Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

6 Emerging Technologies in K-12 Education

on June 5, 2013
K-12 emerging technologies go through a process much like a butterfly's

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?

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Tanya Roscorla

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.



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on Jun 6, 2013
This list starts to look too familiar year-after-year. Look at mobiles and cloud computing. While "emerging" at one time, they should not be anymore and they are not moving into the adoption phase as fast as you'd think. Cloud computing doesn't just mean using Google Apps. That can not be on the radar for the next 10 years while education tried to figure out how to implement and fund those solutions. Mobile too as advances are rapid. If you look back to 2010 report, should these items be moving from lower right of the table into the upper left? They are not and it almost appears to be a wish list for new tech in school. Aug Reality on the 4/5 year block for 2010 and not on this year's list? A big one I think has always been missing is eTextbooks.
on Jun 12, 2013
@Brian Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment! You're right, these technologies aren't moving much. Some advisory board members say that just because they're on the list doesn't mean they will be adopted, especially if they're in the far-term horizon. So that's why we see technologies such as augmented reality fall off the list.
on Jun 12, 2013
I think Open Content will definitely make it mainstream especially when you think about what Google have delivered. This includes the word processing suite, YouTube (free access to educational tutorials available too). Young pupils will most likely benefit from gaining easy access to content to support their education. MyLi, the YouTube for Ebooks has realised this and is now working with children's and academic publishers to ensure that this technological momentum continues in favour of students.
on Jun 13, 2013
@Eric Thanks for stopping by! It'll be interesting to see what happens over the next two or three years with open content.
on Jul 29, 2013
I am a geek and sometimes I think people forget to ask the question should we use this instead of cool tool --we have to use it. Education has changed and needs to change more. Yes, students need to learn new technology but they still need to learn some of the technology that has been around for quite awhile. They need to learn to incorporate it into their lives. Using it doesn't mean you know how to use it effectively or efficiently. Plus, we need to make sure we guard some of the things in the past like how to talk and interact with other humans; after all, that is what makes us human. I see students who can only socialize through texting. I admit that sometimes I would rather text than talk, but I see students who do not know basic skills. Saying, well that is just the culture is passing the buck. I know I get all excited when a new tech thing comes out but we need to think about how to use it to improve ourselves. Having toys doesn't mean we should always use them.