Before January comes to a close, we at Smart Sparrow would like to share our predictions for the year ahead.

Significant adoption of “learning design”

Schools and educators will increasingly understand that improving the quality of education, at scale, has to involve reimagining and redesigning the learning experience — not simply funding investments in technology. This evolution is equivalent to what happened in consumer products during the last ten years with the rise of User Experience design. This shift will lead to many important changes, among them a more central and appreciated role for learning designers, especially for online programs.

Adaptive learning becomes mainstream

In 2015, the adaptive and personalized learning movement reached several milestones, including inspiring at least five adaptive learning summits. The National Education Initiative dedicated one of its annual summits to the field. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced its investment of US$20m to “tip the market to adaptive courseware,” followed by a series of investments (OLC, NMC, APLU) to entice US higher ed institutions to adopt adaptive tools. In the meantime, personalized digital learning is featuring at the top of a number of universities’ strategic plans. And even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are now backing this education revolution. Momentum will grow in 2016, with more funding, more initiatives, more pilots, and more success stories.

Sharing is caring

2016 will also see a growth in the cultural shift happening in education. Networks like Teachers Pay Teachers, TES, BEST Network, and Inspark, and the rise of Open Educational Resources, represent an increasing openness for teachers to share and borrow from each other. The education world is progressively embracing what the open-source community realized long ago — it’s better to build on the efforts of others.

eCampus news recently published a roundup of 2016 predictions from higher ed leaders, which I think is a good summary of the broader trends we can expect to see in this space and which will have a significant impact in this year to come. Here are my top 5 picks:

  1. Educational Quality: Alana Dunagan (Higher Ed Researcher, Clayton Christensen Institute) expects institutions to renew their focus on students, with an emphasis on delivering affordable, scalable, high-quality instruction. We couldn’t agree more.
  2. New emphasis on Learning and Pedagogical Practice: The number of Instructional Designers is growing faster than the data we can Google. Titles like “designer” and “innovation officer” are replacing “strategist” and “coordinator” in edtech jobs, reflecting an increasing emphasis on learning and pedagogical practice. This may well be the year of the instructional designer.
  3. Education Crowdsourcing: Ed Schlichenmayer (Deputy CEO, National Association of College Stores) notes that Open Educational Resources (OER) are poised to ramp up in 2016. With an ever-growing set of searchable OER repositories and new grants supporting the development of online materials, faculty and communities alike have incentive to develop and provide more open resources.
  4. Device-Agnostic Content: The vast majority of students have mobile devices at their side, and it only makes sense that we follow the advice of Thomas Hoover (Associate Vice Chancellor and CIO, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) and leverage those devices to change the way our students learn. The challenge with m-learning will be to avoid rehashing old styles and focus on redesigning the whole experience.
  5. Closing the Loop with Data: As Matthew Schnittman (President & CEO of Helix Education) rightly describes, data and education aren’t new concepts. What’s “new” is the way these elements are being combined to provide a truly personalized and student-centric experience at scale, which will have a big ripple effect for the future of retention.