On Monday evening, my phone started buzzing with texts and direct messages asking me if I’d seen the news about the New Media Consortium. It had sent out an email to its members announcing that it was suddenly and immediately shutting its doors.
The details of “why” are still sketchy. The organization says that there were “apparent errors and omissions by its former Controller and Chief Financial Officer,” and it is now insolvent.
It is not clear what comes next. What will happen to the organization’s assets, for example, including the Horizon Report? (As NMC heads into bankruptcy, the project will certainly be deemed “property,” and I don’t think the Creative Commons licensing on each report is going to save The Horizon Report brand from being sold off to pay NMC’s debtors.)
While I am sad for all the NMC employees who lost their jobs, I confess: I will not mourn an end to the Horizon Report project. (If we are lucky enough, that is, that it actually goes away.) I do not think the Horizon Report is an insightful or useful tool. Sorry. I recognize some people really love to read it. But perhaps part of the problem that education technology faces right now – as an industry, as a profession, what have you – is that many of its leaders believe that the Horizon Report is precisely that. Useful. Insightful.
I appreciate efforts to help people understand what is happening in education technology. Indeed, I’ve just spent the past 6 weeks writing my review of the stories we have been told in 2017 about “the future of education.” I don’t wrap this analysis up on the language of “science” like I think the Horizon Report tries to. There is an empirical bent to my work, I suppose. I track on all the news throughout the year and monitor the kinds of things that some folks very much hope will become “ed-tech trends.” I look at who’s investing in ed-tech. I look at who’s promoting ed-tech and who will benefit from these narratives. But I don’t do this so that I can give schools a list of technologies and say “you should buy this.” I am not interested in my work being “useful” in that way.
That’s how the Horizon Report happily functions: it’s marketing copy for the industry. It’s marketing copy for a particular vision of the future. It’s shallow, and it’s almost always wrong. It is, in so many ways, one of the prime examples what I wrote about in the first article in my year-end series: “education technology and fake news.”
When I started this project – “The Horizon Report Data Liberation” project – I wanted to be able to extract the predictions that were trapped inside the PDFs that the NMC released. I haven’t ever really had the time to devote myself fully to this. (Extracting data from PDFs is annoying. I bet Adobe buys the Horizon Report just to preserve the awful file format of all this.)
I do have a list of all the predictions that have been made since the Higher Ed and K-12 reports started about what’s supposedly “on the horizon” in those one, three, and five year increments. And I have downloaded all the Horizon Reports (the English language versions, at least) and posted them here, so they’ll be available even if the NMC.org website is not.
I am hoping that people decide that there’s nothing on the horizon now when it comes to this particular work. That they stop to think about how the Horizon Report, along with Gartner Hype Cycles and market research reports, doesn’t serve much other than this weird notion that “the best way to predict the future is to issue a press release.” Or a release a semi-annual PDF.