What’s on the horizon for educational technology in higher education?

A brief overview of the NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education edition

  Pixabay: "new-brighton-1239724_1280" by MartyNZ. CCO Public Domain

Online, mobile and blended learning’s place in HE can be taken for granted, according to this year’s NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. The next step is to see how they are “actively enriching learning outcomes” ( NMC, 2017, p2). The report offers a stark warning to those institutions which haven’t already integrated these approaches, for without them “they simply will not survive” (ibid). Similarly, the concept of digital literacy (or ‘Fluency in the digital realm‘) is being taken a step further to encompass “a deep understanding of digital environments” (ibid) rather than focusing on the mastery of specific technical skills. By gaining knowledge and confidence within this realm, it is suggested that users are better equipped to collaborate with others and to deal with new digital challenges. However, the report acknowledges that access to technology is not ubiquitous and its lack has a negative impact on some student experience of higher education.

These are just 3 of the ten themes in the report which also covers 6 key trends, 6 challenges and 6 developments in the world of educational technology.

Key Trends

Chart on laptop display
The long-term trends focus on Deeper Learning and Advancing Cultures of Innovation. It is in the context of this latter subject that the report proposes institutions need to “nurture the types of culture that promotes experimentation” (NMC, 2017,p8). Along with this call for the removal of barriers to innovation, is one for students to engage more in critical thinking and self-directed learning. A suggested method is to make coursework relate more closely to life outside the institution. The mid and short-term trends include the measurement of learning, learning spaces, blended learning designs and collaborative learning.

Key Challenges

Challenges over the next five years are thought to be digital literacy, the integration of formal and informal learning, the achievement gap and digital equity. However, two further challenges are classed as ‘Wicked Challenges’ which suggests that they are broached but offer little hope of resolution as yet. The two dilemmas are: Managing knowledge obsolescence and Rethinking the roles of Educators. The first looks at the speed of technological advancement and how HE professionals can manage both technological and pedagogical change. This links closely with the second which deals with the changing role of the educator within a world of rapid development.

Key Developments

Circuit board headShort-term developments within educational technology include adaptive learning technologies (“technologies monitoring student progress using data to modify instruction at any time” (NMC, 2017 p38)) and mobile learning. A little further in the future (according to the report) are the internet of things and the next-generation LMS or next-generation digital learning environments (NGDLE). Indeed JISC recently identified the NGDLE as one of the new challenges to explore; they’ll be looking at how a virtual environment can merge formal and informal learning and the physical and the virtual while meeting the needs of both educators and learners (JISC, 2017).
On the far horizon are artificial intelligence (AI) and natural user interfaces. AI has been highlighted as a possible way to intervene to offer student support (Luckin, 2016) and tablets are being developed with a browser display to allow for lines of Braille (NMC, 2017,p49) which could increase accessibility to primarily visual tablet displays.

The Horizon Report provides pointers for the upcoming educational technology developments in Higher Education; there is no guarantee that its predictions become reality, but it nevertheless proves to be a interesting read for all those involved in this area.


Jisc. (2017). What should the next generation of digital learning environments do? Jisc. [online] Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/rd/get-involved/what-should-the-next-generation-of-digital-learning-environments-do [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].

Luckin, R. (2016), Four ways that artifical intelligence can benefit universities, [online] Times Higher Education Available at:  https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/four-ways-artificial-intelligence-can-benefit-universities [Accessed 21 March 2017]

NMC (2017) The NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition. [online] Available at: http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2017-nmc-horizon-report-he-EN.pdf [Accessed 21 Mar. 2017].

Images: StockSnap https://pixabay.com/en/analytics-charts-traffic-marketing-925379/, geralt https://pixabay.com/en/artificial-intelligence-507813/

All images are CC0 Public Domain.

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