The six technologies featured in each Horizon Report are placed along three adoption horizons that indicate likely time frames for their entrance into mainstream use for teaching, learning, or creative applications in the K-12 environment. The near-term horizon assumes the likelihood of entry into the mainstream for schools within the next twelve months; the mid-term horizon, within two to three years; and the far-term, within four to five years. It should be noted that the Horizon Report is not a predictive tool. It is meant, rather, to highlight emerging technologies with considerable potential for our focus areas of teaching, learning, and creative expression. Each of them is already the focus of work at a number of innovative schools around the world, and the work we showcase here reveals the promise of a wider impact.
On the near-term horizon — that is, within the next 12 months — are cloud computing and collaborative environments. Both appeared in the 2009 Horizon Report: K-12 Edition, and their reappearance here is an indication of continued interest in these technologies. Cloud computing, viewed in 2009 as two to three years away from mainstream adoption, has seen dramatic uptake by schools over the past twelve months — but only in one of its forms. Schools commonly use cloud-based applications today, but the promise of the cloud’s extensive resources for computation, research, and collaborative work has yet to be realized. Similarly, collaborative environments appear again, and remain on the near-term horizon, as a reflection of their importance to education and of the fact that they have been adopted in part, but not to the full extent of their potential.
- Cloud computing has transformed the way we think about computing and communication, data storage and access, and collaborative work. 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 can be complete, off-the-shelf packages or collections of do-it-yourself tools, depending on the level of comfort of the teachers and support personnel and the needs of the students using the systems. 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 second adoption horizon is set two to three years out, 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 already; and both are expected to see much broader use in pre-college education over the next two to three years. Mobiles make a repeat appearance this year. While the Advisory Board acknowledges their great potential for learning, the reality is that 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.
- 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 realization of this potential is still two to three years away.
- 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. Increasingly, and more so in the developing world, the Internet is accessed 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.
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 (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 are seen as an important enabling technology in development, and those that exist today hint at what will be possible in coming years. 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.
Each of these technologies is described in detail in the body of the report. These sections open with a discussion of what the technology is and why it is relevant to teaching, learning, and creative inquiry. Examples of the technology in practice, especially in schools, are listed there to illustrate how it is being adopted at the current time. Our research indicates that all six of these technologies, taken together, will have a significant impact on learning-focused organizations within the next five years.