Higher education technology predictions for 2014


Wizard by seanmgrath

Wizard by seanmgrath

In summary, we’ll have another contentious year. We’ll see big growth in higher education services from outside of the university sector, a continued gnashing of teeth from established providers. Some new services and platforms will emerge to cater for different forms of learning, MOOCs will evolve and improve and open badges will be hot. Look out for rhizomatic learning.


Well I missed out on writing a review for 2013 so I thought I’d get in reasonably early and write some predictions for what might happen in 2014. Many of these are merely extensions of what we’ve seen in 2013 but there are some new things that we’ll see. The focus is on tertiary education. Things will be different in k12 and corporate training.

The MOOC backlash

Of course I have to start with MOOCs. The MOOC backlash started in earnest in 2013. It will get louder in 2014. There will be cheering from traditionalists as more high profile MOOC failures happen and from those that think MOOCs are the only threat to their way of life. On the other side pedagogues will continue to criticise (with some reason) the instructivist model of most high profile MOOCs. We are well and truly in Gartner’s trough of disillusionment. Expect MOOCs to continue to be the most high profile focus of academic angst in 2014. It doesn’t matter because the changes to higher education are happening because of economics, demographics and, most of all, technology. MOOCs are just one outcome of these and, in their current form, they are largely a transitory product of their time. MOOC providers will keep on refining them. There are some really interesting MOOCs available and this may be the first year that I actually complete a MOOC because I want to study the topic and not because I’m curious about the technology and pedagogy being used.

Sustainable business models for MOOCs will emerge (this may mean changing the way we think of the course part of the MOOC acronym).

We started to see MOOC like offerings emerge last year involving a fee for entry (a considerably lower fee than for the same traditional course). Whether this satisfies the open part of the MOOC acronym is debatable. I think such courses aren’t open in the sense that they limit access based on the ability to pay. Still such courses can offer considerably wider access to higher education than the traditional model. Other models for MOOCs appear to be struggling unless you count the idea of MOOCs as ‘loss leaders’ as promulgated by some organisations.

Personally, I see the future of MOOCs as being in community building in which you offer a valuable learning experience to a community of users that retains a connection with the course. You then provide additional, non-core, infrastructure services to the long tail of those communities for a small fee. Of course, in order to retain the community you need to rethink the course part. You need to think of it as a subject of study that doesn’t run between any particular start and end points but is a constant space in which learning materials and social interactions co-exist and are constantly developed. Let’s call it a MOOSE (massive open online subject environment).

There will be an increasing demand for skilled learning designers.

Do you know how hard it is to find a good learning designer? I do. They’re like hen’s teeth at the moment. Finding a good one is hard and will get harder as more organisations try and get them. Look to corporate training and private online higher education providers/suppliers to be the ones looking for learning designers in 2014. As a result we may finally start to see more consensus about the skills and roles of learning designers as well as more recognised development paths. Some universities will, notionally, recognise the value of learning designers. In practice, they’ll pay too little and allow learning designers to be beholden to the subject matter expert. Incidentally, this power imbalance is one of the reasons mass adoption of online learning in higher education continues to fail. Which brings us on to universities.

Universities will continue to get it wrong in transitioning to widespread use of online learning but they’ll continue to do very interesting things at the edges.

Oh dear, where to start. Let’s just say that, when it comes to adopting online learning on a large scale, universities have the organisational memory of a particularly forgetful goldfish. This means that they continue to try and implement online learning strategies that have consistently failed over the last eighteen years. I see no sign in this trend ending in 2014 for the vast majority of universities. There will be one or two exceptions where something radical and different is attempted in terms of adoption. Of these, a small proportion might get it right (I’m hopeful). Most of the, small number of, innovators will go part way down the path and then get cold feet. We’ve seen this happen already with some of the ‘online’ universities. On a more positive note, there will continue to be some very cool things done at the edges of the university. There will be some innovations to escape the limitations of locked down enterprise learning management systems, increasing use of third party services, more innovative use of mobile tech and increasing experimentation with wearable devices.

“when it comes to adopting online learning on a large scale, universities have the organisational memory of a particularly forgetful goldfish”

Other traditional higher education providers will start to get it right (but suffer from limited resources).

I’m more hopeful that meaningful adoption of online learning can occur in traditional higher/tertiary education providers that are not universities. For example, colleges of higher and further education or the training and further education sector in Australia. Unfortunately these sectors are being squeezed hard which means that there is not much capacity for organisational change. Incidentally, we might start to see some of the larger professional accreditation bodies start to stretch their wings in online learning but most are too small to try this just yet. Which brings us on to the next prediction.

“we might start to see some of the larger professional accreditation bodies start to stretch their wings in online lear”

More new organisations will emerge providing high quality online learning.

In the meantime new, more agile, organisations are busy creating extremely good online learning experiences. In 2013 I learnt a lot by completing learning activities this way. I expect it will continue to grow very quickly in 2014 and to spread from its current focus in IT and software development education to other areas. The drivers are quality, flexibility and cost. All factors that traditional higher education, more often than not, cannot match. When you couple that with open badges (or micro credentialing as some are calling it now) then you get a compelling alternative to completing a traditional higher education course. These new organisations are, of course generally, private ventures and this brings me on to the next point.

There will be more complaints about the privatisation of higher education.

There was a lot of commentary in 2013 about the perils of venture capitalists in higher education. Much of it from commentators that I admire. I don’t think they’re wrong but from my perspective higher education has already been corporatised to an excessive extent. This is particularly true in Australia where many universities have become industrialised degree mills. The focus is on marketing inappropriate courses to full fee paying students so that we can get part time staff to teach so that full time staff can write papers in journals owned by corporate publishers who then sell those papers back to the university. I just wish the perils of this form of privatisation of higher education received the same focus that the latest start-up threatening to ‘disrupt higher education’ received. We need to look critically at the motivations of all parties to the provision of higher education. Regardless, as I’ve already observed more new organisations will operating in the higher education sector. Most will be private and so we’ll see more complaints about that.

Openwashing will become more widespread.

We are starting to see the term ‘open’ being used as a selling point for services and products that are not actually open. Many MOOCs, for example, use learning material that are not actually open. Certainly not in the way that someone like David Wiley would like to see the word used. I suspect we will continue to see the word open being using in its most closed sense and, increasingly, we’ll see the openwashing of services in the same way that pseudo environmental products are ‘green washed’ to give the buyer a sense of satisfaction.

Open badges will be big but will remain largely misunderstood by mainstream higher ed (there will be high profile exceptions)

I love open badges but it took me a while to understand the concept. Mainstream higher education doesn’t understand open badges and will find it very difficult to implement them. There will be small scale examples in traditional higher education institutions. These types of projects will be just outliers in 2014. Expect them to be reported on enthusiastically in 2015 conferences. Having said that, I think the noise around open badges will be big in 2014 and deservedly so. There will be some very high profile implementations outside of mainstream higher education such as NASA’s implementation amongst others. Private courseware providers will use them more and more and they’ll start to become recognised by some employers. By the end of the year expect the start of articles on Inside Higher Education complaining about open badges with many more to come in 2015 as recalcitrant faculty start to become aware of ‘micro credentialing’ as it will be badged.

New platforms will appear focused on the self-learner.

As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it’. I’m working on a platform for self-learners and here’s why. There is a deep and vested interest in maintaining the course as the definitive container for learning. This is increasingly untenable in an age when you can learn many things in many different ways. I’m not saying that we will never need courses. I’m sure we will. I’m just saying that it is quite possible for many more learners to operate as self-learners if there is some motivation for them to do so. A platform to assist self-learners might be able to make self-learning easy and even more worthwhile than it is now.

Use of third party learning and teaching apps will increase enormously.

There are a large number (albeit a minority) of committed, knowledgeable and capable faculty for whom the functionality of in house offerings are simply not good enough or easy enough to use. The increasing availability of easy to use, free or low cost, third party services will lead to many educators voting with their feet and using those services. This will particularly be driven by the implementation of social log-ins and openid. There will be a conflict with university identities but the advantages will outweigh the disadvantages. Incidentally integrated IDs is something that universities should have invested in three years ago but very few have.

Nothing new in the LMS space

I really don’t expect anything big in 2014. Maybe in 2015 as the universities that signed up to new contracts in 2009/10/11 start to come out of contract and look for something different. We’ve already started to see both true open badging and pseudo open badging in different LMSs. That trend will probably continue this year. Canvas and Moodle will continue to make inroads. The inherent limitations of other LMSs will become even more apparent.

On-campus Edtech

I haven’t mentioned anything about on-campus educational technology mainly because I’m almost entirely focussed on wholly online learning now. If I was asked I would say that the BYOD trend will continue to increase. We will see some more interesting things with augmented reality as Google Glasses and other wearable devices become available. I would like to see lecture capture have a more critical pedagogical eye cast over it in 2014 but I’m not hopeful.

What will be big in 2014?

Given the, totally unscientific, evidence of what is going through my Twitter stream at the moment, I expect that Rhizomatic Learning will get a lot of attention this year and rightly so. This idea has been bubbling along for almost six years since Dave Cormier wrote about the concept in 2008. Inevitably some will try and apply it to everything but I think it will be successful in exactly those areas that Dave Cormier describes; that is ‘in fields where the parameters of knowledge are constantly shifting and a canon has not yet been solidified’.

What will be less big in 2014?

I expect that learning analytics will be entering Gartner’s technology trough this year. That’s not because it’s not important but because the technical and political difficulties of actually implementing it successfully have become apparent. I think it’ll come out of the trough soon enough. It has to; it’s just too important.


In summary, we’ll have another contentious year. We’ll see big growth in higher education services from outside of the university sector, a continued gnashing of teeth from established providers. Some new services and platforms will emerge to cater for different forms of learning, MOOCs will evolve and improve and open badges and rhizomatic learning will be hot.

4 Comments On “Higher education technology predictions for 2014”

  1. I have a bit of a concern about what may be thought of as rhizomatic structure… Or perhaps what I see educators around me think of as rhizomatic structure (whether they call it that or not). They talk about integrating assessment and berate anyone who wants to assess a single skill. But they all still work within the confines of the course, worse still a course of a nominal credit point amount. It becomes even worse when trying to establish evidence of prior learning. Not being able to break matter down and allow the learner to follow a path that maybe productive for them…still guiding them down a line.
    Allowing students to experience the same matter at different levels of their experience would be greatly exciting.


  2. Pingback: Higher education technology predictions for 2014 | Mark Smithers | eduhacks.in

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