3D printers in schools will be common.
3D printers in schools will be common.

Big data, open content, mobile learning, and digital printing are the big themes represented in this year’s NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition. The report is a collaboration between the New Media Consortium, the Consortium for School Networking, and the International Society for Technology in Education, pulling together an international group of experts to discuss trends and measure how mainstream emerging ed-tech approaches have become.

As with all of its reports, the group makes near, middle, and long-term projections for technology trends, as well as broader observations about the direction of the field and its challenges. What’s striking in this year’s report is that many of the projections for the K-12 space match those made in February in the NMC Horizons Report on Higher Education.

Here are the big takeaways.


The presence of the Internet in students’ lives outside of school, and especially on mobile devices, is allowing for more online and blended learning models in classrooms. That trend is supported by an increasing tolerance and even excitement among teachers for mobile devices as learning tools. As the cost of devices continues to come down, they proliferate in classrooms and can be powerful learning tools.

Print and digital textbooks are getting some serious competition from open-source content, which has captured the imagination of educators who are finding valuable content outside the prescribed realm of textbooks.

At the same time, educators feel less isolated and more inspired by relationships with colleagues fostered through social media. Some are even discovering new joy in their profession with increased access to lesson ideas and new teaching practices.


The big challenges for better using education technology are similar to ones that have long existed. There isn’t enough professional development to help educators feel comfortable using new strategies and it often isn’t part of a school’s culture. Resistance to trying new approaches remains prevalent and the status quo continues to exert a powerful inertia on the system, preventing a broader use of good ideas.

Traditional models of schooling are experiencing more competition than ever before with charter schools, for-profit operators, online learning and MOOCs pushing for change. Similarly, traditional teaching that relies on lectures and tests is being challenged by blended models of instruction.

There’s a large demand for personalized learning, but the technology tools don’t yet support the goals of those who want to use it — a big gap still exists between overall vision and available tools. Meanwhile, even as teachers are shifting to more formative assessments taken continually throughout the school year, assessment policies have not always shifted to match this change. But educators think there’s potential for digital tools to help collect formative assessment data unobtrusively.


In the next year, the NMC Horizon Report for K-12 predicts that the expectation for constant connectivity will push schools towards cloud-based computing. This trend can already be seen as schools farm out parts of their infrastructure to the cloud, but new devices like Google’s Chromebook designed to sync with the cloud are further pushing adoption.

Mobile learning has been a hot topic for several years, but it has not reached the 20 percent penetration level that NMC uses to designate a tactic mainstream. This could be its year. Some educators surveyed said they jumped on the idea of using smartphones in class right away, while others said they were more wary of the potential distractions and disruption the devices could cause. Still, the educational app market for mobile devices has exploded and shows no signs of slowing down, indicating that as the tools get better and better mobile learning will become common place.


The mid-level predictions, set for two to three years from now, line up most closely with trends in higher education. Both reports — K12 and Higher Education — noted the power and increasing prevalence of learning analytics, the practice of analyzing real time data from digital learning platforms and using that information to shape teaching strategies for individual students.

Student-data can now be used to tailor curricula and to suggest resources for students akin to the algorithms businesses use to market products to consumers. Similarly, in higher education learning analytics are being used to tailor the advising process. Perhaps even more significantly, the MOOCs that challenge the higher education paradigm rely heavily on learning analytics to direct, grade, and guide learners.

The second projection notes the rise in high-quality open content available to students around the world. Started by MIT more than ten years ago, this movement has grown rapidly and garnered excitement, especially as a way to equalize access to education. It also gives students much more choice in the learning they consume. Open-content in the form of MOOCs are already disrupting the higher education space, but this report indicates K-12 is not far behind.


3D printing has captured the imagination of people at all ages, especially as movements towards design learning take off in K-12 schools. The report notes that digital printing machines cost much less now, and that within five years it would be possible for schools to own one. Teachers can use these them to explain design concepts and to prototype building projects.

The only really new prediction in the report is for virtual and remote labs to provide students access to scientific experiences even as school districts cut back on physical lab spaces in schools. The report notes that virtual labs would allow students more time and space to practice techniques and make mistakes. Also, “in virtual and remote environments, an experiment can be conducted numerous times with greater efficiency and precision.” Some schools are already using these remote labs to save money. Still, this prediction begs the question, what could be lost if students no longer practice the physical act of science?

Six Big Tech Trends in Education to Follow 11 June,2013Katrina Schwartz

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  • SThompson

    “Still, this prediction begs the question, what could be lost if students no longer practice the physical act of science?” What will be lost is the intricate type of fine motor skills needed by surgeons.

    • Dianna

      Surgeons are using virtual environments now to hone their skills! I would much rather have a surgeon trained in an environment where s/he can make multiple mistakes on a virtual body rather than mine!

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  • Wowzers

    The article touched on an important fact about there not being enough tech professional development to match the rapid pace of these new EdTech trends. Our team recently put together 5 simple keys to help get your technology-centered PD moving in the right direction.

    Check it out at http://blog.wowzers.com/bid/297738/Five-Keys-to-EdTech-Professional-Development

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  • Harry Keller

    “The only really new prediction in the report is for virtual and remote labs to provide students access to scientific experiences even as school districts cut back on physical lab spaces in schools.”

    This may be the most controversial item in this article.

    Both simulations and remote labs have problems, but those problems and their effect on learning depend very much on the subject and the maturity level of the students.

    We’re not talking about surgeons here but about a business student taking a biology class. For those in professions where tactile skills are necessary, schools will continue to train in the old ways, augmented but not replaced by new ways. No matter how many hours a pilot spends in a simulator, that pilot must spend plenty of time in a real airplane before being able to fly solo.

    Students in college engineering classes already are benefiting significantly from remote labs. This concept is a natural for them. When the equipment is complex and expensive, why have to have it local? In some instances, you must. However, in many more, the tactile work involved is insignificant.

    Science is different. A great many science experiments just do not lend themselves to remote labs due to preparation issues, long times involved, or lack of connection to a data table being handed over across the Internet.

    The quote mentions virtual labs, which most people automatically associate with simulations. Today’s simulation capabilities make them a great way for students to visualize difficult concepts in science and engineering. Excellent narrated videos also can help with understanding. Electrical circuit simulations can help students understand concepts of electrical engineering. And so it goes.

    Yet, learning science requires some time be spent interacting with the real world. Virtual (simulated) and remote labs just don’t do that well. The former fails to provide sufficient experience with empirical work, and the latter do not have a wide enough range and also remove the data collection from the student.

    I’ll also note that virtual labs do NOT allow students to “make mistakes” in any sense that truly matters. The mistakes are pre-programmed, not a great way to learn. Besides, procedural mistakes do not teach science.

    The final sentence deserves some time. “Still, this prediction begs the question, what could be lost if students no longer practice the physical act of science?” Firstly, what most students are practicing is the physical act of being a lab technician. That’s hardly a crucial part of learning science for most students.

    We have great technologies with great potential. Let’s realize that potential and not let such negative sentences stop us. Our students can do plenty of tactile science with inexpensive and safe materials — enough science to develop the necessary understanding that can only come from these activities. That understanding has to do with experimental design and with kinesthetic experiences.

    The rest of learning science — understanding the nature of science, developing scientific thinking skills, and appreciating the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work — can come from online work with something very different than simulations and remote labs. It can come from prerecorded real experiments delivered with software that allows students to make predictions and take their own individual data using their own care and judgment, just as in a school lab. It can come from online hands-on science labs.

  • TaraD

    I found the information above to be very informative. The only thing I can seem to thing about when discussing technology trends in the classroom and how quickly technology is emerging in the world, is what are our students going to do if and when they have to communicate face-to-face especially professionally. Teaching styles seem to be changing to adapt the the emergence of technology, but is it really whats best for the students? I agree that the students need to be familiar with the trending technology so be able to be successful in the world today, but does that ,mean teachers should take out the teaching the proper way to communicate face-to-face? I even heard that they were going to stop teaching students how to write in cursive. How will they ever learn to sign their names? I am eager to learn more about the plans of technology in the classroom and the effect it will have on the students.

    • Evan M.

      Tara, I believe that challenge presented in these trends is to be able to take these technological developments and not replace what we are already teaching, but use it to supplement what we are already doing to allow us to perform our jobs as teachers more effectively and more efficiently. I can certainly agree with concerns that online, individualized formats of teaching can really take away the incredible value of teaching children to communicate and collaborate in person. However, it is important to also see the value that some technology, such as data analysis tools, can have in helping us improve our teaching to meet the specific needs of individual students.

      I am not exactly sure yet how I feel about the removal of mandated cursive instruction from the curriculum, but would classify myself as a supporter if that time is used to develop some more productive skills, such as social/emotional skills and technological literacy. I think that, as students that were forced to learn cursive, we have assigned it this special value that it may or may not truly hold. I believe that we could still teach students to sign their own names in the classroom without devoting a great deal of time to teaching a writing style that very few students seem to use later on in their education and life (though I am one who does still use cursive most of the time in my writing).

      The important thing that we should keep in mind is that we should be using technology for the sake of improving education, not for the sake of novelty or going with the flow. The other consideration that should be made when integrating new ed tech into a classroom, school, or district is that there should be a commitment to learning how to use that tech in a positive way. I hate to think how many millions of dollars have been spent to install SMART Boards across the country that are now being treated just like a whiteboard and nothing more. The key question is, “How will this improve student learning and what do we need to do to make sure teachers can use this to generate that improvement?”

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  • Ronan Mc Guire

    MOOCs are a simple answer to a complicated problem-a swelling global population. For instance, for the Indian government to keep up with the influx of new students, 1,500 new universities will have to built. Source: https://iversity.org/blog/moocs-as-agents-for-global-change/#more-175351402 For now, MOOCs are not and do not aim to replace universities, rather complement them. However, as MOOCs become more normalised, universities will issue credits for MOOOcs (San Jose University has already done this), especially for introductory/earlier classes. P2P review will also be a huge factor with the more complicated problem solving classes such as Math.

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Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She’s worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She’s a staff writer for KQED’s education blog MindShift.

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