Wearable technology. Visual data analysis. Game-based learning.
Since 2004, the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report Higher Education Edition has tracked the incorporation of emerging technologies such as these into the life of colleges and universities. Besides analyzing significant trends and challenges, the annual report names six technologies to watch for in each of three time-to-adoption windows: two technologies in one year or less, two in two to three years, and two, in four to five years.
The past 10 years of predictions include some technologies that only had to be mentioned once. Grassroots video, geo-everything, data mashups, and cloud computing were all predicted in the 2008 or 2009 reports with 0-3 year windows. These are presumably cases where things that had already caught on at large were quickly implemented on campuses. Other technologies took two mentions as they progressed into classrooms and libraries: electronic books (2010-11), tablet computing (2012-13), the flipped classroom, and 3D printing (2014-15).
Clusters of repeated or related goals are common. Sometimes these trace an enabling progression: mobile broadband (2008) was followed by mobiles (2009, 2011) and mobile computing (2010), setting the stage for mobile apps (2012) and, in 2017, mobile learning. Sometimes there is an aspirational ladder: simple augmented reality (2010) was followed by augmented reality in 2011, then augmented and virtual reality in 2016.
Sometimes arrival into common use takes longer. The Internet of Things was first predicted in 2012 with a four-to-five-year window. That same prediction was repeated in 2015. But for 2017, the window has been reduced to two to three years. And two related technologies, semantic-aware applications and smart objects, were predicted back in 2009 with four-to-five year windows.
What else does the 2017 Horizon Report predict? Adaptive learning technologies within one year, next-generation learning management systems and natural user interfaces within three, artificial intelligence within five. As the authors noted in 2006, “the dusty crystal ball that is technology forecasting is by no means an exact science.” But it does help us absorb all that has happened so far and prepare for what lies ahead.