Although technology is ever-evolving, there are ways to stay on top of what's happening and to keep an eye on the innovation horizon. Certainly, jargon abounds, and you may at times feel lost when you hear someone talking about the next 'latest and greatest' technology tool in online teaching.

Useful links

'NMC Horizon report: 2014 Higher Education Edition' – a publication on emerging...

Take time to identify colleagues on your campus who have successfully implemented new approaches incorporating technology tools, and ask them for guidance. It's likely that they will have feedback from their students on what works and doesn't work, and recommendations on where to go for ideas, training, and support. You could also review industry reports for the 'hype' vs. 'hope' considerations, and explore how other institutions are integrating new technology tools or approaches into their online teaching (see the 'Useful links' pod to the right).

Take time to identify colleagues on your campus who have successfully implemented new approaches incorporating technology tools, and ask them for guidance. It's likely that they will have feedback from their students on what works and doesn't work, and recommendations on where to go for ideas, training, and support. You could also review industry reports for the 'hype' vs. 'hope' considerations, and explore how other institutions are integrating new technology tools or approaches into their online teaching (see the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section).

Do this icon

Remember to consider the life span of a new technology tool or approach. Review the educational technology sites listed in this course for more case studies and implementation practices for the technology tools that you are most interested in using before you take on a new implementation.

In the following activity, click on each section to learn more about some of the learning approaches and/or (supporting) technology tools on the horizon in online learning today.

What learning approaches and/or (supporting) technology tools are on the horizon in online and blended learning today? The following paragraphs will provide you with a few suggestions. Can you think of any additional approaches or technology tools not listed here?

Video interview

Watch the following interviews. In the first, Dr. Bryan Alexander, a senior...

Read the following interviews. In the first, Dr. Bryan Alexander, a senior...

Portfolio activity

Download 'Envisioning the future of education technology', a visualisa...


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are large-scale open access courses that are typically free. Many MOOCs are based on a community learning model, where students can contribute course content/act as peer graders.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality allows users to layer information associated with physical spaces. Imagine a field trip to a natural space that is enhanced by data that appears on a tablet or smartphone when held up to an associated item.


Game-based learning provides users with a 'play' approach, and allows for goal-based achievements, social interaction, and simulation of real world experiences. Often, gamified learning includes badges of some sort (to be won) or a leader board to promote student involvement and engagement.

Mobile applications (apps)

Mobile applications for learning abound, and interfaces for most LMS/VLEs are available. Discipline-specific apps allow students to delve into subject matter, and photo and video apps enable the creation and upload of content. Check with your institution to see if there is already an available mobile app for accessing campus information.

Informal learning

Institutions are embracing the assessment of prior and informal learning to include in a student profile, at times counting it towards degree credit. Informal learning can take the shape of online internships and independent studies outside of your institution, with credit approval options available.

Learning analytics

Learning analytics is the review, analysis, and use of data in assessing student progress, predicting future performance, and identifying ways to remove the challenges that students face as they progress in their learning. (See earlier in this course for more on learning analytics.)

Becoming familiar with what technology tools or approaches are available will also help guide you through the review, selection, and adaptation process.

Remember, the most important things to keep in mind when considering the latest technology tools for online and blended learning are what you want your students to be doing, and how you will measure their success against set learning objectives.

Useful links


Read the following interviews. In the first, Dr. Bryan Alexander, a senior fellow at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), discusses the concept of educational 'futurism'. In the second, practitioners provide tips on how to keep up with technology trends and how to use technology in the classroom, especially if you are a new or more sceptical online teacher. They also predict which technologies will have the greatest impact in the future.

What does it mean to be a 'futurist' in the education arena?

Dr. Bryan Alexander
Senior Fellow, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education

To be a futurist now we have to look at demographics. The population of children in the United States who are aged one to eighteen has been shrinking over the past ten years. For the past two years, the number of students enrolled in college and university has gone down. For the first time in two generations. And now, we can look forward to or rather anticipate, more of the same going ahead. So demographics are powerful, because they're baked into a population. Unless something extraordinarily horrible happens, they won't go away. So that gives us one way of looking forward. So, to be a futurist you have to connect one of those larger social-wide forces, and then plug into something like state-wide curricular reform, or digital literacy, or what does it mean to reform pedagogy in the age of the internet.

A second thing to be a futurist in the world of higher education is that you must be social, you have to be open to the world of discussion, because it has become so extraordinarily complex under the impact of technology that no one person can get a handle on this. You can't just withdraw to a study, think very hard for a few days, and then come out with a new theory. You have to interact with people. So, I have to use Twitter, I have to use Google Plus, all the time, all day long, in order to interact with, to crowdsource if you will, networks of people. I can push ideas out and say, 'Here's a new story. What do you think about this?' I can trawl for their observations and ideas. It's a kind of group mind, if you will, way of getting at the future, which is much more powerful than simply being alone.

What is the Horizon Report and how has it changed the way you explore new technologies?

The Horizon Report is a fascinating and so far unique project. It's a Delphi process. A Delphi process is a way of getting at the future. The trick is to take a group of experts – maybe a dozen, maybe a couple of dozen – locate them, trap them in a room, and have them reiterate and rethink their ideas about the future of their field, whatever the field is. This was developed in the sixties by the Rand Corporation. It's been used in fields all over the world. The Horizon Report uses about four-dozen experts from around the world, people from Hong Kong, people from Britain and from the United States. It doesn't put them in the same room, but online makes them work through a series of wikis and discussion forums to try to develop what they think is going to happen in the near future of higher education technology.

The term comes from identifying three different horizons where technologies will start hitting higher education, the horizon of one year and shorter, a two- to three-year horizon, and a four- to five-year horizon. The group identifies trends and then along with those trends brings out problems and challenges facing higher education. I've been working on this for maybe ten years. It's a terrific project. I've been the chair of the board, but it's run by the New Media Consortium out of Texas, and it's changed the way I think, in part because it helped introduce me to the idea of crowdsourcing the future, working collaboratively, but also it gave me the idea of longitudinal work.

So every year, it's an annual project, I can look back and see the trends and technologies that Horizon identified and see not just when they were right, when they did happen, but also which trends take longer to come to pass than we thought. So Horizon identified game-based learning about four years ago as a major trend, and they keep it out there in the two- to three-, if not four- to five-, year range, and that doesn't mean Horizon was wrong. In part, it means, 'Well, what did we miss? What's going on in the world that's making this take a little longer?' That's very instructive for me. Horizon was a huge fan of virtual worlds. Virtual worlds never took off. That's interesting. What does it tell us about teaching and learning? Why doesn't something like Second Life-, why don't we inhabit that now as a default teaching medium? That's very, very useful.

At the same time, when Horizon gets things dead right, that's exciting, not just because of the thrill of that but also to be able to help people plan ahead, to see what could be coming down to the pike, and then to practise and anticipate that ahead of time. I think in this economy, and in the middle of all these challenges higher education faces, I think that's essential.

How do you stay on top of technology trends in online teaching?

Professor Steve Wheeler
Associate Professor of Learning Technology, Plymouth University

I do have an incredibly good and strong professional and personal learning network. I'm tapped into over 1500 people on Twitter, for instance. All of whom I've selected personally because I believe that they are at the leading edge of my profession, which is learning and teaching through technology. So, I follow those, and I'm gaining some incredible insights into what people share on Twitter. I share a lot of what I do on Twitter as well, and I share it for free, and hopefully other people do the same thing.

So, I'm constantly reading blogs. I tend not to read books and journal articles so much anymore, which is interesting, because there's such a lead-in time to getting those published. I mean, some journal articles can take up to two years to publish, which is ridiculous when it comes to technology which is moving, you know, so fast. So I tend to read the blogs and the online journals, which are turned around a lot quicker.

Dr. Bryan Alexander
Senior Fellow, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education

I follow podcasts very closely, because they don't have a lot of visible presence in the world. That's partly because they're overshadowed by YouTube and partly because they tend to disappear in iTunes. They're not very visible, which is a funny thing to say about audio, but they're not really recognised. So to track them gives you an advantage.

In what ways can a new or sceptical teacher start to integrate technology to support students in their learning?

Associate Professor Carl Reidsema
Director of Teaching and Learning (Engineering), University of Queensland

Get as much information and help from people outside your specific area of expertise. One of the most valuable people I can point people to are the educational designers or learning designers, which is probably hidden in various institutions but at least in our institution provide an enormous source of inspiration, enthusiasm and effort to help academics like myself who don't have all that time to build feasible tools.

Dr. Bryan Alexander: My recommendations are as follows. A teacher should start with some one technology or approach. Not multiple but just pick one, and preferably one that they feel some personal degree of comfort with. To get to that point, I don't mean thinking, are you comfortable with using a particular piece of courseware. I mean, a teacher should think about what technology they use in their personal lives, maybe their research life but also what they use at home. Do they watch Netflix for streaming video? Do they buy with Amazon? What games do they play with their kids? To think about that.

I find again and again, when I talk to American faculty, they'll say, 'Ah, I'm not very comfortable with technology, but I play Xbox with my children. I'm pretty good at it.' 'Well, you are comfortable with technology,' I'll say, 'It's just not one that you've been thinking about as much.' So to think about that and then to pick some technology to use in the classroom and focus on that one technology. Get used to it, hone your use of it and repeat it over time. Then, if you'd like, branch out into something else.

Can you give an example of how you encouraged a sceptical colleague to use technology in their learning?

Matthew Newcombe
Head of e-Learning, University of Exeter

One particular example that I worked with a number of years ago was an academic who really did not want to put their teaching materials online. They felt very strongly that these materials were theirs and that they had a very effective way of delivering it both through face-to-face and on paper. With a number of meetings with that particular person, we identified actually that the materials they had could be very effectively translated to an online environment to allow students to collaborate through the environment we had available to us to actually build additional materials to support them.

Now, at first the academic was not particularly keen on making that transition. They felt very much it was challenging their own academic integrity. But through support and putting the right team around them, we actually encouraged them to start experimenting with online environments. And what they actually found from that is that allowing students to have access to the materials electronically and allowing them to create additional support materials around it benefitted the students through the experience. They were able to reduce time in their face-to-face lecture that they were having to cover some of the key aspects of it, and they could identify very efficiently where students were challenged by something or they hadn't understood something previously. And through that reflective sort of cycle that we put in place for them, it made their teaching much more easy for them through some of their face-to-face lectures.

Which types of technologies will have the greatest impact on the future of online teaching?

Professor Steve Wheeler: The technology, I think, that's having the greatest impact at the moment has to be mobile technology. It has to be the smartphone or even not a smartphone just a mobile phone, because with those tools students are able to capture information, learn on the go. They don't have to be in the classroom. They don't even have to be at home. They can be on the beach, or they can be in a bus or a train or something. That, to me, is total liberation for learning outside of the classroom. In fact, most learning takes place outside the classroom. Let's face it, 80% of what we learn, according to most theorists, is informal, it's outside the classroom. Let's take what we learn inside the classroom and let's amplify it outside the classroom using mobile phones. So that's the first technology, I think, that's going to make a big difference in the future and already is making a difference.

Dr. Bryan Alexander: There are whole series of technologies that could really transform teaching and learning in higher education, and I think one of them is really the whole set of systems that goes under the header of 'ubiquitous computing'. If we think about mobile computing, distributed devices, there are whole sets of combinations of these that unfold that we haven't really pursued.

For example, remote sensors can be attached to many, many things. We've seen examples of this in engineering, where a scientist can take a bridge, cover it with very, very small, very cheap remote sensors, and then from his office follow the bridge as it flexes, as it responds to weather, track it over time. We can do this with almost anything. So imagine urban studies being able to put sensors on cars just to quickly track traffic patterns. Or, you know, if we wanted to look at London and see where people actually were walking, have lots of people carry around sensors on their phones or wherever then map that through GPS afterwards, or GIS.

Another aspect of ubiquitous computing is what we call 'augmented reality'. Augmented reality refers to taking digital content, digital data and pinning it to the physical world. An early, a very powerful, example of this is GPS mapping, where in your car or as you walk you can have a map delivered to where you are.

A more powerful example is what we call augmented-reality visualisation. This is where you take a phone or any other mobile device with a camera, point it at an object, and the computer inside the phone will then download data about the object and superimpose it over what you're looking at. There's a European Commission project called iTacitus where you can go to European Heritage Sites like palazzos in Italy, walk around them, and then download to your phone historical documents about them, such as a Renaissance-era floor plan or photographs and movie stills from the twentieth century, and then take it away. And have the pure unmediated experience of the object and then bring back the entire digital world right to it. So augmented reality has affordances that we're just beginning to get into.


Duration: 45 minutes

Download 'Envisioning the future of education technology', a visualisation that attempts to organise a series of emerging technology tools and approaches likely to influence education in the coming decades. Then reflect on the following questions:

  • What new technology tool or approach piques your interest the most?
    • What will it enable your students to do?
    • How do you envision integrating it into your online teaching?
    • How do you envision measuring the success of this implementation?
  • What new technology tool or use of technology worries you?
    • What downsides or challenges do you associate with it?
    • How might you address these concerns? Can you find help and support within your institution?

Use the attached document to record your responses or use the relevant page of your Teaching Online portfolio. You may wish to share your responses with your peers and comment on their own responses.