Horizon Report 2017: Accelerators, Challenges, Technologies, Categories – Complex Forecast for Higher Ed Tech

The New Media Consortium (NMC) recently unveiled the latest Horizon Report 2017 Higher Ed Edition. A group of over 70 international experts prepared the report.


The 2017 Horizon report identifies 24 topics with impact on planning and decision-making in the educational technology sector: Six key trends accelerating technology adoption, six significant challenges for technology adoption, six important technological developments, and six meta-categories that continuously influence movements in higher education.

The Horizon team uses a modified Delphi approach that involves experts in a two-step moderated group discussion to identify possible future developments. This strategy is used to predict the impact of new technological trends or innovations. The collaborative online workspace is available for review as the Horizon Report Wiki.

Over the years, the Horizon project has engaged 2,000 practitioners and researchers. In any given year, a third of the panelists are new, to encourage fresh perspectives. Nominations to serve on the Horizon panel can be submitted at go.nmc.org/panel.


This edition’s expert panelists come from 22 different countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Spain, Japan, Turkey, Germany, France, Peru, Taiwan, Ireland, Brazil, Cyprus, Denmark, Mexico, New Zealand, Colombia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sweden, The Netherlands.


As the report states ‘To plan for the future, it is important to look back’. In 2003, the NMC launched the first Horizon Report research cycle. ’From 2004-2008, the New Media Consortium released one single annual edition of the Horizon report. In 2009, the NMC added a K-12 edition to the series, followed by the Museum edition in 2010 and the Library edition in 2014.

Until 2012, each report followed the same structure, highlighting six emerging technologies or practices based on time to adoption (one year or less, two to three years, four to five years). In 2013, the report introduced a new section on ‘significant challenges’; and the 2014 edition brought with it a complete structural overhaul, which tripled the number of trends and developments discussed in the report. This year’s edition added 6 meta-categories to the mix. The length of the report has grown accordingly: It started out with a 28 page document in 2004. The 2017 edition is 60 pages long.

 Six Meta-categories for Movements in Higher Education

This year’s report engages in a historic review of trends from the past six years (2012-2017) and extracts six overarching themes.

  • Expanding Access and Convenience: People expect to learn and work anywhere. The advent of always connected devices allows higher education institutions to offer workflows and platforms that increase flexibility for faculty, students and staff.
  • Spurring Innovation: Higher education institutions are viewed as incubators of products, processes and people that spread innovation.
  • Fostering Authentic Learning: Creating rich, hands-on, real world experiences for students and allowing learners to co-create their knowledge ecosystem are persistent pedagogical trends.
  • Tracking and Evaluating Evidence: Institutions are becoming more adept at leveraging data to inform decision-making across departments and campuses.
  • Improving the Teaching Profession: Educators are not always sufficiently motivated or adequately rewarded to improve their teaching craft. Programs that recognize and scale positive teaching are a necessity.
  • Spreading Digital Fluency: While digital tools have become ubiquitous, they need to be integrated in the learning process in meaningful ways. Simply being able to use devices is not enough. Instead, it is important to make connections between tools and intended outcomes, as well as creatively leveraging technology in different contexts.

Six Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption

The Horizon report identifies six key trends that are likely to drive technology planning and decision-making: Long-term trends will influence the educational technology sector over the next five years and beyond, mid-term trends will be influential for the next 3-5 years, and short-term trends are likely to become commonplace or fade away in 1-2 years.

  1. Blended Learning Designs: In terms of trends in the short-term, the report foresees a rising amount of online and blended learning offerings that complement traditional classroom activities on campus.
  2. Collaborative Learning: Collaborative learning offers social, emotional and learning gains. This pedagogical framework is depicted as a short term trend. Cloud-based tools, apps, and shared workspaces allow educators to promote pedagogies that center on peer-to-peer and group learning.
  3. Redesigning Learning Spaces: As a mid-term trend, the report identifies the effort of reconfiguring learning spaces to better support new forms of teaching and learning.  Traditional rows of chairs with writing surfaces facing a podium make room for  more dynamic classroom layouts, often with seating arrangements that foster collaborative work.
  4. Growing Focus on Measuring Learning: Measuring learning through data-driven practice and assessment is seen as another mid-term trend. As institutions are facing pressure from accreditation bodies and governing agencies to document student achievement and learning outcomes, this process may be facilitated by learning analytics. Universities use statistical and data mining tools to recognize challenges early, improve student outcomes, and personalize the learning experience.
  5. Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation: As a long-term trend, the report predicts a cultural shift in institutional leadership and curricular structures towards agile start-up models that foster flexibility, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking Future higher education environments that are ready to quickly change processes and strategies as start-ups do can experience more efficient implementation of new practices and pedagogies.
  6. Deeper Learning Approaches: As another long-term trend, the report highlight pedagogies that foster deep learning instead of surface learning strategies are seen as a mid-term trend. Deeper learning approaches favor hands-on and student-centered experiences, giving students more freedom to be creative without rigid guidelines.

Six Significant Challenges for Technology Adoption

The report lists six challenges that are not charted on a timeline, but categorized as solvable, difficult and wicked, depending on how well we understand the scope of the problem and its potential solutions.

  1. Improving Digital Literacy Skills: As the traditional view of literacy as the ability to read and write has expanded to encompass fluency in using digital tools and online information with aptitude and creativity. In order to improve digital literacy, both students and faculty need support and training.
  2. Integrating Formal and Informal Learning: As one can learn something about almost anything at the palm of one’s hand, self-directed learning, led by curiosity or serendipitous discovery, has the potential to enrich formal learning in higher education. However, institutions struggle to acknowledge and validate informal learning experiences.
  3. Achievement Gap: The achievement gap reflects a disparity in enrollment, academic performance and completion between student groups, defined by socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and gender.
  4. Advancing Digital Equity: Access to technology, particularly broadband Internet, is not equal around the world. Promoting participation, communication and learning requires to overcome barriers of access.
  5. Managing Knowledge Obsolesce: Just as faculty and staff have mastered one technology, a new version launches. Staying current and organized presents a challenge to the academic world.
  6. Rethinking the Roles of Educators: Educators are expected to skillfully leverage a variety of digital tools, active learning methodologies as well as online discussions and collaborative authoring.

Six Important Developments in Educational Technology

In its final section, the report discusses emerging educational technologies that have the potential to foster changes in education within the next five years – for example through the development of progressive pedagogies and learning strategies, the organization of teachers’ work or the delivery of content. Educational technologies are broadly defined as tools and resources used to improve teaching, learning, and creative inquiry. Currently, the NMC monitors seven different types: 1) Consumer technologies, (2) digital strategies, (3) technologies enabling transformative innovation, (4) Internet technologies, (5) learning technologies, (6) social media technologies, (7) visualization technologies.

  1. Adaptive Learning Technologies: A growing number of learning applications adjust over time to user data, thus customizing learning experiences for individual needs on a large scale. This can happen by adapting instructional material according to individual user data, or by aggregating data across a large sample of users to optimize curricula.
  2. Mobile Learning: The pervasiveness of mobile devices is changing the way people interact with content and their surroundings. Mobile technologies can reach underserved students and offer gateways to personalized learning environments.
  3. The Internet of Things: Internet of Things (IoT) signifies a network of objects that connect the physical realm and the information technology sphere by embedding chips, sensors or tiny processors into objects so that they can transmit information such as age, cost, color, pressure or humidity. Application options in higher education include streamlining processes, automation and data-driven sustainability efforts.
  4. Next-Generation LMS: How can learning management systems become more flexible and better support personal learning environments? Next-Generation LMS will shift the focus from administrative tasks to deeper learning.
  5. Artificial Intelligence: Creating intelligent machines that mimic human behavior can bolster productivity and engagement and offer personalized learning experiences.
  6. Natural User Interfaces (NUIs): These interfaces accept input in the form of taps, swipes, touch, hand and arm motions, gestures, facial expressions, and natural language. NUIs are becoming instrumental for research and training in the medical professions and has the potential to offer greater access for learners with disabilities.


Given the rapidly changing environments of modern societies there is a growing need to know about the development of future technologies and their impact upon societal changes. Reducing risks and identifying opportunities are common motives for studying the future.  Various reports, projects, surveys and workshops aim to depict future needs and emerging themes in education, for example the CORE Education’s Ten Trends Annual Report (New Zealand), the Innovating Pedagogy Report (UK), or the European TEL-MAP project.

Among these publications and initiatives, the Horizon report forms an influential resource for educators that are interested in not only learning what the emerging trends are, but also how they might be able to participate in and shape the transformation process.

The Horizon report has repeatedly been criticized by prominent figures such as Stephen Downes (on the 2015 edition) and Audrey Watters for a lack of reflection of its own history. On the flipside, the report is a great corpus to analyze recurring conversations and singular topics in the edtech community.

In my experience, the value of trend forecasts like the Horizon Report lies less in offering correct prognosis about the future and more in inspiring discourse within the community by depicting alternative futures for educational technology adoption.

Educational technology and technological change are both drivers and results of complex interactions in the context of social, economic, and political forces. In its current form, the Horizon report tries very hard to capture the complexity. As a conversation starter, I personally found the report easier to use and more engaging when it clearly focused on six technologies. As an instructional analyst, I am frequently asked ‘Oh, the new Horizon report is out, well what does it say?’. Amidst the challenges, accelerators and overarching themes, I find it difficult to leverage the report for influencing discussions or debating innovative trends within my organization.

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  Comments: 2

  1. Dear Stephanie,

    Thank you very much for this invaluable information as it has confirmed my curiosity in terms of the latest and greatest needs in the corporate learning industry. In preparing the abstract for my PhD thesis, I have been wondering what is most voted innovative strategy for training leaders on emotional intelligence skills, and this study confirmed my suspicions.

    There seems to be a scarcity of courses that are based on adaptive learning. The way games are designed, you start from a very basic level using some very basic skills. As you are mastering these skills, more and more features are unlocked and you go to better and better levels. And as you’re progressing to the next level, more and more tools are available to you. If we add ‘adaptive learning’ to ‘learning by doing’ espcially for testing and applying those newly learnt soft skills such as EQ skills, then we will have surely have whopping results.

    I truly believe that if we start this approach with any kind of course early on, in schools and universities, before even getting to corporate training, there will be a stonger more innovative generation of employees.

    Thank you

    Maya Al Hawary

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