Shawn Douglas

Thursday - Jan 12, 2012

Music in the computer lab2011 has come and gone, and tied to it were numerous stories related to education technology. E-readers and tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Apple iPad gained momentum, big-name universities offered even more free online classes, and the flipped classroom gained more attention. And while some ed tech predictions weren’t realized in 2011, this year shouldn’t be any less exciting.

I’ve talked a bit about education technology here, most recently on whether or not the rush to adopt it has moved too quickly. The reality, however, for Internet newbies and long-term users alike is that technology and learning are increasingly difficult to separate now. While schools like the Waldorf School of the Peninsula are still resistant to technology’s march, many more work to integrate it into curriculum. But education technology isn’t merely relegated to the school; even the simple act of going online to learn about new technologies highlights the role tech is playing in our learning.

That said, 2012 should continue to change how we use technology while learning, with experts already making bold predictions. Technology author Audrey Watters recently posted her list of 12 education tech trends to watch in the coming months, a list that includes important concepts like higher-quality interactive content and “social learning.”

“The ability for learners to connect with one another will be one of the most important trends of the coming year,” said Watters in her piece for MindShift. “This isn’t just a matter of connecting learners with online resources or with online instruction. Rather, one of the big opportunities will be to create a space in which learners can help and teach each other.”

With the recent news that students of online schools are lagging behind more traditional schools, it’s easy to wonder if the isolated, somewhat impersonal nature of an online course is at least partially to blame. While solid research into social learning over the Web is still needed, there are at least a few studies that indicate that learner-learner interaction is just as important as teacher-learner interaction in online programs.

At least one company is already betting on the importance of that interaction. Last week education start-up Piazza announced it had received a $6 million infusion to fund further research and development into its social learning platform. The start-up states that its service is “designed to connect students, TAs, and professors so every student can get help when she needs it — even at 2AM.” Similar efforts are sure to make headlines this year.

Another important area that Watters addresses is the consideration of high-speed Internet access to schools and how it may sadly get worse than better. She notes that while the U.S.’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recognizes the importance of high-speed Internet in schools and libraries, “even those schools with broadband access may find their resources strained in coming months.”

This topic was discussed here in September and again in November, addressing both the importance of broadband access to schools and the actions the FCC took last year to expand broadband access. The news also highlighted the Idaho Education Network and how despite its successes, funding cuts to the program have already forced some Idaho schools to reduce availability. This news highlights what is likely to be many more education cuts before 2012 ends, potentially leading to further reductions in tech investments at schools.

Despite the cutbacks, education technology will likely continue to be a hot topic this year as people from all walks of life take to the Internet and mobile devices to study, learn, and teach about our world. That very concept is what drives Learn the Net, a site utilizing technology to help you learn how to use it better. It’s also a reminder that education technology, while contentious, isn’t going anywhere. We may or may not see many changes this year, but ed tech’s importance will only grow.

Photo via Erin Lodes, Flickr Creative Commons