The Future of Technology in Education (Part 1: How The K-12 Horizon Report 2014 Gets it Right)


The Future of Technology in Education (Part 1: How The K-12 Horizon Report 2014 Gets it Right.)

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition (HR14) is an annual summary of key technologies which are having , or are likely to have a meaningful effect on education. It also considers certain key implementation challenges these technologies may face.

The most interesting aspect of HR14 is the constant emphasis on the fact that these emerging technologies go hand in glove with reinvigorated pedagogies and attitudes towards education. This is true to such a strong degree that HR14 might be considered as much an exposition of future educational methodologies as it is a consideration of future educational technology.

What follows is a summary of what, for me, are the most exceptional points of the 2014 Report. In the next post, The Future of Technology in Education (Part 2: How The 2014 K-12 Horizon Report Gets It Wrong), I will address what I consider to be the major oversights and shortcomings of HR14. Although I found it easier to separate the good from the bad by creating separate posts for each, it was remarkably difficult not to point out the obvious flaws and major gaps in HR14 I this summary. I would strongly recommend that you, patient reader, visit Part 2 to see these critiques. (I have added a link here and at the end of this post for your convenience.)

(Note: I have chosen not to summarise absolutely every aspect of HR14 in Part 1 as quite a few points overlap and others will be addressed in Part 2.)


HR14 begins by identifying key trends which the panel anticipates will be adopted in…

  • The next one to two years (‘Fast Trends’)
  • Three to five years (‘Mid-Range Trends’)
  • Five or more years (‘Long-Range Trends’)

These are the parts which I found most intriguing:

Rethinking the Role of Teachers (Fast Trend)

We are fast moving towards an ‘always on’ model of education. Students in the twenty-first century are faced with a myriad of engaging learning opportunities outside of the school day and schools should be looking at stimulating and encouraging this learning as well as reorienting what happens during the school day.

Within schools, the shift towards a more student-centred teaching model means that the roles of teachers needs to be reconsidered. Since teachers are no longer the gatekeepers of all knowledge, they need to begin to take of the roles of mentors and facilitators to leverage student-driven learning through technology.

Says the report:

Teachers are no longer the primary sources of information and knowledge for students when a quick web search is at their fingertips. Instead it is up to teachers to reinforce the habits and discipline that shape life-long learners — to ultimately foster the kind of curiosity that would compel their students to continue beyond an Internet search and dig deeper into the subject matter.

The flipped classroom is emerging as a key methodology in directing this trend. The flipped model involves students doing content acquisition at home and using school time to do application, extension and remediation activities. The ‘home learning’ aspect mostly involves watching video lectures (with the advantage that students can watch and re-watch as often as is required), but it can also be in the form of online chats, virtual worlds, on-line learning tools, playing games, listening to podcasts, content curation, preparatory readings and more.

Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches (Fast Trend)

Deeper learning is a term increasingly used to describe a variety of approaches in which students gain knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to a complex question, problem or challenge.

This key trend only ever implies a technological connection. It is almost entirely a pedagogical trend. And it is the single most important one in HR14. Deeper learning links to the flipped model of teaching because it acknowledges that simple knowledge acquisition in the age of ubiquitous information is no longer enough. For an education to be meaningful in the twenty-first century, it needs to be relevant to students’ own lives as well as being focussed on real world issues. Deep learning also emphasizes ‘learning by doing’ – the implication being that this approach empowers students to be active participants in their own education, and to “develop a propensity for problem solving that will endure throughout their lifetime”. The panel lists the following as examples of the impending shift towards deeper learning approaches (I have added Wikipedia links for readers wanting to investigate any of these in more depth):

By working on self-directed projects where students think critically and communicate effectively, students are mastering core academic content aligned with 21st century skills while tackling real issues in their community and beyond.

Rapid Acceleration of Intuitive Technology (Long-Range Trend)

A trend I am really excited about is haptic technology or ‘feel screens’. This looming technological innovation is also called ‘electrovibration technology’ and is defined by HR14 as “the process when a finger is dragged across a conductive, insulated surface, creating an electrostatic force that results in a rubbery, sticky, bumpy, or vibrating sensation.”

The possibilities of electrovibration hands-on education are intriguing, but they are not the only developments in intuitive technology we need to be considering – and I do not think that they are ‘long-range’ trends at all.

Rethinking How Schools Work (Long-Range Trend)

A reconsideration of the design, function and arrangement of actual learning spaces in schools (in order to facilitate and strengthen evolving pedagogies), as well as a reassessment of timetables and other school management systems is sure to become an essential aspect in the next few years.

According to HR14, there is a growing need for

…school structures that enable students to move from one learning activity to another more organically, removing the limitations of the traditional bell schedule. These novel arrangements encourage renovation of classroom layouts with the express focus of facilitating group interaction. Century-old practices in which students learn subject by subject while uniformly facing the front of the classroom are perceived by many as an antiquated approach to teaching and learning. The multidisciplinary nature of project-based learning and other contemporary approaches has brought attention to innovative designs of the school atmosphere that link each class and subject matter to one another. As learning becomes more fluid and student-centered, some teachers and administrators believe that schedules should be more flexible to allow opportunities for authentic learning to take place and ample room for independent study.

The report cities several fascinating examples of where this is already happening.


The next part of HR14 addresses a series of ‘solvable’, ‘difficult’ and ‘wicked’ challenges associated with implementing educational technology. For the first two challenges, I quote The Horizon Report extensively (emphases are mine):

Creating Authentic Learning Opportunities (Solvable Challenge)

Authentic learning is seen as an umbrella for several important pedagogical strategies with great potential to increase the engagement of students seeking connections between the world as they know it exists outside of school, and their experiences in school. Use of learning strategies that incorporate real life experiences, technology, and tools that are already familiar to students, and interactions from community members are examples of approaches that can bring authentic learning into the classroom.

  1. Integrating Personalized Learning (Solvable Challenge)

The goal of integrating more personalized learning into schools is to enable students to learn with their own strategy and pace, and demonstrate their knowledge in a manner that is uniquely their own.

Free or nearly free cloud computing tools, for example, allow users to create personalized learning environments, and easily store the content they want, share their content with others, gather new and relevant items, write personal commentary, complete assignments, and more. YouTube, iTunes U, Facebook, and other social media provide students with outlets to discover new content, disseminate their own, and develop digital portfolios they can carry with them and build upon throughout their schooling.

The goal is to give the student permission to make their learning as effective and efficient as possible, but adequate mentorship, especially at the K-12 level, is still a clear necessity. In this model, there is a need for teachers to adjust their roles in the classroom to focus less on dispensing information through lectures and more on being guides.

Complex Thinking and Communication (Difficult Challenge):

I have some serious objections (and some easy solutions) to this ‘Challenge’ which I will be addressing in Part 2.

Some key points I do agree with are listed below:

  • In modern schools, there is a need to teach the deployment of ‘heuristic problem solving’. This kind of problem solving involves students developing their own solutions to problems rather than using ‘algorithmic problem solving’ – which involves using pre-existing problem-solving theorems, formulae or templates. Heuristic problem-solving involves students developing their own formulae.
  • The application of complex thinking goes hand in hand with developing the capacity and confidence in students to communicate and connect well with a prospective audience. This includes the ability not only to conceptualise but to present accurate and simple visual representations of the outcomes complex thinking.
  • Complex thinking “requires an ability to understand the bigger picture and to make appeals that are based on logic, data, and instinct.”
  • As learning becomes more student driven, schools must enable and support sound research practices which include “asking questions and defining problems; developing and using models; planning and carrying out investigations; analyzing and interpreting data; using mathematics and computational thinking; and, constructing explanations and using evidence to communicate information.”

However, the nature of complex thinking has been seriously misconceived in the section – and hence it is hence that it is considered a ‘wicked challenge’ whereas, with a clearer conception of what ‘complex thinking’ involves, it actually a far more manageable one to implement.

Keeping Formal Education Relevant (Wicked Challenge)

Since it may soon no longer be a requirement that kids actually be at school to learn effectively, HR14 suggests that schools need to reconsider the alternative benefits they can offer students.

They suggest the following as augmented skills schools of the future may need to emphasize:

  • Work ethic
  • Grit / Determination / Perseverance
  • Research skills
  • Team work
  • Social skills
  • Learning from failure
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Curiosity
  • Kindness
  • Character growth
  • Life-long learning


The final part of the report discusses actual technologies and their effects on education. Two which stand out for me are:

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

The benefits of students being able to bring and use their own portable computers (be these tablets, phones and / or laptops) include the following:

  • Improvements in student (and teacher) productivity.
  • The encouragement of ‘seamless learning’ (inside and beyond the classroom).
  • The creation of personalized content for and by students.
  • Real-time assessment.

Games and Gamification

Gamified teaching (the integration of gaming elements and rewards into education) is an idea which seems wonderful, but which needs to be very carefully considered as a substitute for, rather than a supplement to traditional grades in schools. I have written about the potential pitfalls of gamification ‘done wrong’ previously. Done right, it has enormous potential.

Playing actual games in the classroom also has enormous potential to stimulate engagement and learning in the classroom, and this is sure to be a major trend in the next few years.


As wonderful as this all is (and all of it is seriously exciting), it isn’t the whole picture. Please click on this link to read Part 2: What’s Missing From the 2014 K-12 Horizon Report.


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