Technology enhanced learning environments aren’t ubiquitous yet.  Not in a literal sense anyway.  However, pervasive access to networked information within overlapping spheres of educational context from a diverse range of human-computer interaction is creating a habitat for more ubiquitous learning environments.  That’s at least one conclusion that could be drawn from the 2011 Horizon Report.

The annual Horizon Report is collaboration between the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) and the New Media Consortium.  Each year, the Horizon Report is published based on research used to identify and describe six emerging technologies with considerable potential to both enter mainstream use and have a significant impact on higher education within one to five years.  The full report can be downloaded from here.

The following key trends, critical challenges and technologies to watch are taken directly from the executive summary:

Key Trends

  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.
  • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want.
  •  The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured.
  •  The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.

Critical Challenges

  • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.
  •  Appropriate metrics of evaluation lag behind the emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching.
  •  Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university.
  • Keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools, and devices is challenging for students and teachers alike.

Technologies to Watch

Electronic books continue to generate strong interest in the consumer sector and are increasingly available on campuses as well.  Modern electronic readers support note-taking and research activities, and are beginning to augment these basic functions with new capabilities — from immersive experiences to support for social interaction — that are changing our perception of what it means to read.

Mobiles enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity, and much more.  Mobile devices continue to evolve, but it is the increased access to affordable and reliable networks that is driving this technology now.  Mobiles are capable computing devices in their own right — and they are increasingly a user’s first choice for Internet access.

Augmented reality refers to the layering of information over a view or representation of the normal world, offering users the ability to access place-based information in ways that are compellingly intuitive.  Augmented reality brings a significant potential to supplement information delivered via computers, mobile devices, video, and even the printed book.  Much simpler to create and use now than in the past, augmented reality feels at once fresh and new, yet an easy extension of existing expectations and practices.

Game-based learning has grown in recent years as research continues to demonstrate its effectiveness for learning for students of all ages.  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 coursework, and in many institutions they are already an option; but the greatest potential of games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration, problem-solving, and procedural thinking.  

Gesture-based computing moves the control of computers from a mouse and keyboard to the motions of the body via new input devices.  Depicted in science fiction movies for years, gesture-based computing is now more grounded in reality thanks to the recent arrival of interface technologies such as Kinect, SixthSense, and Tamper, which make interactions with computational devices far more intuitive and embodied.

Learning analytics loosely joins a variety of data-gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance, and progress in practice, with the goal of using what is learned to revise curricula, teaching, and assessment in real time.  Building on the kinds of information generated by Google Analytics and other similar tools, learning analytics aims to mobilize the power of data-mining tools in the service of learning, and embracing the complexity, diversity, and abundance of information that dynamic learning environments can generate.

I read the 2011 Horizon Report while on vacation at a Disney resort in Florida.  It provided an appropriate backdrop in many ways.  The Disney theme parks employ a variety of computational devices and information systems simultaneously in order to provide distinct entertainment venues.  Sometimes patrons may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so.  At other times the interaction with the technology is the entertainment.  Some of the experiences offered by Disney are also meant to both educate and entertain (a.k.a. “edutainment”). 

There’s another interesting concept referred to as “u-Learning” or ubiquitous learning.  But what does a u-Learning environment consist of?  How does it differ from “edutainment”? 

The College of Education  Ubiquitous Learning Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one organization that is focused on exploring the concept of u-Learning.  Dr. Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University, gave a presentation titled “The Evolution of Ubiquitous Learning: Semi-Smart Objects, Intelligent Contexts, and Cyberinfrastructure” at the Ubiquitous Learning Institute launch on April 7, 2010 which provides some interesting insights and visionary possibilities.  A 48 minute video of Dr. Dede’s presentation can be viewed here.   

But we’re still left with the question posed by Dr. Dede, “What would an expert model of ubiquitous learning look like if we saw one?”

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