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An electronic journal for leaders in education
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The 2010 Horizon Report for schools

Special report

Earlier this week, the New Media Consortium (NMC) released the 2010 Horizon Report: K12 Edition, the second in an annual series of reports focused on emerging technology use in primary and secondary education. It was produced in collaboration with the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). This year the report has been released with a companion Toolkit to foster dialogue within and between educational institutions about how emerging technologies can improve learning in K–12 education. The following article is adapted from sections of the Report.

The 2010 Horizon Report: K–12 Edition describes six emerging technologies that will likely have a significant impact on K12 education in the next one to five years. Each of them is already the focus of work at a number of innovative schools, and the work showcased in the report reveals the promise of a more widespread impact.

The report is intended for use by educators worldwide. While there are many local factors affecting the practice of education, there are also issues that transcend regional boundaries, questions we all face in K12 education, and it was with these in mind that this report was created.

The near-term horizon

On the near-term horizon that is, within the next 12 months are cloud computing and collaborative environments.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing refers to the use of computing resources available from specialised data centres, each often hosting thousands of servers, that power the world's largest websites and web services. Cloud computing transforms once-expensive resources like disk storage into a readily available, cheap commodity, and enables the use of thin-client, web-based applications for image editing, word processing, social networking and media creation. Many of us use the cloud, or cloud-based applications, without even being aware of it. In schools, use of cloud computing is progressing along a path that began with the adoption of collaborative tools for administrative tasks and that will lead, eventually, to classroom adoption of cloud-based tools for learning.

Cloud-based applications and services are available to many school students today, and more schools are employing cloud computing solutions all the time. What still remains to be developed is the capacity for the cloud to help students engage in real research and participate in global learning communities.

Collaborative environments

Collaborative environments are online spaces where the focus is on making it easy to collaborate and work in groups, no matter where the participants may be. As the typical educator's network of contacts has grown to include colleagues who might live and work across the country, or indeed anywhere on the globe, it has become common for people who are not physically located near each other to collaborate on projects. In classrooms as well, joint projects with students at other schools or in other countries are more and more commonplace as strategies to expose learners to a variety of perspectives. Collaborative environments can be off-the-shelf or assembled from a wide variety of simple, free tools the key is the interactions they enable, not the technologies they include.

Whatever tools are chosen, collaborative environments give students tremendous opportunities to interact with peers and mentors, experience other worldviews, and model the kinds of work patterns that take place in an increasing number of professions.

The mid-term horizon

The second adoption horizon is set two to three years out, and is where we will begin to see widespread adoptions of two well-established technologies: game-based learning and mobiles. Both games and mobiles have clearly entered the mainstream of popular culture; both have been demonstrated as effective tools for learning in a number of schools; and both are expected to see much broader use in pre-college education over the next two to three years.

Game-based learning

Interest in game-based learning has grown in recent years as research continues to demonstrate its effectiveness for learning. Games for education span the range from single-player or small-group card and board games all the way to massively multiplayer online games and alternate reality games. Those at the first end of the spectrum are easy to integrate with the curriculum, and in many schools they are already an option; but the greatest potential of games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration and engage students deeply in the process of learning. For a variety of reasons, the realisation of this potential is still two to three years away.

Networking via mobile devices

The story of mobiles is no longer about the devices themselves, but about the blurring of the boundary between the cellular networks and the internet. The internet is accessed more and more often from mobile devices using a cellular network that extends significantly beyond even the electric grid. Mobiles represent an untapped resource for reaching students and for bridging the gap between the learning that happens in school and the learning that happens out in the world.

However, the use of mobiles continues to be restricted by policies that prevent many schools from taking advantage of them as tools for teaching and learning.

The far-term horizon

On the far-term horizon, set at four to five years away from widespread adoption, are augmented reality and flexible displays. Neither of these two technologies is commonly found in school settings, but the high level of interest and the tremendous amounts of research in both areas indicate that they are worth following closely.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) refers to the blending, or augmenting, of virtual data information, rich media, and even live action with what we see in the real world, for the purpose of enhancing the information we can perceive with our senses. AR has become something anyone can use, thanks to the convergence of three technologies GPS, video and pattern recognition and the applications seem endless. Combined with mobile technology, AR becomes a portable tool for discovery-based learning, enhancing the information available to students when visiting historical locations, doing field work, interacting with real-world objects, and even paging through books.

Flexible displays

Still in the early stages of development, flexible displays are essentially very thin display screens as thin as a credit card that can be printed onto flexible or stretchable material and then attached to other surfaces or produced in a variety of shapes. They can be produced very cheaply and easily. The materials they can be printed on can roll, bend, flex and stretch, lending themselves to curved or contoured surfaces. They include very thin flexible displays that can be easily inserted into popular magazines.

Thin screens will eventually be embedded in books, attached to desks and walls, and integrated with all kinds of objects. Touch-based interfaces and flexible displays are converging in interesting ways; though applications for schools are still several years away, we can expect to see integrated interactive displays becoming part of many common objects in the not-so-distant future. 

Key trends and challenges

Five trends have been identified as key drivers of technology adoptions for the period 2010 through 2015:

  • Technology is increasingly a means for empowering students, a method for communication and socialising, and a ubiquitous, transparent part of their lives. Once seen as an isolating influence, technology is now recognised as a primary way to stay in touch and take control of one's own learning.
  • Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, learn, socialise, play, collaborate, communicate and succeed. Increasingly, technology skills are also critical to success in almost every arena, and those who have substantial facility with technology will advance while those without access or skills will not.
  • The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing. The ways we design learning experiences must reflect the growing importance of innovation and creativity as professional skills.
  • There is increasing interest in just-in-time, alternate, or non-formal avenues of education, such as online learning, mentoring and independent study.
  • The way we think of learning environments is changing. The 'spaces' where students learn are becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary and supported by technologies that engage virtual communication and collaboration.

Along with current trends, schools face critical challenges that are likely to continue to affect education over the next five years. Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession; further training in digital literacy skills and techniques is required in teacher education and school professional development programs. Schools need to adapt to current student needs and identify new learning models that are engaging to younger generations. Assessment has also not kept pace with new modes of working, and must change along with teaching methods, tools, and materials.

Other challenges include the lack of agreement among policy makers and educators as to what a future model of education might look like; obstacles to change imposed by the current structure of K12 education; and the need to acknowledge the growing amount of learning that occurs outside the classroom.

The Horizon Project

The K12 Report springs from the Horizon Project, a research effort that each year produces the Horizon Report for higher education. The project has drawn on an ongoing conversation among knowledgeable persons in the fields of business, industry and education; on published resources, current research, and practice; and on the expertise of both the NMC community and the communities of the members of the Horizon Project's K12 Advisory Board, an international body of experts in education, technology and other fields.

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Levine, A., and Haywood, K., (2010). 2010 Horizon Report: K12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium


Subject Headings

Technological literacy
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Educational planning
Educational innovations