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
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Purdue University’s Active Learning Classroom http://www.lib.purdue.edu

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

Conclusion
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 *

What Will Education Look Like in 2025? What the Experts Have to Say

“Experts predict the Internet will become ‘like electricity’ — less visible, yet more deeply embedded in people’s lives for good and ill” 

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Word Cloud from Pew Research Report ‘Digital Life in 20205’

The Web is 25 years old this month. Quite astounding really if one thinks how entwined with and dependent our lives are on the internet.  Pew Research published a weighty report this week in honor of the Web’s anniversary, Digital Life in 2025. The results are thought-provoking, even controversial.  I urge readers to read the full report at some point, though in this post I highlight a host of predictions specific to education, made by numerous experts and scholars. Pew’s report includes thoughts and visions from hundreds of experts, including faculty from some of the best public and private research institutions in the world.

Brief Overview
To appreciate it fully, readers may find the background of the report helpful. The report is the work of Pew Research group and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.  The Digital Life in 2025 looks to the future of the internet, collectively assessing how life might look in 2025 with input from hundreds of experts on how the Web will influence various aspects our lives, including privacy, relationships, education to name just a few. This report is part of a series, its forerunner The Web at 25 in the U.S. looks at the present and past of the internet. A good read that provides context for the future and emphasizes the incredibly swift adoption of an invention that has changed institutions, values and culture.

The Purpose of the Report: To look to the future and identify patterns and themes that may affect aspects of society and everyday life in 2025 by examining a collection of predictions from internet experts and engaged citizens. In this post I focus on predictions specific to education.

Who had input: Pew gathered feedback via a web-survey, collecting 2,558 responses. Respondents fall into three categories, 1) targeted experts identified by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project; experts that have extensive experience with internet research and/or input during its formative years, 2) targeted technology groups gathered from listervs of internet analysts and associations, and 3) the mailing list of the Pew Research Center Internet Project that includes individuals who closely follow technology trends and related research. Many of the experts are faculty members at leading public and private higher education institutions within the United States and beyond. Input from non-experts is included to give insight into how everyday people are influenced by the abundance of digital information and constant connectivity.

“Make your prediction about the role of the Internet in people’s lives in 2025 and the impact it will have on social, economic, and political processes. Good and/or bad, what do you expect to be the most significant overall impacts of our uses of the Internet on humanity between now and 2025?”  One of the eight questions from the survey 

The Fifteen Theses: More-Hopeful and Less-Hopeful 
Upon analysis of the responses, Pew identified recurring themes, summarizing each into fifteen theses. Eight are considered ‘more-hopeful’ where experts view the effects of the internet as positive overall, while six are grouped into the ‘concerned’ category, the word used by Pew authors to describe the ‘less-hopeful‘ theses, and one thesis is categorized as neutral. After reading the less-hopeful theses, I might describe the category somewhat differently than ‘concerned’ as Pew does, given thesis #10 for example, “Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others”. Though I can see why Pew wanted to put a more positive spin on the darker predictions given there is a continuum of negative viewpoints.

“These experts expect existing positive and negative trends to extend and expand in the next decade, revolutionizing most human interaction, especially affecting health, education, work, politics, economics, and entertainment. Most say they believe the results of that connectivity will be primarily positive. However, when asked to describe the good and bad aspects of the future they foresee, many of the experts can also clearly identify areas of concern, some of them extremely threatening. Heightened concerns over interpersonal ethics, surveillance, terror, and crime, may lead societies to question how best to establish security and trust while retaining civil liberties.” 15 Theses About the Digital Future, (Anderson & Raine, 2014)

Predictions about Education
Education is mentioned throughout the report.  At the top of most experts lists is the idea of sharing and accessing knowledge within a global community; several experts “expect the evolution of online tools to expand the ways in which a formal education can be delivered, disrupting the status quo.”  Though thesis number eight addresses education specifically. It’s a bold statement that could be viewed positively or negatively depending upon your perspective, though it is categorized in the more-hopeful theses section: “An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.

Selection of Comments from Thesis #8:

Adrian Schofield, manager of applied research for the Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering, wrote, “The Internet will be the core means of creating, analysing, storing, and sharing information in any form that can be digitised… Learning will no longer be dependent on the quality of parents and teachers in person. Scholars and students will have access to the best materials and content available globally.”

Alex Halavais, an associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University, predicted, “I suspect we will start to see some really extraordinary changes in the way people learn over the next decade that will continue beyond that. Especially in higher education, the current institutional structures are at a breaking point. The Internet is both a large part of the problem and a part of the solution…”

All public education will be by master teachers who connect through the Internet to all students across the country — local teachers will become tutors only.” — Anonymous (U.S. based)  

The following comments though included in thesis #8, appear quite concerned, not hopeful at all.

Celia Pearce, an associate professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, wrote, “… The US education system will continue to decline; as a result, we will continue to see a poor match in labor demands and labor pool, along with a continued growth of economic disparity in this country, as well as outsourcing to tech-related jobs abroad.”

Joan Neslund, an information resources professional, agreed, writing, “Education will totally change with global classrooms. The United States will no longer rule the world; we will have a difficult time keeping our heads above water. Corporate greed has killed us. Students won’t think about the technology behind what they do; they will focus on the methods and collaboration that will happen.

On the other hand some educators don’t believe much will change at all, in fact things will pretty much stay the same.

Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, predicted, “The transformation of the educational sector will prove far, far overblown. Especially in the K-12 system, schools in 2025 will look an awful lot like schools in 2013.”

Anonymously, a professor at the University of California…”The educated, capable, innovative populations from which local and national leaders have traditionally been drawn will be less involved with geographically oriented communities and institutions — to the detriment of those communities and institutions…”

What Does This Mean for Educators
Granted Digital Life in 2025 is a set of predictions, guesses really, but educated guesses given the expertise of the respondents. The Pew Internet Research Series holds great value for educators—it demonstrates that change is coming, is inevitable. Though it doesn’t provide a blueprint by any means, it does provide glimpses into what education might look like, could become in a few short years, for better or worse. Will your institution be ready?

Further Reading