Ed tech fads and trends

This is the third in a series of posts looking at recently published reports on education technology. Earlier posts reviewed The New Media Consortium Horizon K-12 Technology Report and Education Week Technology Counts 2015, both of which have received a fair amount of media attention. An even more accurate and valuable presentation, recently given by Frank Catalano of Intrinsic Strategy, has received much less attention. Similar to the Horizon report, Catalano looks ahead at trends that he foresees in the next three to five years. As his title “Trends to watch—and fads to avoid” suggests, he casts a critical eye on recent developments and forecasts. He evaluates trends and explains whether he believes they are strong, moderate, or fads. Trends he believes are strong include:

  • BYOD: he quotes data from Project Tomorrow, which is the best large annual survey of students regarding technology. He believes that content developers have to design for mobile devices—which many publishers are already doing—because of the move to BYOD (which inherently involves mobile devices, because BYOD doesn’t stand for “bring your own desktop” computer).
  • Concerns around student data privacy. He notes that this is not just an online learning issue, but applies as “consumer apps also enter the classroom.” This is true—and will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

Moderate trends include:

  • Open educational resources, which he sees being driven by “foundation and government money.”
  • Freemium, which he describes as “products or services that have a useful version that is free forever, with an upsell for more scale (say, from individual classroom to school district level) or for more features.”

Fads are:

  • Believing that a single device will dominate, such as iPads or Chromebooks.
  • MOOCs (which he calls “faddish” because although MOOCs overall are a fad, parts of MOOCs are being repurposed into blended courses).
  • Digital badges.

I believe that the evidence suggests that Catalano is mostly on target. One area where I think he may be off is in believing that open educational resources will be a moderate trend. OER has been the next big thing for at least a decade—with some ups and downs during that time—but there’s no consistent signal that suggests that OER are about to become a major (or even moderate) factor in U.S. K-12 education. The problem with most OER initiatives is that OER proponents far under-value two areas of effort and investment that are undertaken by most providers of digital content: 1) the effort that must go into consistent upkeep of digital content after it has been created, and 2) the investment in marketing and “selling” the content to schools and teachers. The idea that a free product doesn’t have to be “sold” is wrong as it related to digital content, because schools and/or individual teachers have to invest time to make the use of OER successful. The result has too often been a set of open resources that are used at relatively low levels for a short amount of time, before they begin to fade due to a lack of upkeep.

Aside from my minor disagreement with Catalano on OER, his presentation is a valuable resource for anyone interested in exploring the hype and the reality in digital learning. Some of his discussion goes beyond online and blended learning into education technology more broadly, but much of it is relevant to Keeping Pace readers.