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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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The 2013 Horizon Report for Schools


For over a decade, the NMC Horizon Project has charted the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning and creative inquiry in education globally. The flagship NMC Horizon Report, focused on higher education, is translated into multiple languages every year. Over all editions, the readership of the reports is estimated at over two million worldwide, with readers in over 150 countries.

The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K–12 Edition focuses on pre-tertiary education. It identifies and describes six emerging technologies or applications with considerable potential to impact on school education over the next one to five years. The report also notes critical trends and challenges that will affect teaching and learning over the same time frame. The current article consists of edited extracts from this report.

Key trends

The following trends have been identified as key drivers of technology adoptions over the next five years.

Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models. Online learning environments facilitate collaboration and develop students' digital skills, and have the potential to leverage the online skills that learners have already developed, independent of academia. Hybrid models, which combine face-to-face and online learning, take advantage of the best of both environments.

Social media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and communicate. The popularity of social media testifies to its effectiveness in engaging people. It has found significant traction in almost every education sector.

Openness – concepts like open content, open data, and open resources, along with notions of transparency and easy access to data and information – is becoming a value. Advocates of open education support the provision of education materials that are free not just in economic terms, but freely copiable, freely remixable, and free of barriers to access, sharing and educational use.

As the cost of technology drops and school systems revise and open up their access policies, it is becoming more common for students to bring their own mobile devices. The relatively new interest in BYOD programs has been accompanied by an attitude shift as schoolteachers and staff better understand the capabilities of smartphones and other devices that, unfortunately, still remain banned on many school campuses.

The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the internet is challenging us to revisit our roles as educators. K–12 institutions have always been seen as critical paths to educational credentialing, but challenges from competing sources are redefining what these paths can look like.

Critical challenges 

Along with current trends, schools face critical challenges:

  • Ongoing professional development needs to be valued and integrated into the culture of the schools; all too often, when schools mandate the use of a specific technology, teachers are left without the tools (and often skills) to effectively integrate the new capabilities into their teaching methods.
  • Too often it is education's own practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies; experimentation with or piloting of innovative applications of technologies are often seen as outside the role of teacher or school leader.
  • New models of education are bringing unprecedented competition to traditional models of schooling, with the expansion of distance education and new models of schooling such as those offered by US charter schools and for-profit providers.
  • K–12 must address the increased blending of formal and informal learning, with students having opportunities for informal in-class learning and for learning experiences outside the classroom.
  • The demand for personalised learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices: a gap remains between the vision of personalised learning and the tools available to achieve it.
  • We are not using digital media for formative assessment the way we could and should; for example, simple applications of digital media tools like webcams, that allow non-disruptive peer observation, offer considerable promise in giving teachers timely feedback they can use.

These trends and challenges reflect how technology has come to impact on almost every aspect of our lives, and are indicative of the changing nature of the way we learn, communicate, access information, and assess student performance.

The report's description of emerging technologies is broken into three timescales. The near-term horizon assumes the likelihood of entry into the mainstream for schools within the next 12 months; the mid-term horizon, within two to three years; and the far-term, within four to five years.

Emerging technologies: the near-term horizon

On the near-term horizon – that is, within the next 12 months – are two related but distinct categories: cloud computing and mobile learning. These two sets of technologies have become a pervasive part of everyday life in much of the world, and are growing everywhere. Students have ever-increasing expectations of being able to work, play and learn via cloud-based services and apps across their mobile devices, whenever they want and wherever they may be.

Cloud computing

Cloud computing has already transformed the way users of the internet think about computing and communication, data storage and access, and collaborative work. Cloud-based applications and services are available to many school students today, and more schools are employing cloud-based tools all the time.

Now schools are outsourcing significant parts of their infrastructure, such as email and backups, to cloud providers. Emerging devices, such as Google's Chromebooks, are designed expressly to operate in the cloud and have entered the market at affordable prices, making them viable options for one-to-one learning.

Mobile learning

Mobile learning is becoming an integral part of K–12 education, as it is increasingly common for students to own and use portable devices. With easy-to-use, touchscreen interfaces, even the youngest children can easily pick up a tablet or smartphone and interact with it almost immediately.

One of the fastest-growing facets of mobiles are mobile apps. Scores of education companies and websites are creating responsive programs, platforms and curricula for mobile devices. Moreover, app development and programming is being taught to K–12 students in schools and after-school programs.

Emerging technologies: the mid-term horizon

In the second adoption horizon are learning analytics and open content. Within two to three years these technologies are expected to pass the 20 per cent penetration point that marks entry into mainstream practice.

Learning analytics

Learning analytics is the field associated with deciphering trends and patterns from educational big data, or huge sets of student-related data, to further the advancement of a personalised, supportive system of K–12 education.

Preliminary uses of student data were directed toward targeting at-risk learners in order to improve student retention. The widespread adoption of learning and course-management systems has refined the outcomes of learning analytics to look at students more precisely. Student-specific data can now be used to customise curricula and suggest resources to students in the same way that businesses tailor advertisements and offers to customers.

Open content

Open content is the current form of a movement that began a decade ago, when some universities began to make their course content freely available. Twelve years later, schools are sharing a significant amount of curricula, resources, and learning materials.

There is a growing variety of open content from K–12 organisations and schools, and in many parts of the world open content represents a profound shift in the way students study and learn. Far more than just a collection of free online course materials, the open content movement is increasingly a response to the rising costs of education, the desire to provide access to learning in areas where such access is difficult, and an expression of student choice about when and how to learn.

Emerging technologies: the far-term horizon

On the far-term horizon, set at four to five years away from entry into the mainstream of practice, are 3D printing and virtual and remote laboratories. Already it is clear that their impact will be significant, despite the lack of well-documented K–12 project examples. The high level of interest and investment in both areas are clear indicators that they are worth following closely.

3D printing

Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content, such as 3D modelling software, computer-aided design (CAD) tools, computer-aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography.

A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, through an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible materials, or an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The deposits created by the machine can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer, with resolutions that, even in the least expensive machines, express a large amount of detail. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object. Using different materials and bonding agents, color can be applied, and parts can be rendered in plastic, resin, or metal. This technology is commonly used in manufacturing to build prototypes of almost any object scaled to fit the printer.

3D printing enables more authentic exploration of objects that may not be readily available to schools. In science and history classes, for example, students can make and interact with models of fragile objects such as fossils and artefacts. Through rapid prototyping and production tools, chemistry students can print out models of complex proteins and other molecules.

Virtual and remote laboratories

Virtual and remote laboratories leverage wireless networks, mobile devices and cloud-based software to make scientific experiences more accessible for schools that lack fully equipped labs.

Virtual laboratories are web applications that emulate the operation of real laboratories and enable students to practice in a 'safe' environment before using real, physical components. Students can typically access virtual labs 24/7, from wherever they are, and run the same experiments over and over again. Remote laboratories, on the other hand, provide a virtual interface to a real, physical laboratory. Users are able to manipulate the equipment and watch the activities unfold via a webcam on a computer or mobile device.

Virtual and remote labs offer flexibility, as students can run experiments as many times as they like – both in and outside of school. Because these labs are designed to allow easy repetition of experiments, there is less pressure on students to execute perfectly the first time. After learning what did not work, they can easily make adjustments to their processes and get different results. In the controlled environments of virtual and remote laboratories, students are safe, even if they make an error.


Each of these technologies is described in detail in NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K–12 Edition, where a discussion of what the technology is and why it is relevant to teaching, learning, or creative inquiry can also be found. The NMC's research indicates that all six of these technologies have clear and immediate potential for teaching and learning.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K–12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.


Subject Headings

Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Educational planning