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5 edtech trends to watch

Expert Jason Ohler says to watch these trends that are changing how we live, teach and learn.

6 min read




We live in a hyperconnected culture in which technology opens the door for a more personalized existence and bridges the gap between place and space.

We customize our smartphones with our favorite apps. We collaborate with peers across the globe in a matter of seconds, and we rarely — if ever — turn off our devices.

 Our lives are immersed in technology, and it’s changing how we live, teach and learn. The sage on the stage no longer conducts learning; it’s available to many at the touch of a screen.

 It’s a very exciting — sometimes frightening — time to be an educator, and, according to Jason Ohler, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska and self-proclaimed “student of the future,” a time on the cusp of extreme change driven in part by five technological trends.

Big data

 Big data is here to stay, and we’re all in it together. Wal-Mart collects 2.5 petabytes of data every hour from consumer transactions, and Facebook stores, accesses and analyzes 30-plus petabyes of generated data.

 “[B]ig data is no big deal anymore; it’s the new normal,” Ohler told attendees gathered in Denver for the ISTE 2016 education technology conference and expo. “Our output is their input. We have the illusion of free will because we can choose whatever we want, but what we want has been massaged by the menu that Google is providing based upon our past decisions.”

The next wave in big data is voice and choice, Ohler said. Edtech leaders may encounter this when vetting curriculum providers and even free online tools for educators.

“There have been a couple of projects in which large companies sought to collect information on millions and millions of public-school students, […] and there was no need for parent permission in many of these cases because parents signed something at the beginning of the school year that the schools reasoned gave them permission to do this,” Ohler explained.

He suggested that unless parents and students have some sort of input into who is using the data and how, don’t buy into it. We also may need to consider having freedom consultants, he said, noting that these could be individuals who say to a company, “You can have my data, and here’s what I would like you to do with it.”

And finally, Ohler recommended: Involve students in the conversation. Start by asking them: What should we be allowed to do with your data?


 Immersion is all about living two lives at once. It could change how we define “school” and our reliance on test-taking to collect data about student learning.

“Every one of us is immersed in two realities — RL and the reality on the other end of your device,” Ohler said, naming the second space “immersive reality.”

 “It’s getting harder and harder for making the case for not having this device on. These are now on forever, and we now live in two places at once; I call it ‘simultaneously living.’ ”

 Augmented reality is one way to blend these two worlds, Ohler said. You get to that secondary reality — that blended reality — by looking at something that triggers an overlay, but it also comes to you by virtue of where you are standing, he explained.

So if a teacher is standing by a lighthouse, she could use an app on her device to trigger a display of information about the lighthouse. The overlay might present historical information if she is a history teacher, or botanical information if she is a science teacher.

And for students, immersive learning means collection of data from “doing” rather than testing.

“Consumer and user research will become wearable and user-driven,” Ohler said. “We basically will become the input for our own kind of consumer research; it’s not that we’re going to have tests so much anymore because what you do — the actual doing because of that technology — will become the test.”

Semantic web

The semantic web “is the sleeper that most of us do not know of, and it’s absolutely reshaping the web in every respect,” Ohler said, noting that it creates the need for new literacies and opens the door to using artificial intelligence to grade student work.

“The semantic web is largely known in terms of web 3.0 and web 4.0. Web 3.0 is the web of data, and web 4.0 is the internet of things, and together, they form the internet of everything,” Ohler explained. “Everything will be an app holder. Everything will be connected.”

Extreme BYOD

BYOD is moving into extreme territory — beyond devices, Ohler said. Students will embrace the concept, and IT staffs will have to adjust policies to support individualized work spaces, with user-owned apps and platforms that go anywhere.

What we need to be concerned about in education, Ohler said, is that “we are going to have children who embrace extreme BYOD but aren’t allowed to have it at school, and the question we have to ask ourselves is, do we want them to live two lives or one?”

For his part, Ohler said: “I want them to bring their gear to school because I want to help them get through those very interesting, convoluted ethical issues.”


“Transmedia, which is all the rage in business now, hasn’t really made it to education yet,” Ohler noted. “It’s hovering right outside the door. It will be leaders like you who will bring it inside.”

Transmedia generally involves storytelling. The science fiction television drama “Heroes” is seen as the starting point of the adoption of full-scale transmedia in the entertainment industry, Ohler said.

“The idea is that we never make a TV program anymore; we always release it with a game, with LinkedIn, with Facebook, and we provide tremendous fan access,” where fans invent characters, get to respond, post pictures and more.

“Transmedia is offering us the greatest portal into that multiuniverse that we want for our kids, and we’re largely ignoring it,” Ohler said.

Melissa Greenwood is the director of education content at SmartBrief.


Like this article? Read more like it in SmartReport on ISTE 2016.