In a fast-moving field like education technology, it’s worth taking a moment to take stock of new developments, persistent trends and the challenges to effective tech implementation in real classrooms. The NMC Horizon 2015 K-12 report offers a snapshot of where ed tech stands now and where it is likely to go in the next five years, according to 56 education and technology experts from 22 countries.


Deeper Learning: The expert panel identified several long-term trends that will greatly influence the adoption of technology in classrooms over the next five years and beyond. They see worldwide educators focusing on “deeper learning” outcomes that try to connect what happens in the classroom to experts and experiences beyond school as an important trend.

Teachers at the cutting edge of this work are asking students to use technology to access and synthesize information in the service of finding solutions to multifaceted, complex problems they might encounter in the real world. The popularity of project-based learning, global collaboration and integrated learning experiences is driving this trend and powerful tech use as an extension of it.

Rethinking Traditions: Educators are also rethinking how school has traditionally worked, questioning everything from school schedules, to how individual disciplines are taught and how success and creativity are measured. This macro trend to shake up typical ways of schooling is opening new opportunities for technology to play an even bigger role in education. Finland took a big step toward reimagining school when it did away with many traditional subjects in favor of interdisciplinary classes that more accurately reflect a world in which disciplines influence one another. Some U.S districts have also tried to reimagine how school would look with movements toward competency-based models that don’t rely on time in class as the constant variable.

Collaborations: In the next three to four years, experts see collaborative social learning and a move to transition students from consumers to creators as big trends in education technology. Educators have long known learning is a social process — when teachers and students create meaning together, often the results are much more effective. The NMC Horizon report highlights four principles of collaborative learning: “placing the learner at the center, emphasizing interaction and doing, working in groups, and developing solutions to real-world problems.” Working in this way necessarily pushes students to create solutions, rather than passively consume content, lectures and lessons handed out by teachers. Access to mobile technology especially has helped students feel comfortable in the role of digital creator.

Blended Learning: Blended learning, or the use of technology alongside in-person instruction from a teacher, has been included in the NMC Horizons report before. Now, experts see it as a short-term trend that is quickly becoming common in many classrooms and is driving many efforts to integrate technology. STEAM programs, in which teachers integrate the arts and humanities into teaching about science, technology, engineering and math, is also a short-term trend driving technology.


Authentic Learning: As with any changing industry, there are many problems standing in the way of effective technology implementation. Some problems are already being solved in creative ways by educators setting an example of the way forward, while others are more difficult and haven’t yet been solved. One challenge that persists in mainstream education is how to create truly authentic learning opportunities within the bureaucracy of schools. As with other education buzzwords, many schools believe they are providing authentic learning, but they don’t offer the apprenticeships, vocational training and portfolio-based assessments that often characterize work that carries larger life lessons.

2015 K-12 Report Topics Graphic

Professional Development: Another challenge being met in some places is how to incorporate technology into teacher-training programs. When teachers don’t use technology in their classrooms, it’s often because they don’t feel comfortable with it or don’t see how it enhances their teaching. Exposure during teacher training would help seed good practices early and ingrain digital literacy as an important skill for students to learn. As things stand now, many teachers receive professional development around technology platforms that often turn over or are replaced by something else. The report notes, “This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.”

Personalized Learning & Teacher’s Role: Two of the much more difficult challenges facing tech integration are effective strategies for personalizing learning and reevaluating the role of teachers in education. These two challenges go hand-in-hand, as they require a complete re-engineering of the school experience, rather than tinkering around the edges of traditional school. Many school leaders believe that by using technology and adaptive software to allow students to move at different paces, they are offering “personalized learning.” But the experts behind this report caution that, “this approach may be indicative of personalized learning solutions being sold to schools as a mass commodity that helps them raise standardized test scores, ultimately missing the goal of making learning a more meaningful experience.”

The value in “personalized learning” lies in student autonomy and individualized instruction and support, not in the control and compliance model required to achieve high test scores. If this more radical and child-centered definition of “personalized” is to be achieved, the role teachers play also need reimagining. With online interactions facilitating collaboration for both students and teachers, and learning taking place at all times of the day online and off, a lot is being asked of teachers. Their guidance is no longer confined to school hours.

The report points out that teachers are no longer information distributors, but their new role has not always been well defined or supported by education leaders and policymakers:

“In ideal situations, the teacher’s role is becoming that of a mentor, visiting with groups and individual learners during class to help guide them, while allowing them to have more of a say in their own learning. However, these types of interactions and the enabling use of technology are not always inherent or sufficiently integrated in pre-service training.”

Scalability: The really thorny challenges — those that are “complex to define, let alone address” — provide food for thought. Experts identified scaling innovative technologies and approaches as one intractable dilemma. Educators are familiar with the frustration of trying to break through rules and bureaucracy to experiment with innovative ideas. While inspiring teaching is happening all over the world, in many cases it does so in pockets, due to the tireless work of a dedicated educator, and not as part of mainstream education.

A similarly tricky problem lies in how to teach students the complex thinking skills that will be required to nimbly move through future challenges. One way educators are trying to cultivate these skills is through computer science and coding. However, coding alone won’t solve all the problems of the world, and as long as traditional school remains siloed into discrete subject areas, it will be difficult to allow students opportunities to tackle truly complex problems.


BYOD/Maker Movement: In just one or two years, experts predict Bring Your Own Device policies and makerspaces will be commonplace in schools. A 2014 Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) survey found that 81 percent of surveyed schools either had a BYOD policy or planned to implement one. These policies reflect the reality of students’ lives and can also cut down on school technology costs. Similarly, the popular Maker Movement and increasing emphasis on hands-on learning has propelled school makerspaces into the limelight. School leaders see these spaces as a way for students to take initiative: designing, prototyping and building their ideas from start to finish.

3-D Printing: The report notes that in the next two to three years, 3-D printing and adaptive learning technologies will have become mainstream school technologies. Experts believe 3-D printing offers tremendous opportunities for students to explore objects and concepts that might be difficult to experience in school. The printer can help students visualize mathematical graphs and models or touch replicas of historic artifacts. Low-cost online design tools and cheaper machines are helping to make 3-D printing accessible to schools, while project-based pedagogy is making it popular.

Adaptive Learning: Adaptive learning refers to software that adjusts to students’ learning needs as they use the product. Increasingly, this kind of software is being used to allow each student to move at his or her own pace. The idea is tremendously appealing to some education leaders, while others worry that relying on software to recognize student needs will actually diminish the personalized attention from an educator that each student deserves.

While the authors of the NMC Horizon report feel adaptive learning could soon be a game changer, they caution that the software may not be sophisticated enough yet to meet educators’ dreams. Instead, the authors posit its best use may be to analyze macro-level data on the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction.

Badges and Wearables: On the long-term horizon, experts see digital badges and wearable technology as important technology developments in four to five years. Badges are already being used to recognize competence in a skill in digital spaces like Khan Academy. Increasingly, schools are looking to badges as a way to validate informal learning for both students and teachers. While not yet pervasive, badges could offer a more comprehensive way to certify learning opportunities, inside and outside of school.

NMC Horizon reports have highlighted wearable technology in the past, pointing to learning opportunities in virtual reality experiences and the potential for biometric devices to teach about nutrition and exercise. Now, educators around the world are beginning to use wearable technology to push limits and offer creative outlets, but use is not widespread. Experts note one place that wearable technology could have a particularly large impact is on disabled students.

What Education Technology Could Look Like Over the Next Five Years 29 June,2015Katrina Schwartz

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  • Peter Fogarty

    What a fabulous, detailed article. I think that Minecraft will be common in schools in 5 Years time. In fact, I think Minecraft will be the new PowerPoint in the future. I think the days of a flat presentation are over. Students want to be able to walk around their work space and interact and collaborate with others. I have started doing this by presenting weekly mental maths and spelling tests in a Minecraft world at

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  • Concept Charters
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  • jim kelly

    Little of this will be realized until
    information providers spend some serious time improving the user interfaces to
    their information.


    If this is the best that the New Media Coalition can come up with in an authoritative report on the future of educational technology five years down the road then we are certainly in trouble. The “Trends” section of the report could have been written nearly word for word thirty years ago in a discussion of the wonderful potential that the Apple IIE or the IBM PC had in the classroom setting.

    As for the “Developments in Ed Tech” section:

    The BYOD movement is a technical and policy challenge but educationally seems little more than the system allowing the students to bring their own pencil, pen, book, paper, or other educational communication tool to class rather than being required to use the one supplied by the school. It seems to support school finance more than educational goals.

    The “Maker Movement” does have some potential if there is time set aside in the curriculum to explore that potential. When you allow or require “students to take initiative: designing, prototyping and building their ideas from start to finish” learning starts to take massive amounts of time and must deal with very high levels of failure in the process. I have serious doubts that this can be incorporated into the regular curriculum while still trying to meet the stringent performance requirements imposed by the current trend toward high stakes standardized testing.

    I see 3d printing as as one of the required technologies to support the “Maker Movement” style of exploratory learning as discussed above.

    We ave been discussing “Adaptive Learning” for thirty years or more to my knowledge. The discussion has been carried out under different names over the years. “Prescription Learning” and “Individualized Learning” or “Individualized Curriculum” are only a couple of the iterations this concept has been through. This is the ideal of education, to teach every student every concept in every subject in just the way that they learn most effectively. Sadly I have yet to see any evidence of any project dealing with individualized learning that has been able effectively scale it beyond a single classroom or subject for any extended period of time. Now with the Massive amounts of computing power available to every individual in the palm of their hand, with desktop and laptop computers that have capabilities that far exceed the the mainframe systems that were available only to government and corporate entities a decade or two ago, with sensor, data cloud and data input, and sensory options never before available, with the cloud making literally the entirety of humanities knowledge and learning available to every individual, the best we can do is to use this capability to “analyze macro-level data on the effectiveness of curriculum and instruction”. OMG!!

    And as far as “Badges and Wearables”; I believe that the Boy and Girl Scouts, 4H Clubs, and other similar organizations have been using “merit badges” for about a hundred years to “recognize competence in a skill”. And in the schools this seems too similar to gaining a “gold star” for mastering a particular competence. And the current most effective use for wearables is “to teach about nutrition and exercise”. The authors allude to some unspecified and rare efforts to “to use wearable technology to push limits and offer creative outlets”.

    For me this article was more depressing than inspiring. If these are our best efforts then I have little hope for the future of our current educational system. Despite recent political buzzwords and PR campaigns we are certainly leaving too may children behind. It is nearly impossible for me to see how we can use the newly available technologies to teach effectively in the legacy educational system and school culture that we seem so reluctant to even modify let alone replace. I could go on about this for some time but if universal public education is to remain relevant in the future then it’s whole structure must adapt very rapidly before it is too far behind! It must become revolutionary rather than evolutionary!

  • Bart Zehren

    Have you heard or seen this popular refrain; something like: “What do Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Paige, Will Wright, Jimmy Wales and Jeff Bezos have in common?”

    What usually follows is a nice list of personality attributes (e.g., ambition, drive, determination, get-up-and-go, stubborn refusal to give up or quit, maybe even: creativity, rebelliousness, introversion, etc.) that just happen to nicely support the speaker’s theme. But these are soft personality attributes that any researcher knows are devilishly difficult to measure unambiguously. To me it’s such a self-serving argument that it’s self-evidently a suspicious one.

    Instead, I say all these successful high-tech innovators and successful business leaders had these three things in common:
    1) Attended a Montessori school or pre-school as a child
    2) Knew how to write code
    3) Grew up in a family that was financially secure

    The only one I know is true is #1, but I bet the others are true as well. They’re certainly more likely to be true and they’re much more objective and measurable, so at least I can be proven wrong. Am I?

    Besides, some totally NOT NEW educational approaches, like Montessori, are where we need to take a new look, and turn our attention, to best address the very issues Katrina has so nicely outlined here. If you know any remarkable teachers with tons of experience with Montessori AND with traditional methods, then you know what I am talking about. We can waste valuable time and effort if we focus too exclusively on the shiny and the new. Let’s keep Katrina’s smart analysis, not just the whiz-bang and the trendy, uppermost in mind. After all, some of these current but superficial debates in education are as old as the sky, yet they can spur spasms of useless activity when used in mindless ways. This article adds value amid that chaos and mayhem.


      I can’t say that I am in total disagreement but a couple of comments:

      1 – As far as the commonalities you mentioned: 1) Attended a Montessori school or pre-school as a child 2) Knew how to write code
      3) Grew up in a family that was financially secure. These may all be true but it is also true that correlation does not imply causation. Any one or all of these may have been contributing factor(s) to the success of the people you discuss but not necessarily so.

      2 – I would not consider the Montessori method as part of the current “universal public education” structure and I respect their system and the achievements of their alumni. Given the current cultural climate I am not convinced that the Montessori Schools can be more or even as effective as the current system if the measure of success used is the current standardized high stakes testing?

      3 – Respecting my previous post, I apologize to Ms. Schwartz and the New Media Coalition if my comments were taken as a critique of either her article or their report. My fear is that both the article and the NMC Horizon 2015 K-12 report were accurate and my comments were meant to be a critique of our educations system in general. I have watched the same concepts move through the system now for thirty years or more under different trendy names of the moment , authentic learning, deeper learning, project based learning, individualized instruction, adaptive learning. They flow through, show great promise, and then ultimately get beaten down by the bureaucracy, and eventually restart the cycle with a new name. To pay lip service to revolutionary change with out any or with very minor real change, to keep singing the same refrain over and over for years or decades and not make any real revision in the system, and then to expect any appreciable change in outcomes is just silly. I believe, and after 30 years in the system I am well aware that I seem to be in the minority, that ADVANCED INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES USED EFFECTIVELY BY WELL TRAINED EDUCATORS IN A STRUCTURE THAT SUPPORTS THEM, offer our best hope of significantly improving the education of future generations. It’s time for a revised/replaced system that supports trained teachers with new tools. The education community needs to stop pouring fresh wine into old skins.

      “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Mathew 9-17

  • A lot of these items are also on the Education Technology plan that the department of Education has just released. Mobile is definitely becoming more and more important for educators to be aware of. all you need to do is to walk around campus and you will see how many students are on their smart phones or tablets. Mobile is the future and educational institutions in many regards are falling behind.

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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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