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The 2017 NMC Horizon Report

The 2017 NMC Horizon Report


Wally BostonThe New Media Consortium Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education Edition was recently published. A 15-plus year collaboration between the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, the annual report attempts to predict trends in education, as shaped by technology.

The top 10 highlights of this year’s report are:
1) advancing progressive learning approaches requires cultural transformation;

2) real-world skills are needed to bolster employability and workplace development;

3) collaboration is key for scaling effective solutions;

4) despite the proliferation of technology and online learning materials, access is still unequal;

5) processes for assessing nuanced skills at a personal level are needed;

6) fluency in the digital realm is more than just understanding how to use technology;

7) online, mobile, and blended learning are foregone conclusions;

8) learning ecosystems must be agile enough to support the practices of the future;

9) higher education is an incubator for developing more intuitive computers; and

10) lifelong learning is the lifeblood of higher education.

The report highlights six key trends that are accelerating higher education technology adoption and groups them into categories related to the timeframe within which they’re expected to influence adoption: short-term (1-2 years), mid-term (3-5 years) and long-term (5+ years). For the short-term, blended learning designs and collaborative learning are highlighted. Mid-term trends include growing focus on measuring learning and redesigning learning spaces, while those for the long-term comprise advancing cultures of innovation and deeper learning approaches.

Interestingly, in the case of APUS, we’re very active with the two trends classified as mid-term. Blended learning is shaped more by the regulatory issues of offering face-to-face classes when you’re only approved for online. In the case of the long-term trends, based on our track record, we have been successful in advancing the culture of innovation while deeper learning approaches are not yet under serious consideration. Four of the innovative systems that we have built or installed over the years include:  PAD (our homegrown student information system), our native app (a mobile app that uses middleware to sync whenever a device goes from offline to online), Clearpath by Fidelis (a learning relationship management system to enhance academic and career counseling), and Civitas (a data analytics package that enables predictive analytics to identify students in need of assistance from faculty members).

Six significant challenges that impede higher education technology adoption are categorized as follows:

  • Solvable (those we understand and know how to solve) are improving digital literacy and integrating formal and informal learning.
  • Difficult (those that we understand but for which solutions are elusive) are the achievement gap and advancing digital equity.
  • Wicked (those that are complex to even define, much less address) are managing knowledge obsolescence and rethinking the roles of educators.

Clearly, all six of these are significant challenges and the classifications are accurate as well. I expect that we are close to solving the first two, but can’t estimate when the latter four will be close to solvable.

Six important developments in technology for higher education are also organized into three time horizons to adoption: within < 1 year are adaptive learning technologies and mobile learning; within 2-3 years are the Internet of Things and Next-Generation LMS; and, lastly, within 4-5 years are artificial intelligence and natural user interfaces. I find the timeframe developments very relevant to our adoption at APUS. Two to three years ago, we made a big commitment to mobile and multiple screen modes for our websites and LMS so we’re a little ahead of that. Last year, we committed to our first adaptive learning software. We are looking at the potential for a next generation LMS as well as trying to understand the implications of the Internet of Things. Artificial intelligence and natural user interfaces are undefined in our planning horizon of 2-3 years.

The 2017 report is worthwhile reading for those interested in the impact of technology on higher education. A panel of experts served as advisors to the authors and are listed in the report. Additionally, more than 300 footnotes support the report’s findings and recommendations. While I would recommend it to consider some of the trends and recommendations for technology and strategic planning, I also suggest selective distribution to board members, administrators, or faculty members who are comfortable with advances in technology.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.


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