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Emerging Technologies, Key Trends,and Challenges in K- 12 Education

The NMC Horizon 2013 report  came out couple of weeks back with its time-to-adaption of emerging technologies in k-12 education. What New Media Consortium Horizon does is conduct extensive research in the domain of digital learning, and project their probability on the adoption of emerging learning technologies. The report features six technologies with three adoption horizons: 1 year, 2 to 3 years, and 4 to 5 years.The report also includes major trends in the area of digital learning in k-12 education and the major challenges facing education in terms of using technology in education.

Time-to-Adoption for K-12

New-term Horizon (Time-to-adoption 1 year)

Mobile Learning

mobile learning
Mobile learning is becoming an essential part in k-12 education. There have already been many initiative programs like the one-to-one and the BYOD programs to help students learn anytime and everywhere. Mobile learning also has more affordance than laptops or PCs for combining the real world and virtual tools in what’s called augmented reality (more on this later). In a recent world report on mobile usage, it was reported that approximately 85% of the world now have mobile phones (and a lot in Africa as well). However, the usage of mobile phones in education has up till now been limited by the bureaucracy in the education sector, teachers’ and school administrators’ unwillingness to adopt new and emerging technologies, and even (at times) students’ lack of interest in using mobile phones in their learning.

Cloud Computing


There is no question about it. Cloud computing has swept businesses, governments, health care, and lastly, but modestly, education. Cloud computing has a lot of benefits, most important of which: cutting down on loss in IT maintenance, better online collaboration, and less hassle for the IT department. Schools have adopted cloud computing so quickly because of their affordability and the absence of any technical maintenance. Google Apps for Education for example offers a suite of collaborative and communicative tools that help the school, teachers, and students work anywhere, and everywhere without cost or any technical knowledge. Google Chromebooks were also adopted swiftly across schools due to their affordability, and having only cloud apps.

Mid-term Horizon (Time-to-adoption 2 -3 years)

Learning Analytics

An emerging field in educational technology, learning analytics pertains to deciphering huge amount of data (Big Data) through learning management systems or any software students use to predict how students learn, and even the probability whether they would fail in a current course so that proper action would be taken to adapt the course to their needs. Some schools have started using LA. However, I am dubious about whether the adoption will be in 2 to 3 years. LA is still in it infancy, even for higher education, and many researchers and educators are still working on refining LA methodologies. To say its adoption horizon is within 2 to 3 years is very ambitious at best.

Open Content

A lot of move in the past couple of years has been towards open content, or open educational resources, not to be confused with free resource because “Far more than just a collection of free online course materials, the open content movement is increasingly a response to the
rising costs of education, the desire to provide access to learning in areas where such access is difficult, and an expression of student choice about when and how to learn”. This is a clear indication that education is moving to the next generation learning era, with the rise of new models of OER publishing of textbooks and educational materials. Open content movement started almost a decade ago with MIT publishing their courses online for free to anyone who wants to view and learn. Since then, many strides towards OER have been done, the last of which was MOOCs, with its pioneers Steven Downs and George Siemens. Still though, the area of open content is still debatable in the k12 arena as many of the schools around the world are built around a business model, a for-profit model, and many huge enterprises like Pearson for Education would be the first to suffer if OER models are adopted on a massive scale.

Far-term Horizon (Time-to-adoption 4 -5 years)


Virtual and Remote Labs

Leveraging high speed internet access and cloud computing, virtual and remote labs are being adopted by schools that do not have fully-equipped labs. But that’s not the only reason. Students can do simulated lab work and experiments with greater efficiency and control than they would do in a physical lab, and they can repeat the experiment as much as they like, giving them more practice and more room for observation over their errors. I believe that virtual labs are already here as I have seen it in many schools, but I do not know why NMC Report has placed it at the far-term horizon. I think we will see more of it in the next 2 to 3 years.

3D Printing

The first time I saw a demonstration of 3D printing few years back on TED, I was stunned, could this be possible? I was also stunned to know that 3D printing was present decades ago but because of their high-cost they did not get through mass production or to the public. Now, with the presence of innovative technologies, not only manufacturers can access it , the public can do, with a 300$ 3D printer. 3D printing has entered the education domain three years back with some schools being innovative enough to have students model and produce their products. This is a very promising technology that will really affect students learning. It needs however more time for adoption.

Final Thoughts on Time-to-Adoption

I wonder why the report has not also included “Augmented Reality” too as it is not yet adopted by schools and holds great potentials for learning. The usage of AR in conjunction with the textbook and real world science inquiry will definitely have a great positive effect student achievement.
If you want to read the full NMC Horizon Report for k12 download it here.

Key Trends in K12

The report has also done a extensive review of articles, papers, and new research to identify and rank trends affecting, teaching and learning and innovation in k12.

1. Educational paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models.

With students already spending too much time online, schools are opting in for using online learning and blended learning models. But this is not the only reason that schools are rushing into these models. The results from blended learning model schools are really impressive. They have high scores, more student engagement, and low student drop outs.

2. Social Media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and communicate.

There’s no doubt about it. Social media has given power to powerless people. This is something that many schools are trying to harness to give students more power in their learning and giving the teachers the role of a coach instead of the sole source of knowledge.

3. Openness- concepts like open content, open data, and open resources are gaining more audience in the k12 domain

Education publishing giants are facing a real predicament with the open textbook initiatives and open content initiatives. Schools are more than ever accessing, using ,and remixing open educational resources to fit their needs. Teachers are now aware of it potentials and schools are driving their faculties towards adopting openness. However, there needs to be more effort put into curating and organizing content to make them more adaptable and accessible.

4. Revisiting our roles as educators

I said in many of my blog posts, I said it face-to-face with teachers and admin, I said on social media, on video, and I say it again : Teachers need to reassess their roles as sole transmitters of knowledge. No more, sage on the stage, no more Big Brother, no more the only expert in the room. Teachers need to realize that and should encourage students not to think of them like that. Teachers should encourage students to think of them as co-learners, but more knowledgeable. They explore together, and help each other. Many teachers sadly do not do that and are not comfortable believing that their role has changed.

Significant Challenges

With all the trends and emerging technologies, the challenges of using technology or adopting a trend are numerous.

1. Ongoing professional development needs to be valued and integrated into the culture of schools

Extensive body or research has shown that the one-stop workshop or one year professional development sessions would not do anything to improve teachers performance with technology. Teachers need to know, be in contact with, use, teacher, reflect, and redo with ongoing classrooms. Teachers need to take risks whilst teaching and not attend or practice in hands-on workshops away from their natural environments. And so, offering external or internal workshops is not the solution. Schools need to adopt professional development programs that are integrated in the school culture. The school should nurture a supporting community of practice for teachers to experiment and reflect on teaching wit technology.

2. Too often it is education’s own practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies.

Many teachers still believe that taking risks with new technologies, or piloting them are beyond their reasonability boundaries. This needs to be changes,and teachers should see themselves not only as content teachers but experimenter and their classrooms are their labs. The schools too should put clear policy on piloting and experimenting with technology.

3. New models of of education are bringing  unprecedented competition to traditional education

Bended learning model schools, online or virtual school, and MOOCs are some of the models that are brining competition to traditional education. These models are flexible and personalize education for their learners.

4. K-12 must increase the blending of formal and informal learning

“In order for students to get a well-rounded education with real world experience, they
must also engage in more informal in-class activities as well as experience learning outside the classroom”. In many schools students are not encouraged to do that. Students need to work out of class, connect with real world and join it with their in-class activities. In fact, the paradox is that schools are build as social service to society has nothing social in it, they are disconnected from the community. 

5. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.

“The increasing demand for education that is customized to each student’s unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and control and allow for differentiated instruction, but there remains a gap between the vision and the tools needed to achieve it”. It’s still a  vision at least for now since schools have not yet achieved any tangible results with personalizing education and differentiating instruction. Most schools are still following the same lockstep prescriptive approach given 300 years ago, only this time with technology. If technology does not transform the way we teacher and how students learn then there is not need to spend so much effort , so much time,and so much money to use them.

6, We are not using digital media for formative assessment the way we could and should.

It is true that technology gives students timely feedback through automated tests and more time connectivity with teachers. Still, teachers and schools are not really using formative assessment to increase students achievement by tweaking the course for better results. This should be more of a lean teaching approach, tweak as you go. Technology offers many options from observing students’ skills and knowledge to getting data from their behavior as they interact with technology. Teachers and schools should put more effort into data analysis and tracking systems that would give them patterns of students’ interactions.

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