Horizon scanning v trends in education

Giacomo Balla, 'Abstract Speed + Sound,' 1913-1914 (Image in public domain in USA, via Wikimedia)
Giacomo Balla, ‘Abstract Speed + Sound,’ 1913-1914 (Image in public domain in USA, via Wikimedia)

Recently I was challenged to propose and discuss new developments in education, specifically in online learning. We had before us a list of trends; in order to make that list (as I recall) the trend needed to have a certain number of publications describing it and preferably having researched its use.

The question came up, however, about future trends. That puzzled me; isn’t it an oxymoron? A trend is a trend because it is happening, so this excludes the future. But surely there is a role for those who work in education to “try and see the future” based on the present. What we were being asked to do is sometimes referred to as horizon scanning. I have recently begun to more closely follow the work of Bryan Alexander in the USA and this is his field. There are many others whom I follow and have worked with and for (Gilly Salmon and Grainne Conole particularly) who include this aspect in their work.

What criteria could serve to determine that a notion is a future trend? Publications in the traditional sense seems too slow — the trend would be cold toast by that time. Could number of blog posts serve to help determine? Number of tweets?

It has been said that part of Steve Job’s success was that he could sense the future. But this was happening before the social media era; how did he do it? This 1983 recording is scarily spot on.

Sometimes I have guessed correctly ‘where things were heading’ — but I am trying to identify exactly how might one guess more correctly.

If you have thoughts on this, please do share!

Terese Bird, Educational Designer, Leicester Medical School


7 comments on “Horizon scanning v trends in education

  1. Thanks Alan …. interesting point. I guess if anyone could demonstrably answer, they’d be making a killing on the stock market etc etc. Your comment also makes me think of the learner analytics attempts to predict students’ future success, using things like their postcode…. which I think we in education need to vigilantly keep a suspicious eye upon.


  2. People look to somewhere like Apple as if they’re some form of ‘leader’ that should be followed (some would say blindly) is worrying. Do they not realise these businesses are chasing profit and market-leading products? It is our role and responsibility (as LTs) to question each device and technology, to keep these advances in check, and to properly critique them before either implementation or dismissal.


    • Thanks, David. It is indeed wrong-headed when senior people “believe the suits” and buy what the salespeople are touting without understanding the needs and practices of teaching and research. This is sadly prevalent. I think part of what you’re saying is also that we learning technologists need to watch the sectors — including the consumer sector, the Apples and Microsofts — so we can interpret to academics and other stakeholders where these products may or may not fit the bill.


  3. Alan Kay was the one who predicted spot on tablet computers in 1972 not Jobs. I cannot accept this terrible mistake sorry guys. If we talk about technology we need to be better informed.


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