On the Horizon for Education: Blended Learning, New Learning Spaces, OERs & Cross-Institutional Collaboration

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What’s on the horizon for education? What technologies and trends will drive changes in curriculum development and teaching in one, two or even three years? New Media Consortium’s latest Horizon Report (2015) written by an international team of educators, gives readers evidence and insights into how developments in education will (and are) influencing changes in teaching and learning. 

In last week’s post I discussed the report “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States” which presented data and analysis on participation trends in online education, MOOCs, as well as perceptions on the value and legitimacy of online learning. The news was rather dismal, quite depressing really. This report by New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative released this week, is not only more upbeat but is instructive and forward-thinking. It takes a different approach; it gives educators insights into trends and behaviour patterns in online and face-to-face education influenced by technology. The report is the result of a collaborative research effort where the panel worked in the ‘open’ via a public wiki where they shared, discussed and identified the education’s most pressing issues. The panel identified six trends, categorizing each by the level of challenge for implementation and time frame. (image below).

Six trends identified in the 2015 NMC Horizon Report, pg. 2 via cdn,nmc.org

What the Blended Learning Trend Means for Educators and Institutions
I suggest the blended learning trend is the most significant and challenging. Blended learning has numerous definitions, though common to all is the concept of a student-focused education approach where learners access content, instruction/or and learning communities via the Web to augment or supplement education delivered in the classroom. Yet ten years from now, I predict that the concept of blended learning will fade away—not the learning approach but its description. The technology will become invisible. Learning won’t be classified as blended, or online, but just ‘learning‘. In the short-term however, there are barriers to overcome. Today the idea of using a web-enabled device and the web itself to replace or augment structured learning disrupts traditional practices of education— higher education and K-12. The NMC report suggests that in order for education institutions to adapt and respond effectively to educational tools and platforms, continuous visionary leadership is required. I agree. Integrating technology takes thoughtful planning, analyzing current practices, professional development and a supportive culture that embraces change.

Authors ranked blended learning into the ‘solvable’ category, as opposed to ‘difficult or ‘wicked‘; I rank blended learning as ‘difficult’ and though it is solvable, the challenge is the many dimensions of learning affected when integrating technological tools and methods that include: curriculum design, instructional delivery, professional development and training, IT services, policy development and infrastructure. Even the design of the physical classroom space and type of furnishings is impacted. The latter, ‘Redesigning Learning Spaces’ is another of the six trends identified in NMC’s report.

‘Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation’ is another trend identified, yet it’s ranked long-term. I see a culture of change as necessary now—it’s essential to make the transitions and changes needed to deliver quality learning experiences.

All over the world, universities and colleges have been gradually rethinking how their organizations and infrastructures can be more agile. The thought is that if institutions are more flexible, they will be better able to support and promote entrepreneurial thinking — a long-term trend.  NMC Horizon Report, page 7

How Educators Can Prepare for Change
As our culture changes in response to technological innovations and economic shifts, institutions and educators (ideally) should adapt according. The NMC Horizon Report is a starting point for educators wanting to keep ahead of developments in education—to anticipate change, be proactive rather than reactive. This report is an essential read for educators, institution leaders, administrators, policymakers, and technologists who want to do just that.


Can College Students Have it All – Learn When, Where and How They Want?

Apparently they can – at least at University of Central Florida where students can choose between different learning options: online, face-to-face, hybrid and more…

The University of Central Florida (UCF) operates unconventionally in comparison to other public universities when it comes to student learning; UCF puts the students in charge by encouraging them to choose when, where and how they want to learn. Students select their learning path and customize it to their preferences and schedule. In keeping with this student focused approach, faculty training, pedagogy and selection of academic programs adapt and cater to the students, even to their demographic profiles (Hartman, Moskal & Dziuban, 2004).

I participated this week in CFHE12’s webinar with Vice Provost Joel Hartman from UCF who shared briefly the institution’s history and pedagogical philosophy. I’ll include in this post highlights of the webinar and insights about UCF’s strategy for readers that might be interested in innovative educational programs, online and/or blended learning.

I was somewhat skeptical that UCF’s methods and learning modality options could be implemented on such a large-scale [student population is just under 60,000] – it seems so radically different from most public universities. Yet I admit it seems to be working, and working well upon review of the UCF’s programs, professional development and research findings. The institution’s strategy is extensive, which is why I’ve focused on only three areas, research, course modality offerings and faculty development in this post.

1. Student Choice of Learning Modality
UCF offers students a choice of five delivery modalities through its Center for Distributed Learning and students can mix-and-match – creating a personalized schedule.

  1. World Wide Web: Courses conducted via web-based instruction and collaboration.
  2. Video Streaming: 100% online courses with streaming digital video delivering content with several types of learning activities and assessments.
  3. Video Streaming/ Reduced Seat Time: Classroom-based content available over the web via streaming video; classroom attendance is not required. Other required activities that substitute for video instruction may include: web activity, in-person or proctored examinations, and labs.
  4. Mixed Mode/Reduced Seat Time [blended learning]: Courses include both required classroom attendance and online instruction. Classes have substantial activity conducted over the web, which substitutes for some classroom meetings.
  5. Face-toFace Instruction: Courses have required classroom attendance and meet on a regularly scheduled basis.

The chart below from ‘The Postmodality Era: How “Online Learning” is Becoming “Learning” provides breakdown of student count by modality (Cavanagh, 2012).

2. Faculty Development
Faculty training is comprehensive with four distinct courses offered. The program brochure outlines the faculty program, ‘Pathways’ exclusive to UCF. According to Hartman, courses are in high demand by UCF faculty and in some cases demand exceeds supply.

One of the Pathways courses [IDL6543] is an award-winning, non-credit course that models how to teach online using a combination of seminars, labs, consultations, and web-based instruction, and is delivered in an ‘M’ mode [mixed mode]. The time commitment for this course is not inconsequential, it requires a minimum of 80 clock hours. The purpose of this faculty development course is to help faculty succeed as they develop and deliver a fully online course (“W”) or mixed mode (“M”) course.

3. Research: Pedagogy
Hartman supports the concept of active research and encourages faculty to get involved.  The Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness (RITE) at UCF studies its student population on a consistent basis using both formative and summative evaluations of academic performance, satisfaction levels and attrition.

The data becomes transformative for UCF as results help to modify, plan and organize the processes of the distributed learning initiative at UCF (Hartman et al., 2004). The papers, of which I include links below, include data and narrative of several of the studies conducted at UCF that involve online, face-to-face and blended learning environments.

Implications for Educators
I was inspired after participating in the webinar and reading about UCF’s programs, to analyze my own institution’s approach in these three areas: professional development, learning modalities and research. Could there be potential for blended learning at our college? Definitely. This review also reinforced how critical faculty development is, especially when incorporating new methods of instructional delivery. Though our institution is far smaller [with a small budget to match], I do see the potential for creating two or three formal ‘courses’ for faculty, in both online instruction and course design. I hope that you were inspired as I was after reading and learning about UCF.  If you feel so inclined, please share your ideas or thoughts by commenting.


Cavanagh, T. The Postmodality Era: How “Online Learning” Is Becoming “Learning,”  Chapter 16 in Game Changers (Diana Oblinger, ed.), EDUCAUSE Publications, May 2012.

Hartman J., Moskal P., and C. Dziuban (2004). Preparing the Academy of Today for the Learner of Tomorrow Chapter 6 of book: Educating the Net Generation