2019 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report – Review and Summary

In April of this year, the 2019 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report came out, archived here in LearnTechLib. For the uninitiated, the Horizon Report profiles what an expert panel of international leaders from across higher education identify as six key trends accelerating technology adoption, six significant challenges impending technology adoption, and six important developments in educational technology.

AACE Review has been profiling reports since 2015. These specific posts can be found via a click on the magnifying lens in the upper right corner and using the terms “Horizon Report.”

Additionally Learn TechLib archived all previous editions of the Horizon report in one centralized repository which can be found with other reports here: https://www.learntechlib.org/reports/

Following the flow of the report itself, this article will provide a high-level overview of the six key trends, the six significant challenges, and the six important developments. In addition, this post will also contain a high-level overview of a new addition to the 2019 report, a section at the end called “Fail or Scale.”  This section looks back at trends identified in the technology development section of previous reports, documenting if they were able to successfully scale or, if the innovation failed to scale, speculating what factors might be at play.


> Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption <

A trend is a general movement in which something is headed. Key trends in higher education refer to active places where higher education is moving. To aid evaluation, the Horizon Report separates out trends into short-term (one to two years), mid-term (three to five years) and long-term time (five years+) blocks. Time block allotment is based on speculation as to how long it might take for the trend to be implemented or see widespread adoption.

Short-Term Trends

  1. Redesigning Learning Spaces

In recent years, many educators have transitioned into a more active learning format, incorporating higher amounts of collaborative learning and co-creation. These pedagogical shifts necessitate a shift in classroom planning and space layout. This trend was identified as being a mid-term trend in 2017.  Its move from mid-term to short-term indicates it is a trend being increasingly adapted and normalized into higher education. The new challenge identified is moving beyond simply the physical space and into the virtual space of online course delivery begging the question, what is the virtual or online equivalent of creating a dynamic classroom layout?

  1. Blended Learning Designs

Blended learning design is traditionally defined as learning that involves both face-to-face and fully online delivery. The term is beginning to expand to include learning that integrates a variety of media-rich digital solutions into the learning journey. Though traditional blended learning is a well-established component of many program offerings, this newly expanded definition opens the way for faculty to begin incorporating more innovative technological approaches to the learning environment. Faculty professional development becomes key so that faculty can take full advantage of the pedagogical potential within digital platforms.

Mid-Term Trends

  1. Advancing Cultures of Innovation

A culture of innovation is one that seeks to provide students with experiences that will better prepare them for the workforce. This most often happens through entrepreneurial campus partnerships to provide students workplace preparedness skills which most often are outside of their institutional discipline or chosen major. The Horizon Report posits that strategic vendor-institution relationships will increasingly take hold in education.

  1. Growing Focus on Measuring Learning

Data generated through increasingly sophisticated digital learning environments presents a treasure trove of potential for tracking student progress and monitoring learning outcomes. This trend calls on all participants in the higher education sphere to better understand data and distinguish between learner generated data and in so doing, differentiate between assessment and engagement to ensure adequate learning and content mastery.

Long-Term Trends

  1. Rethinking How Institutions Work

Increasingly institutions must work to develop new strategies to serve learners who deviate from the age and lifestyle demographics of a traditional residential college student. The Horizon Report sees this long-term trend as a slow evolution of educational practice as institutions grapple with course delivery and workplace readiness. If institutions do not begin conscious thought in this direction, they will struggle to remain relevant in the long term.

  1. Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees

Modularized and disaggregated degrees purpose to give learners more control of their unique learning journey by blending formal education with modularized online learning, skills certificates, and digital badges. Because elements of these assembled degrees often are executed in tandem with industry partnerships, they have deep potential to create a highly practical, work-ready skillset for graduates.

> Significant Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption <

The Horizon Report defines significant challenges as those that have the ability to hinder technology adoption. As with the trends, challenges too are separated out into three categories: solvable, difficult, and wicked. Solvable challenges have a relatively clear cause and effect relationship thus are relatively easy to solve. Difficult challenges are broadly understood but complex enough that a clear solution is not as evident. Wicked challenges are challenges which are only marginally understood and often operate at a highly complex, systemic level.

Solvable Challenges

  1. Improving Digital Fluency

Digital fluency is the ability to use digital platforms and tools to communicate critically, create content, and overall make informed decisions. A step beyond digital literacy, digital fluency implies a rich understanding of the connected nature of the digital environment. This challenge calls for faculty to move beyond preparing students to merely be comfortable using digital tools for their search capability and encourage greater creative making and critical thinking with the tools themselves.

  1. Increasing Demand for Digital Learning Experience and Instructional Design Expertise

With the increase in digital integration into learning experiences comes an equal need for an increase in people who are trained in instructional design and able to work collaboratively on cross discipline course design teams. This challenge calls for continued collaborative instructor-instructional designer relationships.

Difficult Challenges

  1. The Evolving Role of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies

Because they tend to come at the issue from two different perspectives, strategies espoused by teaching faculty and those espoused by instructional designers or larger institutional systems can often be at opposite ends of the spectrum from one another. This challenge calls for establishing faculty buy-in at the earliest stage of any ed tech strategic initiative.

  1. Achievement Gap

The achievement gap refers to the unequal distribution of benefits and results in education. Achievement gaps are observable and predictable and yet also defy easy solutions. This challenge calls for greater investigation into what student success might look like at an institutional level and accompanying creative thinking into the diverse factors (both curricular and holistic) that might serve to lessen the gap.

Wicked Challenges

  1. Advancing Digital Equity

Digital equity refers to digital access, both technology and broadband connectivity that is adequate to enable full internet participation. Internet access is deeply unequal, often split along gender, race, and income lines. This challenge identifies access to the internet and technology as being much larger than something any one institution can solve and calls for increased awareness as to how all participants involved in higher education can work to promote inclusion.

  1. Rethinking the Practice of Teaching

In addition to changes in student profile and institutional mission, the teaching practice itself is changing within higher education. This challenge calls for greater curiosity and self-reflection amongst faculty about their role as teacher asking the question, how does the role of teacher shift and change when the teacher moves from the transmitter of knowledge to the facilitator of curator of digital information?

> Important Developments in Educational Technology <

Important developments refer to technologies predicted to hold important roles in teaching, learning, and creative inquiry. Like trends, these developments are again paced in years with an anticipated adaption scale ranging from one year or less, to two to three years, to finally four to five years.

One Year or Less

  1. Mobile Learning

Mobile learning refers to the ability to access learning resources on a mobile or tablet device. Because such a large majority of learners are now using mobile devices to access course material, course design must become responsive by design. This development calls on faculty to be trained on how to structure content in a mobile friendly manner including structuring content for shorter time on task and optimizing files.

  1. Analytics Technologies

Increasingly, student data is being transformed through analytics technologies. These technologies allow dynamic patterns of behavior to emerge which can then be tracked to successful completion or flag a student for potential at-risk behavior, possibly triggering a student services intervention. This development calls on faculty and institutions to be intentional and strategic with student data and implement analytics technologies foregrounded in student experience and ultimately educational success.

Two to Three Years

  1. Mixed Reality

Mixed reality is the intersection of offline and online worlds. It is where digital and physical objects coexist. In a mixed reality environment, the virtual or online merges with the offline or physical. Participants can construct new understanding of situations through a virtual guide overlay. This development calls on faculty and institutions to better imagine how mixed reality might provide immersive learning and in so doing become catalytic in critical thinking and experiential discussions of empathy.

  1. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence or AI is the practice of using computer systems or computer intelligence to accomplish tasks that once relied exclusively on human cognition or human thinking. AI can easily process and synthesize large amounts of data leading to increased overall efficiency. In addition, AI can be implemented to provide just in time tutoring and support leading to increase student retention and success. This development calls on institutions to critically consider how they might use artificial intelligence systems to help them better find coherence and relevance amongst all the various system level inputs.

Four to Five Years

  1. Blockchain

Blockchain technology is a decentralized system of distributed data. When used in education, blockchain endeavors to provide a means for individual students to keep a verifiable account of their experience and knowledge by presenting a trace of coursework and practical skills. This development calls on institutions to become oriented to the blockchain concept taking note in particular the role of blockchain in student records tracking and management.

  1. Virtual Assistants

Voice activated virtual assistants such as Siri or Alexa are becoming common place in many home settings. This technology is extending into higher education through chat bots set to answer common student services questions. This development calls on institutions to begin thinking creatively about how the capability of natural language processing and just in time help might be implemented to help with student success.

Fail or Scale

In an effort to look back and further contextualize past forecasts, this edition of the Horizon Report concluded with a section called fail or scale. This section looks back at trends identified in the technology development section of previous reports, documenting if they were able to successfully scale or, if the innovation failed to scale, speculating what factors might be at play. The three trends profiled are: adaptive learning, augmented and mixed reality, and gaming and gamification.

Adaptive Learning

Adaptive learning first appeared in the Horizon Report in 2015 as a long-term development. Though adaptive learning has made gains, the panel feels that the high investment requirements to enable it to scale has made it slow to take off. Perhaps it will still come into its own in the future but for the moment it is not seeing the widespread implementation once predicted.

Augmented and Mixed Reality

The 2016 Horizon Report speculated that augmented reality and virtual worlds were two to three years from experiencing widespread adoption. Though augmented and virtual reality has seen widespread gains, the panel still feels that this technology in particular is suffering from a mild identity crises. The technology is available and ready to scale but what is often lacking is the pedagogical “why?” behind implementation.

Gaming and Gamification

From 2012 to 2014 the gaming and gamification were repeated contenders in the two to three year implementation range. However, in 2015 gamification left the report and has not been on it since. The panel speculates that creating educational games is just too expensive an endeavor to scale thus most likely will not see widespread implementation.


By following a rigorous and openly documented process of dialogue amongst an international range of diverse participants, this year’s Horizon Report continues to provide a provocative launching point for discussions around technology integration in higher education. The goal of this report is to identify topics that might be of potential relevance to teaching and learning as well as creative inquiry in higher. Though it does strive to be comprehensive, the methodology section of the report freely acknowledges that this is a speculative report at best and as such nothing is yet set in stone.

In the spirit of open dialogue, do you agree with the Horizon Report assessment? Are there any advances the report has identified that you do not resonate with? Or advances you would include that the panel overlooked? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

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