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A look into the future of teaching and learning

23 June 2014

The latest set of Horizon Report predictions inspired a group of UCL technophiles to discuss what’s around the corner

horizon report future learning technology

For a sneak preview of tomorrow’s learning technology, the Horizon Report is a good place to start.

Published by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and based on consultation with 53 experts from 13 countries, the report identifies emerging technologies likely to have an impact in higher education over the next five years.

At the final UCL Arena Summits and Horizons session of the year, UCL E-learning Environments (ELE) and the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Technology (CALT) assembled their own crack team of experts to share their thoughts on the report and give their verdict on the changes we can expect to see in the coming years.

Here are the key trends and challenges to look out for:

Social media won’t stop growing – which is good news for higher education

Dr Fiona Strawbridge, Head of ELE, used the latest data to illustrate just how ubiquitous social media has become.

More than 1.2 billion people now regularly use Facebook, while about 40 per cent of the world’s population use some from of social media. And according to a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 100 per cent of surveyed universities and colleges use social media for some purpose.

So how can this trend benefit teaching in higher education? The Horizon Report points towards collaboration. Twitter and Facebook, for example, are both ready-made forums that are already being used by large student groups to effectively share information and ideas.

Meanwhile, social media tools also give students the chance to reach outside their institutions and connect with professional experts and the wider public.

Gamification – a new-ish word for making learning fun

For those unfamiliar with the term, gamification is the integration of gaming elements into non-game situations and scenarios. Business, industry and the military have all begun to realise the potential of using gameplay to increase engagement and drive results, and higher education isn’t far behind.

US institution Kaplan University, for example, saw the benefits when it gamified its IT degree programme by introducing online challenges and badges. Students’ grades reportedly improved nine per cent, while the number of students who failed the course dropped by 16 per cent.

The likes of FourSquare, Tipsi and Untappd – apps that contain reward systems - were all cited as real-world examples of the concept.

Technology creates as many problems as opportunities. So what is UCL doing about it?

According to the Horizon Report, significant issues that need to be confronted sector-wide include the low digital fluency of staff, the difficulty in introducing innovations to mainstream practice, potential competition from MOOCs and the relative lack of rewards for teaching.

For those interested in these issues, there is a busy calendar of events that should shed some light on UCL’s efforts to deal with these problems.

ELE is currently working on a digital festival designed to encourage digital literacy – look out for more information on digifest on the E-Learning Blog

Two conferences on the topic of MOOCs are being held at UCL over the summer - one arranged by the Bartlett and the other by the Association for Learning Technology - and the UCL President & Provost has committed to instigating a review of the promotions criteria. The SLMS Teaching and Promotion Event on 9 July promises to provide examples of UCL staff receiving promotions on the basis of their teaching.

Meanwile, the Portal is undergoing redevelopment with the aim of improving the way it shares and spreads good ideas.

Clive Young has his head in the cloud, and he’s not alone

Dr Clive Young, ELE, presented the results of a staff survey that reveals what colleagues across UCL are doing in the cloud – and how best to support them.

The findings showed lots of cloud-based resources were being used, though some more than others. There were pockets of activity rather than a UCL-wide level of engagement, said Clive, and personal use of an application had not necessarily yet led to professional use. Dropbox is the most-used cloud-based tool overall (including use in teaching, research and outside of work), while Youtube comes out on top for teaching with one in three respondents using the tool.

For Clive, it comes down to the following equation: technology + support + processes = adoption. “Or in other words, if we get the technology, support and processes correct and in place then adoption will follow.”

Read more about the study on the E-Learning Blog.

But what about privacy?

Janina Dewitz, ELE, used her presentation to sound a note of caution.

Privacy concerns following in the wake of Edward Snowdon’s revelations has led many to question who has access to their data. There is a trend for opting out of social media and taking holidays from technology, which raises the issue of student involvement.

In particular, students may object to the transparency associated with learning analytics, which is itself predicted to grow by the Horizon Report authors. Which trend will win out?

The futurists are right most of the time, but not always

The first Horizon Report was published in 2002, which means we have plenty of opportunities - 11, in fact - to see how their predictions fare.

CALT’s Dr Nick Grindle explained that while some technologies such as mobile computing, apps and cloud computing have materialised within the predicted timeframes, one area which has still to reach its potential is gaming and gamification, first mentioned in the 2005 report. This is once again featured on the latest report (see above), and is one of the themes of the forthcoming call for submissions for the E-Learning Development Grants. Perhaps its time has finally come?

More trends to look out for




Near term (1-2 years)

  • Ubiquity of social media
  • Integration of online, hybrid  and collaborative environments


  • Low digital fluency of staff
  • Lack of rewards for teaching versus research

Near term (1-2 years)

  • The flipped classroom
  • Learning analytics – using big data to drive and support student learning

Medium term (3-4 years)

  • Data-driven learning (analytics)
  • Students as creators (makespaces and hackspaces)


  • Competition from new educational models such as MOOCS
  • Scaling innovation within historically conservative institutions

Medium term (3-4 years)

  • 3D printing
  • Games and gamification

Far term (5+ years)

  • Agile approaches to change (students as entrepreneurs)
  • Evolution of e-learning as a viable alternative to traditional face to face teaching


  • Expanding access to higher education
  • Keeping education relevant for the future workforce

Far term (4+ years)

  • The quantified self – using smart technology to track your daily activities
  • Virtual assistants – lifelike interactions with technology

Further information

Page last modified on 23 jun 14 14:24

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