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The 2012 Horizon Report for Schools

New Media Consortium

The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K–12 Edition examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning and creative inquiry within the environment of pre-college education. This article adapted from sections of the report.

The report highlights six emerging technologies or practices that are likely to enter mainstream use within the next five years. Key trends and challenges that will affect current practice over the same period frame these discussions.

The current report is one of three global editions of the NMC Horizon Report: higher education, primary and secondary education (K–12), and museum education. The NMC Horizon Project is currently in its tenth year, dedicated to charting the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning and creative inquiry in education globally.

Key trends

The following six trends have been identified as key drivers of technology adoptions over the next five years, detailed in the body of the report.

1.       Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning and collaborative models.
2.       The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators. 
3.       As the cost of technology drops and school districts revise and open up their access policies, it is becoming increasingly common for students to bring their own mobile devices.
4.       People expect to be able to work, learn and study whenever and wherever they want.
5.       Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate and succeed.
6.       There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based, active learning.

Significant challenges

Along with current trends, schools face critical challenges:

1.       Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession, especially teaching.
2.       K–12 must address the increased blending of formal and informal learning.
3.       The demand for personalised learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.
4.       Institutional barriers present formidable challenges to moving forward in a constructive way with emerging technologies.
5.       Learning that incorporates real-life experiences is not occurring enough and is undervalued when it does take place.
6.       Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom and thus are not part of traditional learning metrics.

Taken together, these trends and challenges provide a frame through which to consider the potential impacts of nearly 50 emerging technologies and related practices.

Six have been identified as 'Technologies to Watch'. They each have been placed on one of three possible adoption horizons that span the coming five years.

Mobile Devices & Apps

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: One Year or Less

Mobile phones – distinct from new sorts of larger-format mobile devices such as tablets – have as a category proven more interesting and more capable with each passing year. Smart phones including the iPhone and Android have redefined what we mean by mobile computing, and in the past three to four years the small, often simple, low-cost software extensions to these devices – apps – have become a hotbed of development. A popular app can see millions of downloads in a short time, and that potential market has spawned a flood of creativity that is instantly apparent in the extensive collections available in the app stores.

Apps that support learning are commonplace. Fun, easy-to-use tools can be found for budding chefs, astronomers, physicists, artists, musicians, book lovers, and writers.

Now the K–12 education sector is beginning to integrate mobile apps into the curriculum. Apps used in tandem with class curriculum can help students better understand complex material. Apps with interactive components enable students to learn by doing, not just by listening to teacher lectures.

The power of apps, coupled with the portability of mobile devices, is causing many schools to take another look at their policies regarding mobile devices. Many see mobiles as a key aspect of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environments.

Game-Based Learning
Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

Game-based learning refers to the integration of games or gaming mechanics into educational experiences. This topic has gained considerable traction over the past decade, as games have proven to be effective learning tools and beneficial in cognitive development and the fostering of soft skills among students, such as collaboration, communication, problem solving and critical thinking. Some of the most commonly used for educational purposes include alternative reality games (ARG), massively multiplayer online games (MMO), and global social awareness games. Most games that are currently used for learning across a wide range of disciplines share similar qualities: they are goal-oriented; have strong social components; and simulate some sort of real-world experience that students find relevant to their lives. As game-based learning garners more attention in academia, developers are responding with games expressly designed to support immersive, experiential learning.

Despite steady interest from educators, game-based learning has, tantalisingly, remained just out of reach for the K–12 mainstream, and in this edition of the report it again appears on the mid-term horizon, still two to three years away.

This may be because a compelling supporting technology or concrete set of tools has not emerged that can bring game-based learning to life in the school setting. Tablets may open that door.

Schools daunted by game-based learning may find help from a growing number of organisations. Creative Academies, for example, works with schools to focus content and curriculum around game development. They work with students to develop simulations and animations for the grade levels below them (go.nmc.org/creati). EdGE is another such organisation, devoted to research and game design at the K–12 level (go.nmc.org/edge).

Personal Learning Environments

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Two to Three Years

The essential idea behind personal learning environments is that students are put in charge of the learning process, with a focus on how they can support their own needs and preferences. The goal is to give the student permission to make their learning as effective and efficient as possible.

Though effective personal learning environments centre around the learner and not the technology, personal learning environments draw significantly on enabling technologies and tools.

The conceptual basis for PLEs has shifted significantly in the last year, as smart phones, tablets and apps have begun to emerge as a compelling alternative to browser-based PLEs and e-portfolios. Along with that, there has been a corresponding move away from centralised, server-based solutions to distributed and portable ones. Using a growing set of free and simple tools and applications, such as a collection of apps on a tablet, it is already quite easy to support one's ongoing social, professional, learning and other activities with a handy collection of resources and tools that are always with you.

Augmented Reality

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

Augmented Reality (AR) refers to the layering of information over 3D space to produce a new experience of the world, sometimes referred to as 'blended reality'. For example, the floating yellow line that appears in telecasts of American football games is an AR application that represents where a team must drive to reach a 'first down'.

AR has strong potential to provide powerful, contextual, serendipitous, in situ learning experiences. AR also brings with it new expectations regarding access to information and new opportunities for learning.

The most common uses of AR currently are in entertainment and marketing, but schools are likely to follow as the technology matures and becomes even simpler. Museum and cultural organisations are the first of the learning sectors to frequently and effectively use augmented reality, and the lessons learned there are easily applicable to schools.

Augmented reality is an active, not a passive technology; students can use it to construct new understanding based on interactions with virtual objects that bring underlying data to life as it responds to user input. Dynamic processes, extensive datasets, and objects too large or too small to be manipulated can be brought into a student's personal space at a scale and in a form easy to understand and work with.

Natural User Interfaces

Time-to-Adoption Horizon: Four to Five Years

A new class of devices allow interaction entirely through users' natural movements and gestures. The iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, Xbox Kinect, Nintendo Wii, the new class of 'smart TVs' and a growing list of other devices built with natural user interfaces accept input in the form of taps, swipes and other ways of touching; hand and arm motions; body movement; and increasingly, natural language.

While natural user interfaces are garnering a lot of excitement in the consumer space, an extensive review was unable to uncover many current instances in K–12 of gesture-based software or devices being applied to specific learning examples.

Researchers and developers are gaining a sense of the cognitive and cultural dimensions of natural user interfaces, and the full realisation of the potential of natural user interfaces within K–12 will require intensive interdisciplinary collaborations and innovative thinking about the very nature of teaching, learning and communicating.

As an enabling or assistive technology, however, natural user interfaces are already having profound implications for special needs and disabled individuals.


Each of these technologies is described in detail in the body of the report. These sections open with a discussion of what the technology is and why it is relevant to teaching, learning and creative inquiry. Examples of the technology in practice, especially in schools, are listed to illustrate how it is being adopted at the current time.

Our research indicates that all these technologies, taken together, will have a significant impact on learning-focused organisations within the next five years.

Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Cummins, M. (2012). NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K–12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.


Subject Headings

Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)