"Predicting" the Future of EdTech

As 2018 starts, I get lots of questions about what are the “most important” technologies and trends that will impact learning.  As head of the Consortium for School Networking, CoSN, it makes sense that our leaders and the media want to know where to focus their attention and budgets to have the most impact. Unfortunately, “predicting” technology is fraught with problems, and accuracy is at the top of the list. This is the moment to bring out spectacularly wrong predictions from brilliant persons:

  • In 1889, Thomas Edison said “Fooling around with alternating current (AC) is just a waste of time.  Nobody will use it, ever.” 
  • In 1943, IBM Chairman Thomas Watson said “… there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
  • In 2007, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” 

OK, so let’s be honest that predictions are tricky and the best way to predict is basically looking in the rear view mirror. But, I think there is a meaningful way to think about the future, and that is using the word “invent”. 

Rather than starting with the stuff (technologies), let’s start with defining our vision for learning.  The fundamental question is: What should learning look like today? My personal answer is that our learning environment should allow learners to create their own personalized path, allowing them to dive deeper and be critical thinkers.  It should enable creativity.  It should enable collaboration.  It should be equitably available and not create new divides.  It should create accessibility for all learners.  And, it should be used in a way that is ethical and helps us understand each other better.

I believe when technology solves the previous paragraph, it makes a profound difference. Technology, like a pen or paper or book or chalkboard, is a tool.  A tool can be used in great ways – think of a masterpiece by Shakespeare vs. a trashy novel.  But too often we say technology is “just” a tool.  History has been changed with the tools of the past (the wheel, the printing press, the steam engine, etc.), so it is not simply a tool but rather a powerful way to change the world.

How would you answer the question: What should learning look like today?  How would your school system answer that question?

Here are some ideas on how you can enable a meaningful conversation about technology for learning:

  1. Start by asking your community (perhaps your school, school board, PTA, etc.) what is OUR vision for learning today?
  2. Explore what are the new technology trends impacting learning.  I recommend using the 2017 Horizon K-12 Report which CoSN co-produces to see what some leading experts think are the most important trends/technologies. *
  3. Create a conversation.  The accompanying 2017 Horizon K-12 Toolkit has some useful resources on how to do that.  Best of all, these resources are free.

So, let’s make our 2018 Ed Tech Resolution to invent the future of learning that we desire.