Megatrends in Education

A Communique on the Horizon Project’s Recent Communique.

Many of you may have heard of the annual Horizon Report, the report put out by the New Media Consortium that tracking the most important trends technology for education over the last decade. To celebrate ten years of producing what has become a vital indicator of social change,this past January the report’s organizers brought together 100 international leaders from academia and industry. Putting their heads together, these experts identified 28 megatrends that they believe will dominate the intersection of education and technology in the coming decade. Below are the top 10:


  1. The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.
  2. People expect to work, learn, socialize, and play whenever and wherever they want to.
  3. The Internet is becoming a global mobile network–and already is at its edges.
  4. The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based and delivered over utility networks, facilitating the rapid growth of online videos and rich media.
  5. Openness–concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information–is moving from a trend to a value for much of the world.
  6. Legal notions of ownership and privacy lag behind the practices common in society.
  7. Real challenges of access, efficiency, and scale are redefining what we mean by quality and success.
  8. The Internet is constantly challenging us to rethink learning and education, while refining our notion of literacy.
  9. There is a rise in informal learning as individual needs are redefining schools, universities, and training.
  10. Business models across the education ecosystem are changing.

As is obvious in some of their conclusions, the Horizon Retreat participants were thinking across all types of educational levels and contexts. Nevertheless, I think that there are latent implications in these ideas for families and younger kids, as well as the researchers who study them. I want to highlight a few for your consideration.

– We have already seen ample evidence of how opportunities for learning are expanding beyond traditional classrooms in all sorts of exciting ways. This simultaneous blurring of boundaries and expanding of frontiers is exciting and as it should be: all of life should offer us opportunity to discover and learn.

As researchers, we should pay greater attention to both formal and informal contexts of interaction. We may also need to expand a few definitions to best understand the multiple different types of venues and conditions that comprise informal learning spaces now and in the future. After school programs, museums, and libraries have dominated our understandings up until now, but what will it mean when the park bench, coffee shop, bus or playground is considered equally as rich a site for engagement as these other venues have always been? Not only might it be harder for me as a grey-haired ethnographer to tail along and observe but understanding the learning ecosystems that youth are beginning to engage in will require more reliance on the data of kids’ app and gadget usage. While mining this trace data is enticing to many a researcher, it poses obvious privacy problems let alone problems of appropriate interpretation. Needless to say, the cloud-based, mobile, multiplex world in which we are fast moving will be ripe for analysis–especially via number-crunching of big data sets–but will require new methods and policies to assure the same standards of ethical inquiry we’ve held to in the past.

– Another thing that jumps out at me when reading these megatrends is the word ‘network’. I consider this especially relevant when paired with the word ‘literacy.’ It is true that we are part of an ever expanding “global, mobile network”–one dependent on utility infrastructures in ways that we are not even aware of. Steeped within this web as we are, it’s important that we understand how to function with it. I believe that this is a vital aspect of ‘digital literacy’ and should be included as part of the educational assessments that are currently being developed by educational policymakers. What does it mean to be part of a network? I contend that it means one should understand how networks are structured, what a position in a network signifies, how ties are built and broken, and finally how networks, particularly at the regional level, interlink to create access points to new information, new people, and new ideas. Sociologists have long studied networks and their dynamics, but moving forward navigating these should become basic skills for 21st century children (as well as their parents).

– ‘Openness’ as a megatrend is fantastic and is taking hold in all sorts of ways, especially in the governmental sector. This trend is vital moving forward, but it presupposes the ability to be a creator or producer in the first place, or in other words having data of some sort to share openly. There is a three-pronged consideration buried in this assumption that is worth explicating a bit. First, openness means that people need to have access to the tools and infrastructures that will allow them to join the global networked conversation. While the digital divide is shrinking in many ways (as traditionally defined by having access to technology), it is far from a basic right or practice around the world and even in our own country. Researchers need to continue to understand the trends here and report them widely so that efforts toward equitable access can be supported. Second, it suggests that in sharing openly, we also have the power to control our creations at some level. We need to continue to legitimize the use of licensing schemes like those set up by Creative Commons to make this social contract between openness and agency a reality. And finally, we need to be open to new ways of being creative producers. The great thing about the dynamic, collaborative network of which we are now a part, as well as the expanded, technological ecosystem in which we can now participate, is the opportunity to discover, produce and share new creations quickly and easily. The fact that these creations may not always fit our existing categories is a worthy moment for open reflection regarding how these new practices and productions might be exciting indicators of adjustment to the world identified by the ten megatrends.

At the risk of pontificating any further, let me just reiterate that researchers have much to attend to in the global, mobile, cloud-based, open and dynamic world of the near future. Rather than fear these changes or limit our reflection with overly narrow interpretations, let’s herald the approaching future of unbounded learning with a ethnographer’s eye–what do we see and how do we make sense of it? Always an exciting place to be.