TED Tips – Issue 13: 2018 NMC Horizon Report — Challenges

2018 NMC Horizon Report Challenges

The New Media Consortium recently published its annual Horizon Report. The report “identifies and describes the higher education trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry.” This week’s TED Tips is part two of a three part series exploring the Horizon Report. This week focuses on the significant challenges impeding technology adoption in Higher Education. The purpose of this blog is not to offer or propose possible solutions, but to report the challenges.

These challenges were identified because of their potential implications for policy, leadership, and practice. The challenges identified are likely to impede the adoption of technologies if left unsolved. They vary in scope and complexity. The Horizon report defines solvable challenges as “those we understand and know how to solve”; difficult challenges as “well understood but for solutions remain elusive”; and wicked challenges as “the most difficult…complex even to define, and thus required additional data and insights before solutions will be possible.”

Solvable Challenges:  Those that we understand and know how to solve.

Authentic Learning Experiences

Authentic learning experiences connect students to real world problems and immerse learners in environments where they can gain high practical, lifelong skills.  The challenge identified by the Horizon Report relates to the increased demand for students with skills directly applicable to the workplace and the perception that graduates may not have the skills needed. 

Possible solutions identified include vocation training, apprenticeships, and course projects situated in the community.  Job shadowing programs and project based learning through startups have become more common.  Colleges and universities have the opportunity to expand beyond their traditional roles.  They could provide instruction for more adults making mid-career pivots retraining from one industry to another.  Community colleges may offer a model to help provide access to apprenticeships and more direct industry experience.  “Learning by Doing” is a key tenant of programs like the LEAP initiative that reflect changes in this area.  Rethinking courses and programs to increase authentic learning opportunities seems something that is already underway at Whitewater especially as it applies to being “even better together” and the restructuring of UW-Whitewater and UW-Rock County.

Improving Digital Literacy

Technology has become essential to success in the workplace.  Are institutions of higher learning creating digitally literate students?   Digital literacy, however, is not strictly technical proficiency and competency.  Digital literacy also includes skills like:

  • netiquette
  • digital citizenship
  • understanding digital rights and responsibilities
  • articulating the boundaries between our personal, private lives and are more public persona. 

Solutions exist to help prepare students for digital literacy, for example, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland has developed a self-paced course, “23 Things for Digital Knowledge.”  These types of skills could become more integrated into existing curriculum.

Society is wrestling with some of these challenges too.  Consider the implications and fallout of the recent Facebook data “scandal”.  The use of social media and online consumerism has created buffets of data; various advertising and agencies are hungry to sample those delicious data items.  This creates additional ethical challenges and potential conflicts of interest.  There are implications for policy and leadership as drivers from other areas (like the need to track attendance) often lead to possible technical solutions that could potentially clash with student privacy concerns.   

Difficult Challenges:   Those that we understand but for which solutions are elusive.

Advancing Digital Equity

Another area that poses challenges to higher education is ensuring digital equity and opportunities for all students.  While MANY students use devices like smart phones and laptops, not all students have access to technology devices or can afford high-speed data.  While technology needs have expanded, the creation of formal policies to ensure equal access have often not kept pace. 

Adapting Organizational Designs to the Future of Work

Do the organizational structures of colleges and universities align with the practices of the 21st century workplace?  Do traditional educational models prepare students for success? Colleges and universities are finding new ways to integrate faculty from distance and interdisciplinary programs.  Technology creates new teaching and learning methods. More flexible degree paths and credentialing options provide new paths and opportunities for schools to offer new forms of stackable degrees and graduate programs.  There are possible consequences to the new models:  over two thirds of faculty members are now non-tenure, with half working part-time, often in teaching roles at several institutions.  In addition to changes in teaching roles, other services and programs may need to be re-evaluated.   What does do student services, which include financial aid programs, academic advising, and work-study programs look like?

Wicked challenges:  Those that are complex even to define, much less address

Economic and Political Pressures

While we have already identified some of the changes to staffing and programs, other economic and political pressures pose bigger, more complex challenges.  Several institutions, both for-profit and nonprofit, have closed recently.  Others have faced consolidations and mergers.  The Horizon report does not forecast an end to higher education.  However, other trends affecting higher education like changes in enrollments policy, tuition discounting, and funding through research pathways have forced all models to come under scrutiny.  There are opportunities.  As was identified in the authentic learning challenge, industry is looking to higher education to provide different types of education.  Foundations are looking to new community models and partnerships.   Can individual institutions adapt nimbly enough to meet these challenges?

Rethinking the Role of Educators

Not only is the future of higher education institutions in question, the role of faculty is changing.  New models of stackable graduate school degrees, competency based programs, online micro credentialing, and flexible learning paths have forced institutions to rethink the role of educator.  With an increase in the use and demand of technology, faculty need to be more tech savvy.  Many programs are becoming much more student-focused; as such, there is more demand for faculty that are facilitators and guides.  The role and expectations of tenure track instruction is changing.

The 2018 Higher Education Horizon Report provides a look into the future. It is a rich place to explore ideas connected to the themes of Technology, Education and Design. These glances can inform our thinking now, guide our planning, and inspire our journey.

– Ted Witt
Teaching, Learning, and Technology Consultant


2018 NMC Horizon Report
Citation: Samantha Adams Becker, Malcolm Brown, Eden Dahlstrom, Annie Davis, Kristi DePaul, Veronica Diaz, and Jeffrey Pomerantz. NMC Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition. Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE, 2018.

UW-Whitewater/UW-Rock County Restructuring
UW-Whitewater LEAP program

University of Edinburgh, “23 Things for Digital Knowledge”: http://www.23things.ed.ac.uk/