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, or Sakai) is generally used for the administrative purpose of delivering content and collecting student responses/submissions.  But what if it could be more than that?  That’s the idea behind the Next-Generation LMS.  The goal is to change the focus of these systems in order to deepen learning.  This ties in with the aforementioned adaptive learning systems – the main idea behind both being to personalize the learner’s experience and cater to their particular needs. The promise of Next-Generation LMS is that “the data collected by adaptive learning systems can be seamlessly aggregated with student demographic, grades, social presence and other data points to provide a more holistic view of the learning progress”.


1 year or less to adoption

Artificial Intelligence

If there is one of these topics that we have heard about non-stop in the media this past year it has been THIS ONE! AI is everywhere you look, from self-driving cars, to IBM’s Watson, to Amazon’s robotic workforce, and Alexa. AI is used in adaptive learning systems.  Artificial intelligence algorithms personalize learning for the student, using the data collected through adaptive learning systems and next-generation learning management systems.  Another vision for the future is AI tutors – where technology can help reduce some of the work that instructors are faced with.  According to the report “virtual tutors can transcend checking written assignments for surface level errors and to analyze meaning, themes, and arguments to provide granular feedback to students”.  This could free up the instructor’s time, allowing them to create personal relationships with students, and could be extremely useful in large, introductory level courses where instructors are faced with an unfathomable number of students.

Natural User Interfaces

Remember this?

That clip of Minority Report demonstrates a Natural User Interface – devices that allow information input via taps, swipes, hand/arm motions, body movement, etc.  How is this relevant to higher education?  Natural interfaces are considered instrumental by NMC in the research and training of medical, engineering, and education professionals.

We’re curious to hear from you!

Have you ever thought about incorporating any of these technologies into your courses?  Can you envision how you would use them if they were made available to you?  Please leave your comments below!

Jeniffer is one of the Senior Instructional Designers here at OIRT. Her background includes Instructional Design & Technology, K-12 education, and Field Biology. Her other areas of interest include: Accessibility and Adaptive Learning Systems.


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