K-12 Trends | Research

A Fistful of Challenges for Ed Tech

On the Horizon for Ed Tech

The 2011 Horizon Report concluded there were five critical challenges for ed tech in K-12 education, as well as five emerging "key" trends.

5 Critical Challenges
1. Digital media illiteracy among teachers;
2. Economic pressures and new education models;
3. Lack of support for personalized learning;
4. Institutional resistance to change; and
5. Inability to tie students' extracurricular learning activities to their classroom learning.

5 Emerging Trends
1. Abundance of online resources;
2. Decentralization of IT;
3. The digital divide as a function of education, not wealth;
4. Easy and timely access to technology; and
5. Embracing innovation.

A new report has identified key challenges facing education technology in the coming years, ranging from changing economics to instructional practices that have failed to adapt to the evolving technology landscape. But the No. 1 challenge in ed tech, according to the report, is with teachers themselves and the inadequacy of their preparation and ongoing training.

The report, released Tuesday, is the latest in an annual analysis of the outlook for education technology. Conducted by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the Horizon Report focused primarily on emerging technologies that will impact education in the near term, as we reported Tuesday. But it also addressed opportunities and challenges facing technology's adoption in America's K-12 schools.

For the 2011 Horizon Report K-12 Edition, researchers identified five "key" trends and five "critical" challenges.

5 Critical Challenges
All of the critical challenges facing education were determined by the report's advisory board, consisting of education experts and practitioners in K-12 and higher education, as well as non-profits and industry players.

Challenge 1: Digital Media Illiteracy
In the top slot in the list of challenges is digital literacy among teachers--in their training and in their ongoing professional development.

"The challenge is due to the fact that despite the widespread agreement on its importance, training in digital literacy skills and techniques is rare in teacher education and school district professional development programs," the report said.

What's more, when teachers do have access to technology-focused professional development, that development has focused largely on the ephemera of digital literacy--specific, transient technologies rather than technology concepts.

Challenge 2: Economic Pressures
Economic pressures and new education models are putting some strain on traditional schools.

"Across the board, institutions are looking for ways to control costs while still providing a high quality of service," according to the report. "Schools are challenged by the need to support a steady--or growing--number of students with fewer resources and staff than before. As a result, creative institutions are developing new models to serve students, such as providing open content over the network."

Challenge 3: Lack of Support for Personalized Learning
The third critical challenge cited by the authors was the failure of both technology and teaching practices to meet demands for differentiated, personalized learning.

"It has become clear that one-size-fits-all teaching methods are neither effective nor acceptable for today’s diverse students," according to the report. "Technology can and should support individual choices about access to materials and expertise, amount and type of educational content, and methods of teaching."

Challenge 4: Institutional Resistance to Change
In the fourth slot was nothing short of the "fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment," specifically, as the authors described it, "resistance to any profound change in practice."

The authors said that as long as the thrust of education support is on maintaining the existing system's "basic elements," meaningful change will face resistance.

The report concluded: "If the system is to remain relevant, it must adapt, but major change comes hard in education."

Challenge 5: Disconnects Between Home and School
The lack of congruence between what students are learning outside of school and what they're being taught in the classroom is causing a disconnect in educational practices.

"Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom and thus are not part of our learning metrics."

5 Emerging Trends
The report also identified five key trends--some of them opportunities, some merely observations--that are presenting themselves now or are expected to have an impact on schools and teachers over the next five years.

Trend 1: Abundance of Online Resources
The existence of a wealth of online tools and communications tools is allowing teachers to "to revisit our roles as educators."

Trend 2: Decentralization of IT
Also a significant opportunity, according to researchers, is the move away from centralized support from the IT department.

"As IT support becomes more and more decentralized, the technologies we use are increasingly based not on school servers, but in the cloud," according to the report. "The continuing acceptance and adoption of cloud-based applications and services is changing not only the ways we configure and use software and file storage, but even how we conceptualize those functions."

Trend 3: Shift in the Digital Divide
Among the major trends is a change in the root of the digital divide, away from access to technology and toward an understanding of it--or, in other words, away from economics and toward education.

"The digital divide, once seen as a factor of wealth, is now seen as a factor of education: Those who have the opportunity to learn technology skills are in a better position to obtain and make use of technology than those who do not," the report said.

Digital literacy will also play an increasing role in career advancement, according to the report.

Trend 4: 'Just-in-Time Learning'
Making a return from the 2010 Horizon Report is the ongoing trend toward immediate and easy access to technology and technology for learning.

According to the researchers: "Life in an increasingly busy world where learners must balance demands from home, work, school, and family poses a host of logistical challenges with which mobile students must cope. A faster approach is often perceived as a better approach, and as such people want easy and timely access not only to the information on the network, but to their social networks that can help them to interpret it and maximize its value. The implications for informal learning are profound, as are the notions of 'just-in-time' learning and 'found' learning, both ways of maximizing the impact of learning by ensuring it is timely and efficient."

Trend 5: Embracing 'Innovation'
Finally, the researchers noted that the perceived value of both "innovation" and creativity is increasing. Learning experiences, the researchers argued, must reflect their growing importance.

"Innovation is valued at the highest levels of business and must be embraced in schools if students are to succeed beyond their formal education," the authors wrote. "The ways we design learning experiences must reflect the growing importance of innovation and creativity as professional skills."

The full 2011 report is available today. A toolkit will also be available in June, along with a printed version of the report, to help facilitate conversations among education leaders on the issues discussed in the report. A complete copy of the new 2011 Horizon Report K-12 Edition is freely available now via a Creative Commons Attribution License and can be downloaded in PDF form here.