Education is not immune to the digital transformation currently impacting most industries. Indeed, students and teachers alike are bringing new technologies into the classroom, resulting in creative, dynamic, and innovative approaches to learning. Below, 5 emerging technology trends set to shape the future of education are outlined.

Next-generation Display Technology

Digital screens are increasingly occupying the classroom wall space once reserved for chalkboards and whiteboards. These smart screens provide an interactive educational experience, catering to a variety of learning styles—from visual and aural to tactile and logical. The next generation of display technologies will continue driving interactive and collaborative learning, starting with multi-touch screens, which respond to touch from students either working together on a project or simultaneously learning independently. Foldable and flexible displays, such as those built with active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) technology, are on the near horizon and will offer students even more portable computing alternatives to today’s tablets and smartphones. Haptic technology, which uses a force feedback interface to mimic physical sensations, will make immersive and tactile learning experiences feel more life-like.

As display technologies advance, becoming more convenient and cost effective,  the education vertical will continue its shift from traditional media formats, such as textbooks, to Web-enabled and cloud-based content. Further, these new screen technologies will accelerate trends such as blended learning, which mixes both online and offline teaching, and flipped learning, which prioritizes virtual learning, reserving classroom time for discussion or tutoring, as screen portability allows for greater merging of classroom and real-world activities.

Digital Interactive Textbooks

eTextbooks offer many benefits over their traditional paper counterparts, including a greener option (when considering textbook updates are as simple as a download) and more competitive costs, especially as the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend enters schools.  As the digital interactive textbook technology matures further, students are afforded more self-selected and engaging learning paths. In particular, embedded videos and links, as well as notetaking tools and social media feeds, promise a future in which interactive textbooks merge seamlessly with the total classroom experience while also adapting to the unique needs and preferences of individual users. Imagine a textbook that allows students to quiz themselves on a subject, responding immediately to questions answered incorrectly by providing tailored information, or one that allows automatic submission of homework and digital discussions in tandem with content exploration. Moreover, digital interactive textbooks are providing a publication avenue for niche subject matter that requires relatively frequent information updates (such as in many of the hard sciences).

One example that illustrates the future of educational textbooks is Cachalot, a free app-based digital book that explores the science surrounding marine biology. This textbook combines updateable content with Internet resources, such as access to National Geographic’s critter cams, search functions, and notetaking capabilities in one easily accessible format. Other examples include textbooks from traditional educational publishers, such as MacMillan Learning, which provide interactive charts and visuals for exploratory learning.

Augmented Reality

Thanks to Pokémon Go, augmented reality (AR) has finally entered into the mainstream. The popular app lets users track Pokémon characters in a real-world setting using location-based Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology. The effect is a blurring of reality with the virtual world, offering endless possibilities for entertainment; commerce; and, not the least, education. Relying on the ubiquity of smartphones, educators can tap into existing AR experiences or create their own. For instance, DAQRI has created Elements 4D and Anatomy 4D, programs that combine downloadable printed material with interactive virtual content that is accessed by pointing a device’s camera at a target on the printed downloads. Through AR, students can explore how elements in the periodic table interact with each other or pull up information about systems in the body.

AR is not limited to science classes, however. Art, geography, history, math, and literature all have the potential to benefit from powerful AR applications. In the near future, AR will become a predominant mode of supplementing classroom information, as companies such as ThingLink continue offering educators the ability to customize lessons by annotating real-world images and videos with layered content tags. Further, as more and more cities and cultural centers adopt AR technology, educators and students will be able to access AR hotspots during fieldtrips, expanding learning to environments outside of the traditional classroom setting.

Virtual Reality and Immersive Learning

Whereas AR concentrates on blending real and virtual worlds, virtual reality (VR) provides a completely immersive experience. And technologies such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and even Google Cardboard are making VR learning more accessible than ever. VR content offers students the ability to tour exotic, foreign, or otherwise inaccessible worlds and environments without having to leave the classroom—and the VR content library, especially in the education space, continues to expand.  For example, Google Expeditions allows educators to choose from over 200 virtual expeditions, including virtual trips to the Amazon rainforest, coral reefs, and the surface of Mars.

Virtual reality has the potential to impact all levels of education, with some of the most innovative and interesting applications including collaboration in virtual space among students both within one school and between multiple schools; college tours for incoming students; and a “day-in-the-life-of” experience of occupations for students deliberating over what courses to take or opportunities to pursue. VR will also be critical for exposing students to global events without compromising safety, such as the experience Google is co-creating with the UK’s Department for International Development on eradicating Ebola.

Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Prescriptive Analytics

Arguably one of most influential advancements for education in the digital age will be technology that capitalizes on extremely large volumes of educational data. Big Data refers to the exponential amount of data organizations are accumulating due to growing connectivity. Social media, Web site hits, financial transactions, video analysis, and sensor connections are just some of the ways in which Big Data is produced; analytics, then, uses this data to find potentially hidden and more accurate insights to help optimize performance. For education, optimized performance can mean analyzing the data that emerges beyond standardized test scores. Big Data will also feed directly into developments in artificial intelligence (AI), making possible revolutions such as automated teaching assistants and administrative chatbots that complement teachers and ease strained resources.

Speaking of AI, no discussion on future educational technologies would be complete without referencing the combined forces of AI and prescriptive analytics technologies. AI technologies, built through the processing of massive amounts of data, use algorithms and statistical probability to make intelligent, ultra-fast decisions that react to environmental inputs. Prescriptive analytics, which uses AI-enabled software, will not only collect and analyze data, making predictive assertions about how that data is affecting educational institutions and students, but it will also be able to prescribe courses of action. This will result in more personalized educational approaches that react in real-time to a student’s input, ultimately reducing failure rates; it will lead to better assessments of risk factors for dropping out of school, pinpointing precise factors or moments of confusion in the learning process that lead to student frustration; and it will improve financing and financial aid strategies for a school’s operating budget as well as for students through better metrics tracking. Moreover, this list of possibilities about where AI and prescriptive analytics will take education is not remotely exhaustive. Most educational institutions, especially primary and secondary schools, acknowledge that they are currently behind the curve in adopting prescriptive analytics and AI technologies, meaning that solution providers have significant room to develop education-specific products that showcase the radical potential of Big Data, AI, and prescriptive analytics in an education setting.

The Future of Education

So what can readers expect to find in the next frontier of education? Expect technology to continue driving disruption—through new teaching methods, new modes of content delivery, and new approaches to student development.  Ultimately, institutions, educators, and students will adjust by integrating these technologies into the classroom to achieve more personalized, engaging, interactive, and adaptive learning experiences.

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