The Decade Ahead in Higher EdTech

Well it’s the end of the decade and the new one has just started. I thought that, in the name of a harmless bit of fun, I would stick my neck out and make a few predictions about where we might be going with edtech in universities over the next decade.  I’ve kept it brief because to explain each one in detail would make this post unbearably long and each subject probably deserves a more detailed post to fully explain my thinking. They also aren’t in any particular order. Let’s see if you agree or not.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality by centralasian

Augmented Reality by centralasian

Augmented Reality (AR) will be a key technology during the decade. You won’t be able to move for tweets about AR in 2010. Look for lots of papers in the end of year conferences on the possibilities of using AR in different ways for learning. Almost all of this will be vapourware and it will be another three or four years before we see anything useful in this space. Then it will have a big impact in the visual arts, medicine and design disciplines.


There has been a lot written about eportfolios over the last couple of years and I have to say that I think that, if they are implemented properly then they will be the way that educational achievement is demonstrated in the future. Having said that, I don’t believe that educational institutions should ‘own’ these systems, they should belong to the student and be entirely independent of institution. I predict that Google, LinkedIn and/or Microsoft will start to provide these sorts of services for free as part of their cloud services if not in 2010 then 2011. Hell, if I had the money I would set up a free service for students but Google, LinkedIn and Microsoft already have the money and the user base to enable student portfolios to be offered just like email and cloud docs and it fits their business models. In fact you can say that Google in particular already offers an eportfolio service although it’s not marketed as such.


Again, a lot has been written and debated about the future of the LMS. I don’t see much happening at the institutional level in this space in the next couple of years. Many universities will continue their process of updating from their current LMS. Smaller, more agile universities will increasingly choose open source solutions such as Moodle. Larger universities with deep integration and heavy investment in their current LMS will stick with the status quo in the medium term. Whatever LMS is chosen there will still be a failure to implement true e-learning or even well designed blended learning for more than a small number of courses at the majority of universities.

It is interesting that LMS developers are now positioning their products as ‘platforms’. I’m hopeful that this will mean more open and mashable systems but I also think that they need radical simplification if they are to be more widely used.

Having said all that I think we are likely to see the rise of a simple, free, open global LMS that will mashup open education resources, social learning and real time and asynchronous discussions between 2012 and 2015. Think of it as an open, searchable combination of user contributed content and social networking, using Twitter, Facebook and open educational resources. The services will offer the benefits of crowd sourcing, crowd filtering and even crowd contextualization of OER. There is an interesting post on this from Manish Malik on Steve Wheeler’s blog entitled ‘Wisdom of clouds’.

Whatever happens in this area you should expect to see an increase the number of TLA’s used to describe a complex piece of software that is currently rarely used for anything apart from posting Powerpoint slides.

Open Educational Resources

Despite recent concerns about the ongoing viability of large scale OER projects such as MIT’s Open Courseware project I remain positive that OER will continue to grow not least because of the ever increasing importance of institutional reputation. As we move to increasingly globalised higher education  high quality OER that will be essential in attracting future students/accreditation seekers. Students at institutions not producing OER may want to know why they can get better learning materials elsewhere for free. There will need to be more and better institutional leadership and culture change to get this to happen.

I think that the rise a discovery engine for OER such as that described above may be what is need to increase the reuse of OER across courses and institutions.

Mobile Learning

Tablet PC by nDevilTV

Tablet PC by nDevilTV

Let’s face it, mobile learning has promised a lot and not delivered much. It’s not hard to see why. Who wants to engage in learning content delivered on a tiny screen incapable of delivering Flash (I’m looking at you iPhone) or javascript that is hugely expensive to download (yes you Australian telcos). But that may be about to change. The iPhone, for all its faults has changed the way people use mobile devices to connect to the internet. That should mean we start to see cheaper access in future. Also, the rise of netbooks and the rumoured new tablet PC from Apple may mean that we start to see more meaningful mobile learning. I’m saying 2013 to 2015 for more widespread adoption with useful content.

Lecture Theatre Recording

This technology seems to have taken off in a number of universities, particularly in Australia, and I’m really not sure why. It has always seemed to me to a be a particularly short sighted technology investment that perpetuates a largely antiquated model of didactic content delivery. The technology itself is costly to implement and maintain and will become more so over time. The reason it has been so enthusiastically embraced to date is that it enables universities to portray themselves as being highly involved in educational technology without having to go through the messy process of working with academic staff to change their practice. I am hopeful (because I am an outrageous optimist) that by the middle of the decade those universities that have implemented lecture recording technology on a wide scale will have seen the error of  their ways and the other universities will have invested more wisely. This is, surely (hopefully), a transitionary technology.

Interactive Lecture Technology

Lipstick on a Pig by emilylt

Lipstick on a Pig by emilylt

Another set of technologies that should be seen as transitionary technologies are those that involve using clickers and mobile devices to incorporate interactive components into live lectures. The lecturer of ten years ago in me (and the child) quite likes the idea of livening up face to face lectures by playing techy games and pretending I’m the host of ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ but let’s face it, the technology is really just like putting lipstick on a pig.

Some universities will stick with it, those who see a lot of value in on campus learning but I suspect that for many universities it will be another expensive ‘solution’ that is used by a small number of early adopters who are committed to face to face delivery.

Identity Management

While not in itself an educational technology it is a key enabler technology that allows student access to university systems using credentials of their choice. For example students may use their Google or Facebook accounts to access their allocated university systems as well as their cloud based services. In fact, in future, it is likely that the only university system that students will need to access is their record of enrolment. Storage and email will be cloud based (if indeed students continue to use email) and apart from some specialised software, what else do students need access to?

Wearable Technology

POV Glasses by mikecogh

POV Glasses by mikecogh

Point of view glasses for recording student activity are proving popular in the training and further education sector in Australia. They allow students to record assessable activities remotely and then submit those recordings for both formative and summative assessment. I like this technology a lot because it genuinely changes the way that assessments can be carried out; it makes assessment more authentic and it allows students to be assessed away from the institution including in the workplace.

I think we will see an increase in the use of this sort of technology in universities during the decade. There will be technology issues to overcome such as storage of recordings but these will be overcome and as genuine broadband connectivity becomes more widely available and cost effective I think we will see real time viewing of student activities and coaching of students remotely. I am think maybe in the last half of the decade.

Assessment Technologies

A key driver for progressive universities will be the increasing desire to accredit learning that hasn’t necessarily been developed from within the institution and to be able do that in a way that can be audited as being consistent and of high quality rather than the often haphazard recognition of prior learning practices that currently happen.

It seems amazing to me that there has been so much technology investment in all sorts of educational technology with the glaring exception of assessment technologies and grade management in particular. Sure there is a gradebook in the LMS and there is grade handling in the student management system but, as with secondary functionality of all major pieces of software, it’s never as good as a purpose built solution. What’s amazing to me is that the process of assessing student evidence is one of the most time consuming activities that academics undertake and the rigour, quality and consistency of that assessment is a key component of the reputation of a university. Quite why such little effort has been put into making academic staff members lives easier is quite strange.I do have some thoughts about why but I’ll leave them for another post.

We are already starting to see some very innovative projects in this area including the work being done on a loosely coupled grade book at Brigham Young University by @jonmott and others. I predict that we will start to see serious interest in assessment management by other universities early in the decade and that some sophisticated systems will appear in the middle of the decade.


Well that was a bit of fun. I’ll try and expand on some of these things in future posts. I also hope to jot down some predictions about the way some universities may change over the decade in response not just to technological change but in response to changing demographics, priorities and the distribution of knowledge.

Let me know what you think. What have I missed? What will happen sooner? What will happen later? What will never happen?

Cheers and Happy New Year


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