NMC and CoSN have released the latest Horizon Report for K–12. (And I have updated the GitHub repository that powers this site with this new data.)

For those keeping track at home, here are the things the two organizations see “on the horizon”, along with the descriptions the report provides for them:

One Year or Less

MAKERSPACES: K–12 education is increasingly focused on methods to foster the development of 21st century skills in students, preparing them for the demands of the global technological economy. To address the needs of the future, a growing number of classrooms, libraries, and community centers are being transformed into makerspaces, physical environments that offer tools and opportunities for hands-on learning and creation. Educators are increasingly using makerspaces and maker activities as a method for engaging learners in creative, higher-order problem-solving through design, construction, and iteration. School leaders are incorporating making into the curriculum to encourage students and teachers to bring to life ideas and explore design thinking approaches. Makerspaces are also increasing student exposure to STEM subjects and technical disciplines. Learners are applying maker skills to address some of the world’s pressing challenges with innovative solutions.

ONLINE LEARNING: Online learning refers to both formal and informal educational opportunities that take place through the web. Today, it is uncommon for schools to not have a web presence, and increasingly people expect for that to include learning modules and resources so that new knowledge and skills can be acquired on the go. An aspect of digital learning, which encompasses blended learning approaches, online learning has experienced a significant surge as more than 2.7 million students in the US alone are taking part. Educators are becoming more comfortable testing various levels of integration in their existing classes and programs, and many believe that online learning can be an effective catalyst for thoughtful discussion on all pedagogical practice. For example, online learning, especially when coupled with immersive technologies such as virtual reality, has the potential to facilitate simulations that help students better understand and respond appropriately to real-life environments and situations. Indeed, major online learning trends include more project-based learning, personalized learning, and interactivity.

Two to Three Years

ROBOTICS: Robotics refers to the design and application of robots – automated machines that accomplish a range of activities. The first robots were integrated into factory assembly lines in order to streamline and increase the productivity of manufacturing, most notably for cars. Today, the role of robots in mining, transportation, and the military has helped improve operations for industries as they perform tasks that are unsafe or tedious for humans. The global robot population is expected to double to four million by 2020 – a shift that will impact business models and economies worldwide, with a projected market value of $135 billion in 2019. While robotics is two to three years away from mainstream adoption in K–12 education, potential uses are gaining traction for hands-on learning, particularly in STEM disciplines. Classes and outreach programs are incorporating robotics and programming to promote critical and computational thinking as well as problem-solving among students. Emerging studies also show that interaction with humanoid robots can help learners with spectrum disorders develop better communication and social skills.

VIRTUAL REALITY: Virtual reality (VR) refers to computer-generated environments that simulate the physical presence of people and/or objects and realistic sensory experiences. At a basic level, this technology takes the form of 3D images that users interact with and manipulate via mouse and keyboard. Contemporary applications allow users to more authentically “feel” the objects in these displays through gesture-based and haptic devices, which provide tactile information through force feedback. While VR has compelling implications for learning, to date, it has been most prominently used for military training. Thanks to advents in graphics hardware, CAD software, and 3D displays, VR is becoming more mainstream, especially in video games. Today, head-mounted displays make game environments and actions more lifelike. As both games and natural user interfaces are finding applications in classrooms, VR can make learning simulations more authentic.

Four to Five Years

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: In the field of artificial intelligence (AI), computer science is being leveraged to create intelligent machines that more closely resemble humans in their functions. The knowledge engineering that allows computers to simulate human perception, learning, and decision-making is based on access to categories, properties, and relationships between various information sets. Neural networks, a significant area of AI research, is currently proving to be valuable for more natural user interfaces through voice recognition and natural language processing, allowing humans to interact with machines similarly to how they interact with each other. By design, neural networks model the biological function of animal brains to interpret and react to specific inputs such as words and tone of voice. As the underlying technologies continue to develop, AI has the potential to enhance online learning, adaptive learning software, and simulations in ways that more intuitively respond to and engage with students.

WEARABLE TECHNOLOGY: Wearable technology refers to smart devices that can be worn by users, taking the Form of an accessory such as jewelry or eyewear. Smart textiles also allow items of clothing such as shoes or jackets to interact with other devices. The wearable format enables the convenient integration of tools into users’ everyday lives, allowing seamless tracking of personal data such as sleep, movement, location, and social media interactions. Head-mounted wearable displays such as Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard facilitate immersive virtual reality experiences. Well-positioned to advance the quantified self movement, today’s wearables not only track where people go, what they do, and how much time they spend doing it, but now what their aspirations are and when those can be accomplished. This category also has potential to interest a variety of students in STEAM learning, as classroom activities can encompass multidisciplinary efforts of design, building, and programming.

Thinking about Shifting Horizons

As always, one of the most interesting things about the Horizon Report is how the horizons shift annually. In last year’s report, makerspaces also appeared in the “one year or less” timeline. Wearable technologies were also placed four to five years out in both 2014 and 2015 – and again this year, they’re still four to five years out. The other items on last year’s report – BYOD, 3D printing, adaptive learning, and digital badges – don’t appear this time around. (And let’s be honest, with the exception of BYOD, it’s not because these have been readily adopted.)

I think this report always has far more to do with our desires for a certain kind of technologized future than it does with the realities of technological development or adoption.

It’s also worth comparing the timelines given for K–12 and higher ed. The Higher Ed Horizon Report, released earlier this year, placed in the “one year or less” timeframe, BYOD and learning analytics. In “two to three years”: virtual reality and makerspaces. In “four to five years”: robotics and affective learning. According to these reports then, makerspaces and robotics will be more quickly adopted by K–12 schools. Again, this isn't just a question of which institutions will adopt technologies more quickly; it's about the stories we tell about technology and why some are more or less appealing to those who want to see technology transform education.

And finally: I’m always intrigued by how different the Horizon Reports predictions are from those things I identify as part of my “Top Ed-Tech Trends” series. Whose stories about the history of the future of education get told and retold? Which stories get funded? Which ones get covered by the press? Which stories get forgotten?

Audrey Watters


A Horizon Report History

A Hack Education Project

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