Can we really predict the future of instructional technology?


As the Instructional Technology Council (ITC) continues our series of articles focusing on the anticipated impact of distance learning over the next 10 years, it’s reasonable for readers to be at least somewhat skeptical. So, I decided to do a little experiment with a sample of convenience and a sample of 1. 

About 13 years ago, my college president’s assistant told me that “the president wanted me to” predict the top five technological innovations that will impact higher education within the next few years. My first reaction was annoyance. After all, as I paraphrased in a blog post from 2010, asking me to predict how technology will impact education is like asking the Wright brothers how frequent flyer miles will impact commercial air travel (I didn’t originate that comment, but I can’t remember who did). My second reaction was to refer him to the Horizon Reports. After all, why should I do the work when Educause was already doing it.

Editor’s note: The Instructional Technology Council continues its series of articles focusing on the anticipated impact of distance learning over the next 10 years.

Finally, I buckled down and wrote up the memo that eventually became a blog post. Let’s see how my predications that “the most important technological advances are not ‘things,’ they are usage improvements based on what already exists. True innovation will arise out of the concepts of convergence, integration, decoupling, social networks and predictive analytics” fared, after more than a decade. 

How’d I do?

I was somewhat familiar with the concepts of incremental vs. disruptive innovation at the time, and I thought Dr. Christensen was a bit off the mark predicting disruptive innovation due to educational technology, but I did feel certain there would be incremental innovation. After all, as a keynote speaker at a long-ago ITC Annual Conference once said: “Technology doesn’t change pedagogy, pedagogues change pedagogy.” And he then went on to make some very unflattering but evidence-based comments about the intransigence of pedagogues.

In 2010 I predicted convergence. To see if this came true, look at your audio/visual departments and libraries. At one time, we had 16mm film projectors, 35mm filmstrip projectors, record players, cassette tape players, VHS video players, 3/4” video players, overhead transparency projectors and so on. Today still images, moving images, text, audio and video all come from our laptops through a single projector.  Libraries have migrated to (converged on) largely digital collections as well. So yes, the future can be predicted. That’s one out of one.

How about integration? We do see examples of this happening, but maybe not in such an obvious way.  Faculty keep grades, attendance and course materials on the same platform these days, and a decade ago that was not necessarily the case. But our LMS and ERP systems are still separate products from different vendors, not as tightly integrated as they could be. So, let’s give that a 0.5 for 1.5 out of two.

Decoupling? Absolutely! In the blog I predicted, to a greater or lesser extent, the growth of competency-based education (CBE), micro-credentials and open educational resources. All of which are happening. Plus, we see various combinations and permutations of decoupling, integration and convergence all happening simultaneously. We’ve decoupled credentials from degree completion and award career certificates and industry certifications through our non-credit or workforce development operations and then articulate them back towards college credits leading to full degrees. Or at least we should be doing that! I’m claiming this is a perfect prediction bringing me to 2.5 out of three.

Unexpected benefits and shortcomings

Now, my predictions about social networks may be a stretch, if you assume I mean online services such as Facebook or Twitter. I don’t and didn’t but services like those do let us network in ways we couldn’t before. I actually meant leveraging the power of human interaction via technology. For example, one day, my then-teenage son started running into and out of his bedroom and making cup after cup of tea, holding each one up to his webcam afterwards. It turns out that he had been playing computer games with a worldwide cohort of “friends” and someone from England decided to teach the American kid how to make a “proper cuppa.” This type of impromptu educational experience would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. 

When was the last time you Googled a job candidate, or posted an opening on a social network? Have you ever learned how to fix your car from watching a YouTube video? I have. Do you use a listerv to crowdsource the answer to thorny issues, or email a colleague to see how they handled something similar? You do this every day, don’t you – or at least, you’ve done some of them. I’m taking the win.  3.5 out of four.

Finally, predictive analytics. Yeah, we’re trying. Early alert systems, data dashboards and other tools are starting to make inroads into higher education. But we’re nowhere near where our colleagues in business and industry are. I expected we would be farther along by now. I’m only giving myself a score of 0.25, bringing my total to 3.75 out of five or a total of 75% accuracy 13 years after my 2010 predictions.

Let’s answer the question in the title. Can we predict the future of instructional technology? Sure, absolutely, some of the time, for broad general categories.

About the Author

Martin Hoffman
Dr. Martin A. Hoffman, Sr., is chief information officer at Rowan College at Burlington County in New Jersey.
The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.