Bronwyn Lapham works within E-standards for Training, an activity of the National VET E-learning Strategy. This project includes the annual research, development, review and ratification of the E‑standards for Training – the technical standards for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. Today Bronwyn shares a summary of the one higher education report that we need to read this year – and in the process saves us from having to read it!
What is the Horizon Project?
The NMC Horizon Report – Higher Ed edition for 2015 was published at the Educause Learning Initiative Annual Meeting, held at Anaheim between February 9 and 11 2015. The Horizon Project is a longitudinal research project seeking to monitor emerging technologies expected to have an impact—in the case of this edition—on higher education. The New Media Consortium (Twitter: @NMCorg) also periodically publishes reports that focus on technology trends for schools, libraries and museums.
The Report is the output of collaboration by a panel of experts whose work is published, and freely available for viewing or download. There’s an extremely rich resource in the accompanying wiki, which includes the discussion that took place around each of the topics. The Report is—as previously—broken down into three areas: trends, challenges and technologies, all of which are sub-categorised.
This blog post summarises the trends in higher education that were identified in the NMC Horizon Report – Higher Ed edition for 2015; I’ll be following up with the challenges and technologies identified in the report in subsequent posts.
Short-term trends: 1-2 years in each direction
Increasing use of blended learning
The term blended learning describes the situation where at least some component of a learner’s education is delivered via digital media, and where the student has some control over when and where it takes place. This delivery method is blended with the more traditional face-to-face classroom-type setting.
Benefits of this style of delivery include flexibility and ease of access. The high rate of adoption followed by a large rate of drop-outs often observed in MOOCs initially indicated that use of this style of delivery might be short-lived. However, support mechanisms like learning analytics, adaptive learning, and tools allowing combinations of real-time and asynchronous communication between teacher and student continue to improve, allowing problems to be overcome and benefits realised.
Redesigning learning spaces
Changing the settings in which learning takes place is thought to transfer focus from teacher to student, and support more interactive, collaborative and active learning experiences. Collaborative learners are not necessarily confined to one place; learning can be shared with others in remote environments providing grounding in real-world work and social settings.
Common examples of these environments include relocating the presenter at the centre of the group, video conferencing with remote students, and the provisioning of common areas with electrical outlets, wi-fi and other supporting infrastructure to allow congregation of students engaged in learning.
Mid-term trends: 3-4 years in each direction
Growing focus on measuring learning
Learning analytics is the measurement of data gathered during the learning and assessment process. The data can be used to personalise learning for the student, improve on existing pedagogies and identify students at risk of disengaging or who are otherwise falling behind. The practice uses equivalents of commercial activities where businesses analyse online habits in an effort to predict consumer behaviour.
There is potential for great gains in the reliability of figures that benchmark achievements in retention and progression, but privacy and ethical issues should not be forgotten – what level of consent should be asked of a student? What control should they have over their data? Further reading is available in the report, but early research in Australian VET is also available. See Embedding Eportfolios from Box Hill Institute, and Interpreting Learner Analytics Data from Canberra Institute of Technology.
Proliferation of open educational resources
Open educational resources are those that are not just free of charge; there is a movement to have the definition include ownership and rights. In other words, to allow free use to take, re-purpose and modify resources at will. Prestigious universities in the US such as MIT, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon have published resources that range from full courses down to individual items. They are generally published under Creative Commons (or equivalent) licences.
In Australian vocational education and training, many such learning objects (including the Flexible Learning Toolboxes) exist at nationalvetcontent.edu.au, alongside resources for purchase.
Long-term trends: 5+ years in each direction
Advancing cultures of change and innovation
This topic addresses attempts to stimulate innovation and creativity. The underlying driver is the application of Lean Startup methodologies, that is, iteratively re-working product in response to needs of early adopters, reducing exposure to the risk that would traditionally be taken on with heavy investment in an initial launch of a product.
The way higher ed institutions are adopting this methodology is illustrated in the report using an example of how tech infrastructure on campus environments was upgraded to support the use of mobile devices. These upgrades were carried out when it became evident that mobile devices could play an important role in learning and teaching. Examples of the way universities around the US are sponsoring entrepreneurship include collaborations with business and government. VET in Australia would seem to be a leader in this.
Increasing cross-institutional collaboration
This section of the report discusses how, more and more, institutions are creating consortia for strategic alliances and combining resources. Joining forces is also seen as a sustainable way to support infrastructure and IT upgrades, and to provide a broader appeal by being able to offer a broader range of services. The Internet has effectively eliminated many barriers to these alliances.
While there certainly are–and will continue to be–mergers between institutes in Australia, it will be interesting to see how this trend evolves here, and whether market competition will allow local consortia to develop as they have in the US and Europe as stated in the report.