Ed Tech Trends

NMC Horizon Report: Tech Solutions Must Support Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches

In a June 29 special session at the annual ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) released the 6th annual NMC Horizon Report K-12 Edition, describing emerging technologies that are likely to have the most impact on teaching and learning. The key themes that emerged involve students moving from passive recipients of information to active participants and collaborators who need new types of support and opportunities.

Previous Horizon reports zeroed in on technologies to watch, but this year NMC chose to pull back and focus on trends in teaching and learning and how technological developments could impact them. The panel that worked on the report was composed of 56 education and technology experts from 22 countries on six continents.

The report identifies six key trends, with long-term, mid-term and short-term impact; it also names six significant challenges ranging from solvable to difficult to "wicked. Looking at developments in educational technology, it identifies six areas of focus, with adoption frameworks ranging from one year or less to four to five years.

What follows is a brief summary of sections of the report with comments from Samantha Becker, the Horizon project director at NMC, and Victoria Estrada, an NMC editorial associate. (The full report was released today and can be downloaded at http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf.)

Examples of Key Trends

  • Rethinking How Schools Work: The report notes that this trend is largely a response to the overly structured nature of a typical school day, which some believe hampers learning. Teachers are making progress toward bolstering interdisciplinary learning, also commonly referred to as integrated studies. "This is about shifting pedagogy to student-centered learning and immersive activities," Becker said. 'What does a classroom and school day look like? A great example, she added, is High-Tech High, a group of 13 schools in California built on the foundation of doing things completely differently. It invites field experts into the schools, and students embark on internships, get real-world experience and create reflection videos about their experience, she added.
  • Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches: Deeper learning approaches allow learners to take control of how they engage with a subject, the report says. In advanced examples of this trend, students are able to brainstorm solutions to pressing local and global problems and begin to implement them in their communities. It described the work of a Florida middle school, the Foundation Academy, where student projects have involved creating presentations, videos, or illustrations that address larger societal problems such as healthy eating, deadly diseases, and water shortages. "These new learning models put students at the center in global and local challenges," Estrada said. "They are engaging on relevant questions in way that make them personal."
  • Shift to Students as Creators: The Horizon report describes a shift under way as learners explore subject matter through the act of creation rather than the consumption of content. "Students benefit from producing their own learning materials," Becker said. She described a teacher in Ireland describing how her students created stop-motion animation videos to help other students understand abstract concepts.


Under the heading of "solvable" challenges, the Horizon report included Creating Authentic Learning Opportunities and Integrating Technology into Teacher Education. Difficult challenges, according to NMC, include Personalized Learning and moving away from one-size-fits-all instruction, and Rethinking the Role of Teachers. "There is a need for teachers that act less as lecturers, and more as guides," Becker said. Teachers need the ability to coach students through problem solving."

The "wicked" challenges are defined as Scaling Teaching Innovations and Teaching Complex Thinking. There is a kaleidoscope of systemic factors for why scaling innovations is difficult, Estrada said. She noted that some researchers have complained that philanthropic organizations are biased toward funding new ideas, rather than scaling up ones that have proved successful.

The six noted developments in educational technology are broken down by time to adoption:

One Year or Less:

  • BYOD
  • Makerspaces

Two to Three Years:

  • 3D Printing: (Becker noted that 3D Printing was mentioned in the first Horizon report in 2004. What's different now is that the price point as come down so much that they are becoming much more common.)
  • Adaptive Learning Technologies: Using automated technology can make personalized learning more of a reality, Becker noted. The systems also expose data to teachers they would not otherwise be able to get. "There is not a ton of concrete research on how well these systems are performing yet," she said. "The jury is still out. But in the next two to three years we will have interesting results."

Four to Five Years:

  • Wearable Technology
  • Digital Badges: Becker noted that some educators are already fully engaged with digital badges while others don't see it as a promising trend. "Badges are potentially a means of rewarding new skills that students pick up," Becker said, but she added, "far-term technology trends tend to be somewhat controversial."

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.