Coming over the digital horizon…

horizon-918494_1920The higher education edition of the annual NMC ‘Horizon’ Report aims to identify and describe important developments in technology likely to have a large impact over the coming five years in education around the world, based on both primary and secondary research. It considers the potential impact of six key trends that drive technology decision-making and planning, six significant challenges to the adoption of new technologies and six important developments in educational technology. The topics addressed in this year’s report are shown in the graphic below.

NMC Horizon Report 2016 - Topics

Topics addressed in the NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition

Given Oxford’s tutorial model of individual and small-group research-led teaching (arguably the ultimate in personalised learning!), it’s not always immediately clear how some of these topics apply to the University. However, the challenges of ‘BYOD’ will be familiar to readers of last week’s News from Academic IT, and issues associated with digital literacy and balancing one’s connected and unconnected lives resonate with data collected by the DIGE 2 project. Indeed, we’ll report on how students at Oxford tackle (or fail to tackle) the problem of distraction associated with digital devices and the internet in the Week 7 issue of this newsletter.

Interestingly, the increasing use of blended learning designs is also reflected in the collegiate University. Participants in the Replay lecture capture pilot projects have been experimenting with the Panopto software to create short online presentations to supplement their students’ learning: for example, to cover basic or background information in advance of the lecture, or to bring students up to date with developments in research. Short presentations (‘podules’) with associated quizzes have been created by¬†Professor William James of the School of Pathology as self-guided study aids for medical students on clinical rotations who are unable to attend full-length lectures in Oxford.

A strong theme that cuts across almost all three sections of the ‘Horizon’ report is the function of higher education as preparation for the workplace; indeed, almost all of the topics are approached in relation to graduate employability. For example, the ‘advancing cultures of innovation’ are seen as an institutional response to the demands of employers for ‘an agile, adaptive and inventive’ workforce, while the shift to deeper learning approaches is considered within the acquisition of skills that are ‘directly aligned with the workforce and strengthening the national economy.’ Sadly, the notion that learning experiences can cultivate students’ curiosity and excitement to explore subjects in more depth is referred to only once.

The extent to which universities should focus on preparing students for living and working in a digital world proved a contentious topic among both staff and student participants in the DIGE 2 project, and we will share some of the views from both sides of the debate in a future article.

The tendency to privilege STEM subjects over the humanities and social sciences (one consequence of the concern with employability) is acknowledged in the report, as is the strong defence mounted by these other disciplines. However, it remains the case that most of the technological developments described in the final sections are relevant primarily to the sciences; prospects for digital support for learning in the humanities and social sciences are largely confined to the development of study skills.

Opinions expressed in this article, whether explicitly or implicitly, are those of the author alone. They do not represent the position of the Academic IT Group as a whole or the University of Oxford.


Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Hall, C. (2016). NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) 4.0 International Licence.

Image credits:
Top: CC0 (public domain) from Pixabay.
Bottom: CC BY The New Media Consortium

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