Three Trends that Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2016

Top-2016-Social-Trends-to-Watch-ForWhat will 2016 hold for education? There’s no shortage of articles and reports with predictions describing what to expect for the coming year. It’s tempting to be dismissive—scanning the headlines knowing that predictions are far from a sure bet. Yet for educators, considering trends across industries in conjunction with current developments in education is constructive, strategic and provides an edge; it gives insight, helps us prepare and be proactive. In this post I share my analysis of current trends and developments within higher ed and k-12 and outline what to expect in 2016.

There’s a spate of articles on the Web across all sectors: education, business, consumer and design, all describing what to watch for—micro-credentialing, wearable technology, mobile, augmented reality and a host of others. Yet how are these trends applicable or relevant to educators? I analyzed numerous sources, some specific to education and many not, to determine what will affect the education sector in 2016. I consulted New Media consortium’s collaborative Wiki for the 2016 NMC Horizon report, Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report (2015), and Fast Company’s Future of Work Trend Report along with several articles and reports from this past year*.

I identified three themes: 1) Alternative credentialing, 2) Experimentation in new teaching models and learning spaces, and 3) Student-driven personalized learning. Two other themes are worth noting, Gamification and Augmented Reality. Yet I don’t see these as influencing education for the short or medium term given the challenges with implementation, and with augmented reality, the uncertainty of its effects on users’ health and cognitive state.

  1. Alternative Credentialing and Pathways to Higher Education

I don’t buy the argument that MOOCs haven’t disrupted higher education. MOOCs have led to significant discussions about alternative learning pathways and institutions have responded with education programs that not only provide a variety of learning options, but embody alternative credentialing. Alternative credentialing can be described as alternate methods of assessment for learning (with the traditional degree as the metric), and recognition of that learning in credentials other than a degree. Badges was one of the first alternatives. Now we have programs by MOOC providers such as Udacity with their Nano-degrees, Coursera with its Specializations, and edX’s Professional Certificates. What’s new this past year is the increase of alternative programs offered by higher education institutions, such as Bootcamp programs, MOOCs for credit, and mini degrees as in MIT’s MicroMasters.

Drivers of Alternative Credentialing

  • Student demand: With increased Web-connectivity, students have access to learning platforms, informal learning using social media platforms, and learning-specific apps. Access via mobile devices continues to grow; connectivity via smartphones has increased in the US from 18% in 2009 to 64% in 2014 (Meeker, 2015) and in other nations (Pew Research).
  • Increase in non-traditional students. A huge market exists—adults in the work force who are looking for opportunities to learn new skills to improve their career options.
  •  Employer Support: Employers within the technology and financial sector claim there is a skills shortage which explains why several have partnered with MOOC providers and education institutions to create programs, as AT&T did in support of Georgia Tech’s online Master’s degree in computer science.
  • Government support: Governments seek opportunities to lower costs of education and increase access which translates into funding for alternative education pathways. This quest often involves grants and funding programs for digital learning, flexible degree pathways that may involve recognition of work experience in competency-based programs.

Developments in Alternative Credentialing

2. Experimentation in New Teaching Models and Learning Spaces

There are claims that the education system is ‘broken’, a term that is not constructive or accurate. A more fitting description is one that outlines how the traditional education model is transforming in response to digital technology and culture. As a result there are a variety of new models; school models in the K-12 sector that aim to adapt to the changing culture and improve a system that is not serving students adequately, as well higher education institutions who are reinventing their learning spaces—a more subtle approach to changing the traditional learning model from one that is instructor-focused and passive to one that is student-centered and active.

Examples of new models: Sal Khan’s Lab School, a school to ‘investigate and explore new methods of learning and teaching’,  Mark Zuckerberg’s The Primary School geared to low-income children where health care and education are combined under one roof.  In higher education there’s Purdue University’s IMPACT program, which includes new classrooms and active learning spaces that support blended learning. Others, Vanderbilt University with their emphasis on creating new learning spaces, and University of Central Florida’s large-scale program that is increasing the number of students it serves while lowering costs by offering students F2F courses along with an ever-widening menu of online and blended courses.

Drivers of New Teaching Models and Learning Spaces

  • Under-performing K-12 schools and poor performances in international tests via OECD PISA testing
  • Pressure on higher education institutions to reduce costs, increase access to under-served groups, and improve performance
  • Our digital culture where students have 24/7 access to information, can learn anytime and anywhere, in conjunction with institutions that are struggling to leverage the culture shift

Purdue University’s Active Learning Classroom

Developments in New Teaching Models and Learning Spaces

3. Student-driven Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is one of the top buzzwords in education now; it suggests a host of different learning methods that are typically institution-driven. Yet I suggest that personalized learning is, and will continue to be learner-driven where learners control their learning and become not just consumers of content but active creators of content, building knowledge through collaboration and connectivity via smart phone apps.

Students will be in control not only of when they learn, but will demand that they contribute to their learning through discussions and collaboration, creating content while doing so. This student-driven phenomenon suggests that schools and higher education institutions will need to respond by creating learning programs that acknowledge that the learner is seeking this kind of personalized learning experience.

Drivers of Personalized Learning

  • Learners…because of their ownership of mobile devices with Web access
  • Learners…given the abundance of phone apps that allow them to create content and collaborate
  • Learners…communicating within messaging apps, which Meeker suggests will evolve into major communication hubs (slide #53)

Developments in Personalized Learning

Though we can’t predict exactly what will happen in 2016, we can make informed decisions and be strategic for the upcoming year. Nothing is certain in the future except change as the saying goes, yet being proactive rather than reactive will put educators in the best position for a successful 2016.

References *

25 thoughts on “Three Trends that Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2016

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  5. JordanIngledew

    Hi Debbie

    I’m a design student currently carrying out some primary research for my final year dissertation at Nottingham Trent University.

    I’m looking to develop an app that will let current and future generations access information in a more customised, interesting and relevant way. The app would only be conceptualised at this point but there may be a chance in the future that it will be released, depending on feedback and interest.

    If I could email you over some questions that would be great. Your article has already guided me further into my research, however, having some specific personal insight from yourself would be great.

    Let me know whether this would be okay, an email to reach you on would be great so please feel free to email me your response.


    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Indu Khemchandani

    Very well written.

    Student driven personalized learning is the concept on which we started

    Uplatz is a leading digital marketplace for live 1:1 online learning in a virtual classroom. It is an innovative platform to connect learners with tutors in a virtual classroom. Uplatz is fast growing as a one-stop learning portal for specialized courses such as SAP, Oracle, Big Data, and more.

    So far students are very happy with the delivery as they have control over what they want to learn and what they don’t. It makes their learning easy, affordable and time efficient by hiring a tutor from a marketplace

    I believe this will make tremendous difference in reducing skill gaps.

    Indu Khemchandani


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  9. Erlich Stewart

    Hi Debbie,
    I strongly agree to the New Teaching Models that have come up. Virtual Classrooms are now cropping up in rural government schools in Asia especially India. With VR, teachers are now able to teach more students and provide candidates with more learning opportunities.
    I think, many coaching institutes in India have also taken up Virtual Coaching as a means to provide quality teaching to more students at a time. I see these technologies have a lot of potential in Education and Training. I read a story about VR in education and I found it very informative. Here’s the link to the story —>
    The article mentions how such technologies can be used to deliver advanced training in mining, surgical Healthcare and Military too.
    Thanks, Great Article!


  10. chandrusharma

    Yeah… Nice Education and Learning trends that your shared theory is very informative I hope it will helps to more ideas about learning.

    Chandru From Edubilla – Global Education Information portal


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  16. Donny T

    This article is interesting in the scope with which it takes. Alternative Credentialing have a strong hold in the tech industry and will spill over into other industries as people become more tech savvy. However, alternative education spaces mayl have a hard time influencing current educational models of tradition. The McCarthy Foundation is doing a wonderful job in supporting afterschool and community resources for these alternative learning environments. But changing the teaching models and the environments is difficult to do and needs to begin within the colleges of education, where new teachers and administrators learn from. Without this support the studies in environments will be at odds with tradition and current models of teaching. This influence is a trend and will possibly take decades to adopt. But new technologies will crop up and possibly diffuse this trend in some way. The personalized learning is a prime example of this diffusion. Personalized learning has the possibility of contributing or nullifying the alternative learning spaces. We have seen this occur with Online learning and the emergence of MOOCs. The interesting combination is Personalized Learning to achieve Alternative Credentialing. For this to occur, alternative forms of data assessment is necessary to validate what a learner has learned. Where these trends will take education is will be interesting!


  17. robertlfs

    Very interesting piece. Thanks so much.

    As a (soon to be former) higher ed person I remain perplexed at the limited support given to the alternative credentialing or student driven needs by the higher ed institutions. Though certainly less hostile than when MOOCs first came online, at my own institution there remains a sort of blinders approach to the value these micro-credentials and other forms of training outside the academy can bring. What remains perplexing to me is that some of the alternative credentialing offerings (e.g., writing, professionalism, digital tech) are precisely those that employers are more and more demanding, but are not being offered by individual departments. Therefore, students are often released to the workforce without the requisite skills for positions in which they are allegedly trained.

    I am hopeful that we are moving in the direction where the traditional and the alternative are recognizing their different yet reciprocal strengths and roles in education.


    1. Debbie Morrison Post author

      It is perplexing! I just discovered a program offered by American Council on Education (ACE), the ‘Alternative Credit Project’ which involves 51 higher education institutions. The purpose of the project is to help students complete their degree by offering a pool of online courses that meet the GE requirements. Though I wonder of the participating school, how many faculty at those universities are aware of the program? My guess is very few.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


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