Where’s my (educational) jetpack? The future of Technology Enhanced Learning

Time travel wormhole image
Image by Genty from Pixabay

Read time: Approximately 9 minutes.

Our upcoming March webinar is scheduled for Thursday 28th March 12pm AEDT and is centred around ‘The future of TEL’ (further details at the base of this article). There’s been a lot of speculation about what education might look like as we enter what many authors have coined the ‘age of disruption’ – a changing workforce that values a gig economy, and where our job might be taken by a robot. There’s even a website where you can check if your job is likely to be roboticised* (go to https://willrobotstakemyjob.com/ ). Technology Enhanced Learning is an integral part of a disruptive shift happening in education and worth thinking about in this context. 

Henk Huijser, who will be chairing this month’s TEL edvisors webinar, has posed several key questions to get us thinking about the future of TEL:  

  • What might TEL look like in 10 years time? 
  • What do we want it to look like? 
  • What is just hype and won’t go anywhere?
  • What has a real chance of changing the landscape?

Thinking like a futurist

When considering these questions, it might be worth thinking like a futurist. Gorbis (2019) in her article Five principles for thinking like a Futurist suggests that thinking like a futurist involves not trying to predict the future per se, but looking for overall trends (‘tides’) and signals. She recommends looking back to see forward – this is something that the 2018 NMC EDUCAUSE Horizon report (EDUCAUSE, 2018) has aimed to do by summarising and analysing past NMC reports related to educational technology. The repeat patterns there perhaps hold some ideas for which educational technology trends are likely to take off again in the next few years. It would be worth considering this report alongside the new 2019 Horizon Report Preview

Gorbis also suggests coming together “to share… observations” as a way to aggregate and collectively interpret trends: essentially, to use a brains trust to reflect and feed forward on future direction. The University of Edinburgh in their Near Future Teaching model used such a co-design process with University staff and students to envision what the future of education should look like, and used this to inform their near future teaching values and mission/plan for the next few years. The University went so far as to also involve current school students’ feedback – what better way to understand what the future of education might and should look like but to ask the next generation of prospective HE students? Why not also look at what curriculum, technologies and learning environments they inhabit in order to understand what their expectations will be once they reach University? 

What does this mean for students? 

According to The New Work Reality report (The Foundation for Young Australians, 2018), 31.5% of young people are currently either unemployed or underemployed, with nearly 60% of 25 year olds holding a post-Secondary qualification not currently in full time work. In Future Work 2025, Bowles (2018) reports that 15% of us will lose our current jobs due to automation, and 20% of us will move to a job that currently doesn’t exist. The rate of job automation, while not necessarily proportionately, is likely to affect both those with lower and higher degree qualifications (Berman, 2018), which suggests no one will be excluded from this shift. Given typically high rates of unemployment for young people, it may be University students that are hit the hardest in future. Bowles (2018) however argues that while we may not know the jobs that don’t exist yet, we do know the types of skills that will be needed. Research has confirmed that core capabilities (“soft skills”) will increasingly be required.

Many students perceive that they don’t have the appropriate skills or education to move into full-time work (The Foundation for Young Australians, 2018). What might education and TEL do to support these students? Is this a matter of students not being provided with the skills? Or perhaps they are not recognising the skills they gain in tertiary education as being relevant in industry? Can TEL help bridge these gaps? The Jisc Horizons report suggests that AI and Immersive technologies such as simulations may assist in addressing students’ skills gaps.

What about those who aren’t able to gain a post-Secondary qualification? Zacharia and Brett in this NCSEHE report suggest that “the chances of participating in higher education remain strongly influenced by geographic location and family finances rather than intrinsic capability or social need” (Zacharias, N. & Brett, M., 2019) with many groups still underrepresented in HE. It is possible that in the new work and education order, marginalised groups will be left behind. TEL could offer opportunities for increased participation, or it could continue to cause widening gaps depending on University expectations of access and financial means.

EY have suggested in their report (EYGM, 2018) that Universities may take an increasingly commercialised focus in order to remain viable in the future. This could include incorporating more opportunities for WIL and microcredentials, or a move to more online offerings, which have the potential to increase participation for marginalised groups. However, online education can potentially disadvantage or isolate marginalised individuals further if they aren’t well supported to achieve degree completion. Additionally, The University of Edinburgh in their Near Future Teaching report found staff and students actively resisting commodification of education – which seems to suggest that commercialisation may or should only go so far. 

It is perhaps no wonder that in such a landscape, Jisc in their Horizons report have identified mental health as a specific challenge that needs to be addressed in education. This challenge affects the education sector in particular, due to changing demographics of students, rising costs and financial concerns, increased reporting of mental health issues, and the use of social media. The University of Edinburgh Near Future Teaching report similarly came to identify a shared value from staff and students that “too much technology can threaten wellbeing”.

The Jisc Digital experience insights survey (Jisc, 2019) suggests that Australian students spend even more time online and use technology and social media more regularly than their UK counterparts, meaning that mental health issues are perhaps even more pressing in Australia. The report notes that students “need to understand the role that digital technologies can play in their success” and recommends preparing students for digital learning, supporting their digital literacy and working to support students wellbeing and digital safety through mechanisms that enable students to know where to turn if things go wrong.

However, while technology like social media may be partly responsible for mental health issues, technology can also play a positive role, in connecting students to each other and to support networks. Gorbis (2019) argues that we are moving from institutional production to “socialstructed creation” – technology now allows us to tap into a global community and create products or services based on shared goals (Wikipedia as an example). How might TEL support an increased sense of community and belonging, or use collective knowledge to create new knowledge? 

What does this mean for teaching staff?  

Considering that Universities are being expected to change at a rapid pace it is worth considering those who are most likely to be implementing this change at the coal face – teaching staff.  

Thankfully, many institutions now recognise supporting people and processes as integral to making strategic change happen, and factor this into their strategic plans. However, teaching staff are still often stretched and asked to wear a number of hats including taking on duties that span not only teaching but administration, pastoral care, marketing and learning design. There are also concerns that some staff may not have the needed digital literacy or skills to implement technology enhanced learning in a considered way to the increasingly sophisticated level required to meet student and institutional expectations. While this can be good news for us as TEL edvisors (we are unlikely to be out of a job), we need to consider the impacts of our work both on students but also the teaching staff who will deliver the curriculum to students and implement strategic change at a grassroots level. Arguably, change is only effective when that it is accepted and integrated by those directly impacted by it, and in a way that ensures a consistent, cohesive and positive experience for our students. 

Change for good 

Regardless of which technologies are taken up in the future by educational institutions, it will be the ways in which we use them, for which purposes, and the means of connection they enable or hinder that we should be considering as key to the discussion. We should also consider ethical implications tied to privacy, data usage and ways of supporting student and staff wellbeing. As TEL edvisors we are in the unique position to both look for trends in educational technology tools and use but also share ideas, concerns or opportunities when it comes to using technologies in ways that not only drive teaching and learning but also social change. 

As posed in the discussion questions – what do we want TEL to look like? What has a real chance of changing the landscape? What might this change mean for education, and for our staff and students? Will it be a positive or negative change? What can we do to make it a positive one? 

*Apparently “Instructional coordinators” (which probably best describes many TEL edvisor roles) only clocks up a 0.4% chance of being roboticised!

Join us on Thursday 28th March at 12pm AEDT for our March webinar ‘The Future of TEL’, held via Blackboard Collaborate or watch the recording after the webinar via our YouTube channel. If you work as a Learning Designer, Academic Developer or Educational Technologist you can sign up to join the TEL edvisors Special Interest Group community at bit.ly/TELedvisor.

Further resources (resources mentioned in this article, in order of appearance):

Five Principles for Thinking Like a Futurist (Gorbis, 2019) https://er.educause.edu/articles/2019/3/five-principles-for-thinking-like-a-futurist  

NMC Educause Horizon Report – 2018 Higher Education Edition (EDUCAUSE, 2018) https://library.educause.edu/resources/2018/8/2018-nmc-horizon-report  

EDUCAUSE Horizon Report Preview 2019 (EDUCAUSE, 2019) https://library.educause.edu/resources/2019/2/horizon-report-preview-2019  

Near Future Teaching Final Report (University of Edinburgh, 2018) http://www.nearfutureteaching.ed.ac.uk/final-report 

Future Work 2025: exposing common myths (Bowles, 2018) http://www.workingfutures.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/FutureWork_MQU_27.12.18.pdf  

Infographics show jobs most likely to be lost to robots (Berman, R., Big Think, 2018) https://bigthink.com/robby-berman/infographics-show-jobs-most-likely-to-be-lost-to-robots  

The New Work Reality (The Foundation for Young Australians, 2018) https://www.fya.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/FYA_TheNewWorkReality_sml.pdf  

Can the universities of today lead learning for tomorrow? The University of the Future (EYGM, 2018) https://www.ey.com/au/en/industries/government—public-sector/ey-university-of-the-future-2030  

Jisc Horizons report – emerging technologies and the mental health challenge (Jisc, 2019) https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/horizons-report-emerging-technologies-and-the-mental-health-challenge#  

The Best Chance for All: Student equity 2030 – A long-term strategic vision for student equity in higher education (Zacharias, N. & Brett, M., NCSEHE, 2019) https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/publications/the-best-chance-for-all/  

Digital experience insights survey 2018: findings from Australian and New Zealand university students (Jisc, 2019) http://repository.jisc.ac.uk/7202/1/digital-experience-insights-survey-anz-2018.pdf 


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