“Technology by itself does not yield the greatest impact on learning," states the 2020 EDUCAUSE Horizon report. "It does so when embedded in a scaffolding of support for learners and instructors.”

Mar 27 2020

The Key to Ed Tech Success is People, EDUCAUSE Report Says

New findings from EDUCAUSE’s 2020 Horizon Report examine the six most impactful technology-enabled practices and find that people are the essential ingredient.

What do silverware and technology have in common? Both are pointless without people to use them. If anyone understands this, it’s educators, whose efforts and methods are both increasingly shaped by and shapers of the technologies they use to teach students today.

It’s also an implicit reality acknowledged in the 2020 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report released earlier this month. Going back just over 15 years, the report is part of the organization’s ongoing Horizon Project, a long-running research effort focused on how emerging technologies affect higher education.

“As any close observer of postsecondary teaching and learning knows, technology by itself does not yield the greatest impact on learning,” the report states. “It does so when it is embedded in a scaffolding of support for learners and instructors.”

And thus, over the years, the report has gradually evolved to focus not only on specific types of technologies, but also on technology-enabled practices that are influencing postsecondary education. “For 2020, for example,” the report states, “this approach enabled us to document the fast-emerging importance of instructional and learning design.” 

Comprising U.S. and global experts, the panel set out with a list of more than 130 potential technologies and practices to rank and reduce to the following list of the six most impactful.

1. Adaptive Technology Makes for Personalized Learning

“Adaptive technology appears to be well on its way to becoming a major addition to the set of educational technology tools serving the broader educational practice of personalized learning.”

Keeping the theme of people powering technology, the report points out that many of the lessons shared by institutions are that technology, while necessary, does not improve learning outcomes on its own. Take, for example, Arizona State University, where adaptive learning technology has been used since 2011.

When early tests failed to show the hoped-for levels of student success, ASU changed its approach. The result was ASU’s “adaptive-active approach”, which merges adaptive technology with active learning. “For ASU, it was the combination and integration of the technology and active learning engagements that produced the greatest gains in rates of student success.”

2. AI/Machine Learning Expanding in Higher Ed

“The exemplar projects in this space illustrate an amazing array of developments that are leveraging these emerging technologies.”

Chatbot services have grown increasingly popular with colleges and universities. At Northwestern University and the University of Oklahoma, the report states, chatbots are enabling extended off-hour student support and recruiting. Already, according to the report, institutions are seeing big returns on their investments.

“For example,” states the report, “although developing a chatbot can involve a significant time and resource investment that requires specialized development, that investment might yield returns in the form of extended hours and operation of the university to meet the needs of a 24/7/365 audience.”

More on EdTech: IT Trends to Watch as Higher Education Moves into a New Decade

3. Using Analytics for Student Success 

“The availability of tools that measure, collect, analyze and report data about students’ progress has given rise to the field of learning analytics for student success.”

Higher education is on the receiving end of an ever-increasing and diverse pool of student data. Only recently, however, have institutions started employing analytics to measure student success. The result? A wide selection of new technologies, different approaches for helping students meet goals, and numerous ethical and policy considerations.

With increased pressure on advising staff to address student outcomes, implementing early alerts and proactive outreach using analytics has become essential. For example, consider the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Irvine, both of whom are employing learning analytics tools designed to help academic advisers intervene when critical student goals aren’t being met.

4. Elevating Instructional Design, Learning Engineering and UX Design

“The field of learning design continues to evolve, influenced by not only the continued growth of online course delivery but also an increase in the number of faculty who embrace student-centered learning environments, whether on campus or online.”

The field of learning design includes many roles, all intended to foster successful learning. Today, these roles have become a critical part of learning design, along with technology teams. At Carnegie Mellon University, the Simon Initiative uses cross-disciplinary learning engineering to improve student outcomes using several tactics, including continuous feedback about data creation, the application of learning theory, and learning-supportive technology design. “Projects such as these expand our capacity to understand how technology impacts learning and how to design better tools and courses to achieve desired learning outcomes.”

5. Open Educational Resources Embraced in Higher Education

“In the United States, OER momentum is building in nearly every type and size of institutional profile, from community colleges and public universities to elite privates.”

Around the world, a wealth of OER materials are being developed or collected by the higher education community. Multiple OER projects offer a unique look at how these efforts are affecting the global OER movement.

For example, working with the government of Ontario, the Chang School at Ryerson University has developed a series of open accessibility courses (including open textbooks and massive open online courses, or MOOCs), now accessed by more than 5,000 students around the world. “Similarly, the open pedagogy Pathways Project at Boise State University promotes language learning and inclusive access through the development of OER resources and activities in multiple languages.”

6. Extended Reality Technologies for Immersive Education

“Extended reality (XR) is a comprehensive term for the environments that either blend the physical with the virtual or provide fully immersive virtual experiences.”

Already, higher education is seeing a wide diversity of potential in the teaching and learning opportunities available using XR technology. Multiple institutions have set up labs or centers designed specifically to explore XR and to allow experts to collaborate and share their resources.

Some projects — such as Penn State’s Immersive Experience Catalogue — are intended to pinpoint and promote open XR resources across the higher ed community. “Judging from EDUCAUSE research and the exemplar projects collected for the Horizon Report, XR does show great potential for learning, provided its use is embedded in holistic instructional and learning designs.”

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