Key Trends

The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators. This multi-year trend was again ranked very highly, indicating its continued influence. Institutions must consider the unique value that each adds to a world in which information is everywhere. In such a world, sense-making and the ability to assess the credibility of information are paramount. Mentoring and preparing students for the world in which they will live — the central role of the university when it achieved its modern form in the 14th century — is again at the forefront.

As IT support becomes more and more decentralized, the technologies we use are increasingly based not on school servers, but in the cloud. The continuing acceptance and adoption of cloud-based applications and services is changing not only the ways we configure and use software and file storage, but even how we conceptualize those functions. It does not matter where our work is stored; what matters is that our information is accessible no matter where we are or what device we choose to use. Globally, in huge numbers, we are growing accustomed to a model of browser-based software that is device-independent. While some challenges still remain, specifically with notions of privacy and control, the promise of significant cost savings is an important driver in the search for solutions.

Blogs, open textbooks, electronic journals, and forms of expression embodied in new media formats are challenging the notions of academic writing. These techniques are increasingly common and are readily accepted as informal outlets for student work. A more gradual trend toward official acceptance is moving slowly, but its stirrings are visible in the adoption of electronic content, experiments with crowd-sourcing, and open, online peer review of work. This trend is related to the challenge of developing metrics for evaluating such work, noted in 2010 as well as again this year.

Devices like Apple's iPad are filling a niche that is neither 'big smartphone' or 'small laptop.' As more people use, and discuss the ways they are finding to use, devices like the iPad, it is becoming clear that these are neither oversized phones nor stripped-down laptops. Instead, they represent a new class of devices that perhaps we were not even aware we wanted until they became available — and almost ubiquitous. They are more and more commonly seen, and are already gaining a footing in education, the health industry, and other sectors as tools for learning and for serious work.

It becomes more and more evident every year that students are not deeply engaged in learning at school. Studies have shown that this lack of engagement contributes to the rate of early dropouts, yet students still struggle to find personal relevance in much of what they are asked to do in school. Efforts to alter this trend, such as project- or challenge-based learning pilot programs, mentoring, and community involvement in learning, show promise. Even with these positive steps, it is clear that this trend will not be an easy one to reverse.

One-to-one computing is spreading to a large number of countries and regions. Providing students constant access to computers and the Internet is an education game-changer. Current studies have been tracking and analyzing the ways in which one-to-one computing is impacting student achievement in class, and the early results are promising. A key driver behind the adoption of this model is how well it complements both project- and challenge-based learning, which already have proven correlations to increasing student engagement.

People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to. This highly-ranked trend, noted last year, continues to permeate all aspects of daily living. Life in an increasingly busy world where learners must balance demands from home, work, school, and family poses a host of logistical challenges with which today’s ever more mobile students must cope. A faster approach is often perceived as a better approach, and as such people want easy and timely access not only to the information on the network, but to their social networks that can help them to interpret it and maximize its value. The implications for informal learning are profound, as are the notions of “just-in-time” learning and “found” learning, both ways of maximizing the impact of learning by ensuring it is timely and efficient.

The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing. Innovation is valued at the highest levels of business and must be embraced in schools if students are to succeed beyond their formal education. The ways we design learning experiences must reflect the growing importance of innovation and creativity as professional skills. Innovation and creativity must not be linked only to arts subjects, either; these skills are equally important in scientific inquiry, entrepreneurship, and other areas as well.

Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate, and succeed. Information technologies impact how people work, play, learn, socialize, and collaborate. Increasingly, technology skills are also critical to success in almost every arena, and those who are more facile with technology will advance while those without access or skills will not. The digital divide, once seen as a factor of wealth, is now seen as a factor of education: those who have the opportunity to learn technology skills are in a better position to obtain and make use of technology than those who do not. Evolving occupations, multiple careers, and an increasingly mobile workforce contribute to this trend.