Key Observations: Education in an Age of Emerging Technologies

A product of the world around us, the education industry is starting to adopt emerging technologies. At many public schools across the country, technology has become an everyday instructional tool in classrooms. So, what are the key trends, significant challenges and important developments in education technology for the upcoming year?

For the past three years, Mindgrub has hosted an Education Technology Innovation Summit (ETIS). In 2016, we surveyed EdTech industry professionals from the Mid-Atlantic on what trends or topics they are currently interested in exploring. We compared the trends mentioned in the ETIS survey with the NMC Horizon Report on Higher Education in 2017 to curate a list of the key observations in EdTech today.


Collaborative Learning Environments

Today’s online learning environments are including project-based interactions with attention to mobility and connectivity. To better enable online learning and instruction, institutions are upgrading wi-fi networks and installing large displays that allow for collaboration on digital projects with remote access.

Cloud-based services, apps and other digital tools allow for seamless connectivity, leading to more effective and efficient communication between students and teachers at any given time. Students can leverage this collaborative and diverse environment to ask questions live and contribute thoughtful ideas on a project with other students.

Through ETIS, we discovered that the use of advanced video technology in gaming and graphics are being utilized as children are growing up with increasing exposure to audiovisual stimuli outside of the classroom. Also, universities are tapping into mixed reality technologies and how to blend 3D holographic content into physical spaces for simulations.

“As higher education continues to move away from traditional, lecture-based lessons toward more hands-on activities, classrooms are starting to resemble real-world work and social environments that foster organic interactions and cross-disciplinary problem-solving,” states the NMC Horizon report.

Deeper Learning & Design Thinking

To facilitate transfer into real-world industries, teachers are making clearer connections between coursework and its application to the outside world. This instills a deeper knowledge of how students can apply their skills to improve the world around them, which is a characteristic becoming increasingly important to the Millennial generation.

Creativity allows you to adapt to changes in environments and circumstances but also to transform environments and circumstances for better solutions.  There is a focus in schools to teach students how to think creatively using “Design Thinking.”  Design thinking is the process designers use during the invention and design of products.  

You can now find teachers letting students create their own syllabi and requiring some type of creation in every assignment. Innovation programs, classes, training and workshops are taught through design thinking at institutions like the Future Design School, who held a Design Thinking workshop at ETIS. The Future Design School, for example, allows students to break down complex issues facing the world today in order to fully understand the crux of an issue before solving it through a thoughtful creative approach.

Challenges Observed

Bridging the Gap: Formal and Informal Learning

Gains in technology have brought about the ability to learn anything we want from the palm of our hand. Students can research any topic at anytime from anywhere.  This practice of informal learning coupled with life experiences serve to enhance student engagement by encouraging students to follow their own unique interests. It is believed by many experts that embracing both informal and formal methods of education can foster experimentation and exercise the creative muscle.

The upside to embracing informal and formal learning simultaneously is that we can reinforce the practice of lifelong learning from both the student and teacher perspective. Educational institutions are starting to test flexible programs that give credit for proficiencies gained through employment, military or extracurricular activities. However, the challenge lies in the difficulty in tracking and formally document skills mastered outside of the classroom.

Digital Literacy

Educational institutions are now responsible for aiding and developing students’ digital literacy and ensuring mastery of responsible technology use. This includes online communication etiquette, ethics and responsibilities in blended and digital learning settings.

The challenge lies in the added layer of technological responsibility on the education system and teachers, and the extensive amount of time it takes to modify curriculum design. Educators must solicit buy-in from administration on concerted change while administrators must create standards and distribute tools that are easy to use and publish content.

Access and The Achievement Gap

The NMC Horizon report states that, "more than 30 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet." As technology plays an important role in increasing the availability of web materials to all students, accessibility must first be present to every student.

The achievement gap, also referred to as the college completion gap, reflects a disparity in the enrollment and academic performance between student groups, defined by socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity or gender. Technological advances have  aided in providing online courses and open educational resources; however, cases still persist where low income, minority and single-parent families are not able to access educational resources.

Managing Obsolescence

The rate at which digital advances evolve in today’s world can prove to be a significant challenge when it comes to schools and institutions with limited resources to stay current. There is opportunity for new developments in technology to improve quality of learning and operations. However, just as faculty and staff are getting around to mastering a new LMS, software or hardware, it seems that a new version launches. This requires institutions to make long-term plans for innovation and budget accordingly to the best of their knowledge.

Notable Developments

Mobile Learning

Mobile devices have become the standard medium in accessing and exploring working and learning environments. According to the NMC Horizon report, “a study of a South Korean online university found that learners with full-time jobs were 48% more likely to use a mobile LMS than non-working students.” Students are also using mobile devices for real-time engagement, sharing opinions, collaborating and creating content. Gamified learning experiences are being offered on mobile devices for on-the-go learning opportunities. The experiences in mobile learning will continue to grow as new technologies are blended on various platforms. Educators should craft lesson plans that allow for flexibility in the use of mobile tech as a tool in the classroom.

Wearable Technology and IoT

The world around us continues to become more and more connected. The capabilities of the IoT to transmit information across networks will lead to more seamless digital communication and materials available at students’ hands. Educators will be able to leverage student data from wearable and connected educational devices to build a better picture of students’ learning habits, skills and competencies. In addition, the data being collected on connected devices is informing the direction of content delivery and institutional planning in schools.

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

The market for robotics and AI is at a critical turning point. Advances in AI are allowing for more natural interaction between humans and robots to occur. Voice recognition and natural language processing allow humans to interact with machines similarly to how they interact with each other. Mindgrub is currently working on AI projects around geolocation, navigation and integration technologies to improve end-user experiences in physical spaces. “As the underlying technologies continue to develop, AI has the potential to enhance online learning, adaptive learning software, and research processes in ways that more intuitively respond to and engage with students," as stated by the NMC Horizon Report.


It’s important to analyze trends and challenges that could affect your business in the future, but even more important is figuring out which trends you, your business or your students will benefit the most from.  For more information on Mindgrub’s education technology solutions, check out some of the clients we’ve worked with and our services in digital innovation. Contact us for a free consultation!