2011 Short List: 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. This multi-year trend was again ranked very highly, indicating its continued influence. Institutions must consider the unique value that each adds to a world in which information is everywhere. In such a world, sense-making and the ability to assess the credibility of information are paramount. Mentoring and preparing students for the world in which they will live, the central role of the university when it achieved its modern form in the 14th century, is again at the forefront. Universities have always been seen as the gold standard for educational credentialing, but emerging certification programs from other sources are eroding the value of that mission daily.
  • Computers as we know them are in the process of a massive reinvention. The computer is smaller, lighter, and better connected than ever before, without the need for wires or bulky peripherals. In many cases, smart phones and other mobile devices are sufficient for basic computing needs, and only specialized tasks require a keyboard, large monitor, and a mouse. Mobiles are connected to an ecosystem of applications supported by cloud computing technologies that can be downloaded and used instantly, for pennies. As the capabilities and interfaces of small computing devices improve, our ideas about when — or whether — a traditional computer is necessary are changing as well.
  • Devices like Apple's iPad are filling a niche that is neither 'big smart phone' or 'small laptop.' As more people use, and discuss the ways they are finding to use, devices like the iPad, it is becoming clear that these are neither oversized phones nor stripped-down laptops. Instead, they represent a new class of devices that perhaps we were not even aware we wanted until they became available — and almost ubiquitous. They are more and more commonly seen, and are already gaining a footing in education, the health industry, and other sectors as tools for learning and for serious work.
  • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to. This highly-ranked trend, noted last year, continues to permeate all aspects of daily living. Life in an increasingly busy world where learners must balance demands from home, work, school, and family poses a host of logistical challenges with which today’s ever more mobile students must cope. A faster approach is often perceived as a better approach, and as such people want easy and timely access not only to the information on the network, but to their social networks that can help them to interpret it and maximize its value. The implications for informal learning are profound, as are the notions of “just-in-time” learning and “found” learning, both ways of maximizing the impact of learning by ensuring it is timely and efficient.
  • The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized. The continuing acceptance and adoption of cloud-based applications and services is changing not only the ways we configure and use software and file storage, but even how we conceptualize those functions. It does not matter where our work is stored; what matters is that our information is accessible no matter where we are or what device we choose to use. Globally, in huge numbers, we are growing used to a model of browser-based software that is device-independent. While some challenges still remain, specifically with notions of privacy and control, the promise of significant cost savings is an important driver in the search for solutions.
  • There is a growing willingness on the part of administrators to consider new approaches to combining face-to-face and technology-assisted instruction. While blended methods of instruction have been part of the toolset available to faculty for over two decades, they are becoming increasingly common. Older students with jobs and families, and students who live in remote locations that prevent regular on-campus attendance, have long sought alternative means of attending courses. Today we are seeing a growing number of conventional students opting for blended classes, and remote instruction is also seen as a viable means of supporting increasingly large survey courses that cannot be accommodated in existing classroom spaces. For these and other reasons, administrators are more interested than ever in these kinds of approaches.
  • What were previously thought of as new and disruptive forms of scholarship are now becoming the norm for scholarly communication. Blogs, open textbooks, electronic journals, and forms of expression embodied in new media formats have challenged the notions of scholarly writing and communication for several years. Yet these techniques are increasingly common and are readily accepted as informal outlets for scholarly work. A more gradual trend toward official acceptance is moving slowly, but its stirrings are visible in the adoption of electronic content, experiments with crowd-sourcing, and open, online peer review of scholarly work. This trend is related to the challenge of developing metrics for evaluating such work, noted in 2010 as well as again this year.
  • The world of work is increasingly collaborative, driving changes in the way student projects are structured. This trend is being driven by the increasingly global and cooperative nature of business interactions facilitated by Internet technologies. The days of isolated desk jobs are disappearing, giving way to models in which teams work actively together to address issues too far-reaching or complex for a single worker to resolve alone. While this trend is not widespread, where schools have created a climate in which students, their peers, and their teachers are all working towards the same goals, where research is something open even to first year students, the results have shown tantalizing promise. Over the past few years, the emergence of a raft of new (and often free) tools has made collaboration easier than at any other point in history.