6 Emerging Technologies in K-12 Education

The annual Horizon Report highlights six emerging technologies that could become mainstream in K-12 education.

by / June 5, 2013 0
K-12 emerging technologies go through a process much like a butterfly's Shutterstock.com

Cloud computing and mobile learning could become mainstream in K-12 education within the next year, according to the 2013 Horizon Report from the New Media Consortium.

The Horizon Report is a planning tool for education leaders, but it's not a crystal ball. You'll notice that some of the technologies in reports from the past four years didn't make it onto subsequent reports. Others have moved up to different time to adoption horizons or stayed in the same spot for quite a while.

One year or less

Cloud computing

Interestingly enough, last year's report didn't include cloud computing because sources said it finally went mainstream in education. But it's back this year after a one year hiatus. Lead researcher and writer Samantha Becker explains that Google Apps really drove cloud computing in 2011 through the following year.

"In 2012, we were like, 'OK, everyone's using Google Apps. If you're not using Google Apps, you're a bit behind the program.' But I think in the case of the 2013 report,we're starting to see more movement toward entire shifts in infrastructure. It's not just about one-off tools for productivity and collaboration; it's about changing the entire system."

Mobile learning

You'll also notice some changes in terminology when it comes to mobiles and tablets. As technology changes, so do the names. What started out as "mobiles" turned into "tablet computing" and "mobile devices and apps" in 2011. Now, the report combines all things mobile — including tablets, apps and devices — into the mobile learning category.

Mobile learning is driving conversations at schools across the country. And some schools are starting to relax their policies so that students can use their own devices for learning. But a disconnect still exists between school and student views on mobile learning, as the latest Speak Up survey from Project Tomorrow shows.


Four Year Horizon Report Comparison
Time to adoption
2013 Topics 2012 Topics 2011 Topics 2010 Topics
One year or less Cloud computing Mobile devices & apps Cloud computing Cloud computing
One year or less Mobile learning Tablet computing Mobiles Social computing
Two to three years Learning analytics Game-based learning Game-based learning Educational gaming
Two to three years Open content Personal learning environments Open content Mobiles
Four to five years 3-D printing Augmented reality Learning analytics Augmented reality
Four to five years Virtual and remote laboratories Natural user interfaces Personal learning environments Thin screens and flexible interfaces


Two to three years

After disappearing from last year's report, learning analytics and open content have regained their place in the list of emerging technology, with learning analytics actually moving up one time horizon.

Learning analytics

This technology isn't just for identifying at-risk students ahead of time anymore. Education is following — albeit slowly — the consumer sector's drive for big data in many different areas, Becker said. Now schools can track student learning behavior and patterns so they can more effectively meet each student's needs. 

Open content

Most of the time we hear about open content in higher education, but rarely in K-12 education. Now tools including Curriki and FlexBooks are driving progress in this area, Becker said. Open content is licensed in such a way that other people can copy or make changes to it.

Four to five years

These next two technologies are making their debut on the K-12 Horizon Report.

3-D printing

Now that the price tags are coming down on 3-D printers, schools are starting to experiment more with the technology, which uses melted plastic to create components for projects.  

Virtual and remote laboratories

Virtual labs are opening up access to students in schools that can't afford expensive lab equipment. With simulations and remote access to laboratories, students can run experiments from anywhere. But these labs won't be springing up overnight, said Jan Morrison, project director at Washoe County School District in Nevada and a Horizon Report advisory board member.

"It's going to take some time. Nothing happens fast in education," Morrison said. "We've been working on this for years, trust me. So I think it's in the right place on the horizon, but I'm just glad to see it out there." 

Your take

Now that you've heard about the six technologies in this year's report, what technologies do you think will make it into the mainstream?

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.