Over the next five years, six technologies will continue to gain traction in colleges and universities, according to the 2013 NMC Horizon Project released Monday, Feb. 4.
About 50 experts spent time narrowing down a list of 80 potential technologies to these six: In a year or less, massively open online courses and tablets could become mainstream. In two to three years, games and gamification, and learning analytics could follow suit. And four to five years down the line, 3D printing and wearable technology could see widespread use.
The most surprising technology on the list is 3D printing, which made an appearance in the first Horizon Report in 2004, said Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium. The technology was too expensive back then, but as costs started coming down with the work of a company called MakerBot, it could have education applications soon.
"All of a sudden you can start printing up models of organic molecules, engineering applications or art objects," Johnson said. "It's just really interesting."
Another surprising trend is massively open online courses (MOOCs). More than a year ago, no one was talking about them -- but the courses have gained speed quickly and grown tremendously.
This past year, the large online courses started at the far-term in the New Media Consortium's Singapore report, then moved to the mid-term in another report; six months later, they appeared on the near-term horizon in the higher education report -- and MOOCs had not previously appeard on the higher education report.
"The thing that it has done for education leaders is given them the freedom to really think about online learning in some new ways," Johnson said. "While I don't think everyone is going to be a MOOC provider, I do think we have an opportunity to rethink online learning that is really unusual."
Wearable technology was another technology that had not previously appeared on the higher education report, though it has been on the Horizon Project's radar for a few years. Developments in screen, display and sensor technology have pushed it into the top six for the first time.
"We think that in the next few years as devices contine to get smaller and smaller, some of the functionality is going to be embedded in what we wear," Johnson said.
While these two technologies had not appeared on this report before, three others stayed in the same time slots they did in 2012: tablet computing, games and gamification, and learning analytics.
Colleges and universities are increasingly analyzing student data to predict how they will do in classes, identify weak areas and target interventions that will hep them improve.
"In previous years we've written about learning analytics, but we're just really beginning to see the first real examples of where the science is going, and it's some very exciting stuff that we're going to be able to begin to see," Johnson said.
Time-to-adoption horizon: One year or less
- Massively open online courses
These large online courses have won increasing attention in the media and among education technology watchers. Major research universities have signed up with online course platform providers to offer these classes at no charge to unlimited numbers of students.
Even though 2012 was dubbed the year of the massively open online course, only 2.6 percent of colleges and universities offer one of them, according to an online education survey of 2,820 chief academic officers by the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board.
- Tablet computing
In the past two years, advances in tablets have "captured the imagination of educators around the world," according to the report, and they're easily adaptable to most learning environments.
Time-to-adoption horizon: two to three years
- Games and gamification
Game-based learning has gained considerable traction over the past 10 years, according to the report, which states that "games have proven to be effective learning tools, and beneficial in cognitive development and the fostering of soft skills among learners, such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and critical thinking."
- Learning analytics
This process involves collecting and analyzing data from students' academic work. The data helps colleges track student progress, predict how they will do in the future and identify problem areas.
Time-to-adoption horizon: Four to five years
- 3D printing
3D printing holds much promise in higher education -- "Typically, geology and anthropology students are not allowed to handle fragile objects like fossils and artifacts," the report states. "3D printing shows promise as a rapid prototyping and production tool, providing users with the ability to touch, hold, and even take home an accurate model."
- Wearable technology
Technology can be embedded in clothes and accessories to provide useful information about a person's surroundings, answer phone calls, and tweet, among other things.