New ‘Horizon Report’ Looks Back on What Past Predictions Got Wrong

Higher Education

New ‘Horizon Report’ Looks Back on What Past Predictions Got Wrong

By Jeffrey R. Young     Apr 29, 2019

New ‘Horizon Report’ Looks Back on What Past Predictions Got Wrong
Back in 2012, the Horizon Report predicted that gamification would be a major force in education by now. The latest report looks on why that and other predictions were wrong.

Remember the hype around gamification? About a decade ago, FarmVille and other Facebook games were all the rage. It led the Horizon Report, an annual attempt by a panel of experts to forecast educational trends, to predict in 2012 that gamification would be a major force in education within three years.

But here we are in 2019, and people aren’t talking much about gamification in education. In fact, after 2015, the Horizon Report stopped mentioning it at all.

This week Educause released the higher education edition of the Horizon Report for 2019, and for the first time it looked back on how well past reports did at accurately predicting what would be on the horizon. Titled “Fail or Scale,” the new section of the report includes three essays that look back at three predictions from past reports with the benefit of hindsight.

One of those essays is on “gaming and gamification.” Its author, Bryan Alexander, a tech consultant and education futurist, argues that there are many reasons why it didn’t catch on, including falling IT budgets at colleges after the 2008 financial crisis, and the difficulty of creating games in the educational context that work for a large enough audience to sustain their development. As he wrote:

“For example, Peacemaker, a game that simulates of Israeli-Palestinian politics, is a fine choice for a political science or history class on the topic but is ill suited for the rest of the curriculum. Faculty members must investigate games for each of their classes, test them out, and then, if appropriate, implement them individually. This is rendered more difficult when instructors lack knowledge of the vast, complex, rapidly developing, and at times forbidding gaming industry.”

He still feels that gaming should play a greater role in higher education, and that research shows that the approach is effective. But, he admits that “after a decade of energetic creative ferment, the excitement seems to have faded.”

Another trend examined is augmented and mixed reality, which is still listed as a trend to watch in this year’s report, but it hasn’t arrived as fast as earlier reports predicted. In 2016, the Horizon Report said the tech would be a force by right about now. But this year’s edition says augmented and mixed reality are still about four to five years from adoption.

An essay by Kevin Ashford-Rowe, vice-chancellor of digital learning at Queensland University of Technology, asked: Why is this technology so elusive? In part, he calls for more research showing the effectiveness of the approach before more colleges jack in to these new realities.

This is the second year that the Horizon Report on higher education has been published by Educause, after the group purchased the rights to do so from the now-defunct New Media Consortium, which had founded the effort. It relies on a group of volunteers in higher education who serve on an “expert panel” that decide what tech trends to include.

The new ‘Fail or Scale’ section was added this year as a way to address a longtime complaint by some academics that the Horizon Report was too booster-ish of technology, says Susan Grajek, vice president of communities and research for Educause.

“People criticized it because they said [a certain trend] was predicted to become widespread in 4 or 5 years, and it still isn’t here,” she says.

She also says the move was done to reduce the emphasis on predictions and focus instead on reflecting on which educational technologies are most promising. “The value of the Horizon Report and the value in any foresight exercise is not to perfectly predict what’s going to happen, but it’s really to recognize that every choice that we make today is an implicit bet on the future.”

The technologies listed this year as emerging include blockchain and the use of chatbots as virtual assistants, which the expert panel said are 4 to 5 years out from mainstream adoption.

“It’s really not designed to surprise people,” Grajek says of the predictions. “It’s really to say what is the conversation and where do we think these technologies are headed.”

Alexander, the consultant who wrote some of this year’s report, has also started a new group called FOEcast to provide an alternative to the higher education Horizon Report. In an interview last week, he says his group is expected to release some of its first output in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Consortium for School Networking, or CoSN, now publishes an annual report that is a replacement for the K-12 edition of the Horizon Report. The latest edition was released earlier this year.

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