On the Horizon: Next Trends in School Tech

“As teachers begin to realise that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital competence skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm.“ 
HORIZON Interim Report on K-12 Education, 2015

Launched in 2002 by New Media Consortium (NMC), The Horizon Project produces an annual, influential report that monitors global trends in educational technologies designed to guide innovative practices in K-12 schools. The latest, interim report, presented at the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, highlights some interesting developments.

In its most recent report, NMC breaks the focus into three main categories in the context of Ed Tech adoption: (1) Key Trends Accelerating Adoption; (2) Significant Challenges Impeding Adoption; and (3) Important Developments in Technology. What follows is my summary of the interim findings with some personal thoughts on the implications for schools.

The interim report forecasts that there will be a long-term trend towards re-imagining schools through the development of a culture of innovation designed to emphasise approaches to deeper learning. Over the next three to five years, this will see schools focus increasingly on collaborative approaches to learning achieved through re-designed learning spaces and a shift in educational practice from students as passive consumers of technology to active creators of digital content. More immediately, schools will see a growing focus on data-driven decision-making and the relentless rise of STEAM learning.

Among the easier challenges facing schools in the years ahead, the report contends, will be greater shifts towards authentic learning, the integration of technology training in teacher education, and an emphasis on student data safety. The more complex challenges facing schools will include the need to rethink the roles of teachers in tandem with the need to find ways to make learning more personalized. With the incremental opportunities that pervasive digital content and connectedness will offer students in the years ahead, schools, it is suggested, may struggle to remain relevant.

In the next year, the report predicts, there will be a continuing explosion in developments such as “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) along with a growth in mobile technologies in conjunction with a growing reliance on Cloud Computing. The growth of the Maker Movement and the introduction of Makerspaces in schools is set to escalate with 3D printing being among the main trends in the next two to three years. Within four to five years, it is foreseen, digital badges, drone technology, visual data, and wearable technology are likely to be the hot trends impacting digital learning in our schools.


  • Rethinking How Schools Work: Is going to require greater flexibility in school schedules and curricular offerings to allow for more opportunities for authentic learning and independent, personalised learning.
  • Redesigning Learning Spaces: Will require an accelerated shift away from traditional lecture-based delivery to agile, social, collaborative learning environments.
  • Students as Consumers to Students as Creators: Schools will need to engage in a seismic shift away from current learning approaches towards providing students with opportunities to make and create.
  • Growing Focus on Data to Measure Learning: If learning is truly going to become personalized, new sources of data are going to be required to provide the crucial insights that will make this possible.
  • The Continued Rise of STEAM Learning, Rapid Prototyping & Makerspaces: It is no longer acceptable to speak of the needs of the future when the scale of technology makes it possible today.
  • Rethinking the Roles of Teachers: The key here will require a continued focus on the need for teachers to become increasingly confident in the use of ed tech and social media with a greater emphasis on professional self-learning.

I am somewhat surprised that the report does not anticipate any trends that are not already emerging, but since it is research-based, in the context of what can currently be measured, perhaps this is understandable. Thinking ahead, I believe there is no doubt that creativity and applied, authentic learning will increasingly take centre stage in our schools and that what we are calling Makerspaces today will quickly become the classrooms of tomorrow. This is how personalised learning will happen. While data analytics will also become increasingly important, I anticipate significant implementation issues as schools feel the obligation to be seen to focus on and potentially hide behind data (if the rationale for data collection is not clearly defined). This is an area that will require major planning, thinking, and training. Finally, while we continue to suggest that school leaders need to become tech leaders, I actually think that the opposite is the inevitable, next, major direction in K-12 schools. If, as the report contends, technology needs to become an integrated part of teacher training, this will become even more important for school leaders.

Overall, I like what I see on the horizon, but without planned attention to the development of school culture in advance of further change agendas, I am not so sure we will reap the dividends imagined.