© Duncan Campbell, 2012, Creative Commons license

In my e-learning outlook for 2012, I focused on mainly educational developments in e-learning during 2012. In this post, I want to look at some of the more interesting technologies that could have a major impact on e-learning. Since I’m not a technologist by background, I’m drawing mainly on secondary sources for this post, but (of course!) adding my own spin as an educator.

The NMC Horizon 2012 Higher Education Review lists six technologies over a five year horizon:

One year or less:

  • Mobile apps
  • Tablets

Two to three years:

  • game-based learning
  • learning analytics

Four to five years

  • gesture-based computing
  • the Internet of Things

I am completely in line with their prediction for adoption of tablets and mobile apps in 2012. I think learning analytics will be adopted more quickly than the Horizon timeline, but that’s a matter of timing rather than direction. I agree that game-based learning will become more prevalent, but I don’t see it as becoming widely used, because of the cost of design. It will be used in pockets or selectively rather than as a widespread tool. I see gesture-based computing (or haptics) as just one of a wider range of ways of interacting and interfacing with computers, of which touch screen technology is also a part. I thought they might also have included voice control.

The most interesting item on the Horizon list is the Internet of Things. This will be the way ordinary, everyday objects will become linked, through wireless technology, to the Internet, enabling, for instance, remote control through mobile phones of equipment in the office or house. This has fascinating possibilities. All we need as instructors or teachers is imagination as to how we can use the Internet of Things to enhance our teaching. However, don’t worry – this isn’t going to be ready for educational use in 2012.

General technology trends

I have drawn on two other sources:

Randy Muller’s Seven Technology Predictions for 2012 and Beyond (Global Knowledge) and

Peter Cashmore’s The Top 10 tech trends for 2012 (CNN).

These are general technology trends, not specific to education, so I have selected from within their lists as to what I think will be most relevant to education.

The changing user interface

There is some overlap here with the Horizon list, but these two commentators widen the range of factors influencing the user interface as follows:

  • voice control
  • gesture control/haptics
  • touchscreens
  • 3D

Taken together, I believe we will have a very different way of interfacing with technology within three years. Goodbye the mouse and the graphical user interface. The new ways of interfacing will open up more educational affordances which will make learning more engaging and exciting but at the same time present more challenges for instructors and course designers.


I’m really surprised the Horizon report didn’t highlight this as a significant development for 2012. As Peter Cashmore states:

HTML5 — the fifth iteration of the HTML standard — lets developers create richer, more interactive applications than ever. Why does this matter? As developers tire of building applications for every operating system out there — from Android to iOS to Windows Phone and beyond — HTML5 offers the opportunity to build an app once and have it work everywhere. The rise of HTML5 is bound to be accelerated by a recent revelation: Adobe is killing off Flash for mobile devices, meaning one of the primary methods of serving videos and rich applications on mobile phones is about to disappear. HTML5 will fill that gap. For us as consumers, that means richer applications and experiences on all our devices.

The end of the laptop?

Well, not quite, at least in 2012, but both Muller and Cashmore believe that for many users, tablets will replace laptops as the main form of ‘terminal’, especially considering the next trend towards cloud computing. Certainly for students, I see the laptop becoming rapidly obsolete, but for that to happen, we will need tablets with more ‘creative’ functionality than at present – and probably a large screen to which we can connect the tablet (given that I have five windows open at the moment in order to do this article).

To the cloud

The move to cloud computing will probably move faster in the business sector than in higher education in 2012, but nevertheless the trend for higher education is inevitable, because of the likely cost savings. The question is not whether HE will move to cloud computing, but how? Will we see ‘private’clouds with shared services, run by government agencies, that provide security and protection for institutions? Or will HE institutions ‘trust’ commercial cloud services? There are still legal and jurisdictional issues around privacy that are likely to slow the move to cloud computing in higher education, but over time I think these will be addressed.


Keep running. The technology innovation treadmill grinds on with no sign of letting up. This makes it all the more important we have strong educational criteria for making decisions about technology, as the choice continues to increase, and hence the complexity of decision-making.

But it is fun, isn’t it?

Your response?

What have I missed? Do you agree with some of the developments suggested here or are they off base? And what does this continuous development mean for educators? Over to you, readers!



  1. Thanks for the post. Particularly intrigued by your thoughts on learning analytics and gesture-based computing – sparked lots of ideas.

    I’m a passionate believer in the potential of game-based learning but I think many so-called educational games have done us a huge disservice – they are neither educational nor games! (http://playwithlearning.com/2011/11/09/educational-games/)

    Still, I’m optimistic that this year we might see genuinely fruitful developments in the area and some renewed focus (http://playwithlearning.com/2011/12/12/what-games-are-good-for/)

    Thanks again.

    • Good point, Britt.

      I guess it depends on how you define e-learning. I don’t want to get hung up on definitions, but I see e-learning as broader than just online learning, covering classroom activities that use digital technology as well as online learning.

      Also, your point is well made as these new technology developments will also impact on all uses of technology, administrative as well as teaching.


  2. I do wonder where education is going to go. Not just a general higher education level, but e-learning and online courses. I don’t think there will ever be a time that there aren’t any conventional universities, but more and more people are opting for taking courses online, and even in HS a lot of kids take distance learning courses for college credit. It will be interesting to see what becomes available.

  3. Fascinating post Tony. I think you should always include a category of ‘The unknown’ in any list of future developments.

    The whole area of e-Learning is of interest to me as I intend that this will be my primary means of attaining a degree, starting later this year, forty six years after leaving school.

    Perhaps yet another area of future development will be the growth of personal Group Apps.

    You’re bookmarked, courtesy of Ebba!


  4. Hi.
    Thanks for all these enriching details. But I’m really wondering about the quality of the learning contents. We are all focusing on the high technologies and new learning forms but we are forgetting the innovation in the teaching programs improving new skills, which is the essancial aim after all.
    I think that looking forward high-technology ways to communicate the informations needed to acquire competences and qualifications shoudn’t affect the quality of these informations and the level of kowledge offered by these very complicated and very exciting systems. This is one of the negatif aspects of the technical-development. Is it right to think so?
    I would be so grateful to get a reply from your side Sirs.

  5. Thanks a lot Tony. Very comprehensive article. I agree with your points andespecially on the voice control part you mentioned. I think this article is a must read for anyone interested in ellearning


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