Emerged Technologies


Four years is a long time in technology, but how much has happened since 2011?

Back in November 2011 I was asked by the AoC to present at a conference with Donald Taylor on emerging technologies and how FE Colleges should be preparing for them.

My slides and Donald’s are in this slidedeck.

My notes from that presentation are here, but how much has changed since then and had education really embraced and started to embed these emerging technologies.

Electronic Books

Tablets and phones by Zak Mensah

Who here has a Kindle or reads books on their iPad?

Amazon have said they sold more e-books than paperback books in the last quarter of 2010. They have sold millions of Kindles.

Apple sold 15 million iPads then they released the iPad 2.

It was in 2010 that JISC Collections started the e-Books for FE project which really helped libraries across FE start to embed the use of e-books and provide a decent sized collection for learners. Most learners should be able to understand what e-books are, how to access them and many are using them to support their learning. We still have DRM and copyright issues over “lending” ebooks and these don’t look like going away anytime soon. With the growth of learner owned devices and BYOD strategies, we should expect the use of e-books to increase. One thing we do need to consider is that learners are more likely to be using phones to access e-books and that the use and sales of tablets is on the decline.


So when was the first mobile phone call? 1946

When was the first handheld mobile phone call? 1973

Mobile phones are not a new technology. However the phone as a mobile computer, the smartphone, though about ten years old now, will dominate the phone market.

Does anyone actually buy “dumb” mobile phones these days? Or even feature phones? The cost of smartphones has dropped considerably in the last four years, yes the iPhone 6 Plus is a very nice phone, but a decent Android handset can be had for next to nothing these days. I do notice as I walk around how many people are using Samsung Android smartphones to do stuff on. Not only are phones getting cheaper, they are also getting more powerful and better at doing things. Back in 2011 the iPhone 4 had just been released and though the camera was good, it was nowhere near as good as the camera that can be found on the current iPhone or other newer phones. This means that they are better at capturing content than ever before. Storage has also grown, still can’t quite believe that you can have an iPhone 6 with 64GB of storage, I still think 64MB Compact Flash cards I used with the CompaQ iPAQ back in 2000 were huge.

Mobile Phone

Though smartphones are now the standard phone across learners, the reality is that curriculum design, delivery and assessment have not taken advantage of these technologies that learners carry in their pockets. BYOD is not just about the power of the technology, but also how effectively the design of the curriculum and assessment, and how this is delivered takes advantage of the learner owned devices that are carried on a day to day basis.

Augmented Reality

…is the application of a digital information layer over the real world. Hold up your phone to a building and get information on its history and current use. Hold up to a college and see what courses that organisation offers. In an engineering workshop, hold your camerphone up to a piece of equipment and overlaid will be information, on what it is, what it can do and relevant health and safety information.

Back in 2011 I used the example of QR codes been used to transfer links from library shelves to a user’s mobile phone. Today we have technologies such as Aurasma, this image recognition technology uses a smartphone’s or tablet’s camera to recognize real world images and then overlay media on top of them in the form of animations, videos, 3D models and web pages.

In many ways this is quite easy to do, however what is more challenging is to create the effective content that sits behind the Aurasma experience (and to be honest QR codes as well).

What augmented reality shows us is that often the real challenge is not the embedding of the technology, anyone can print QR codes or markers for tools such as Aurasma, but much more what does the learner experience as a result of engaging with the markers and codes?

Game-based Learning

Casual and mobile gaming is really big now in the UK. From the Nintendo Wii , the DS to the iPhone and iPad, as well as the Playstation and xBox. Gaming is huge and lots of different people do it.

When we talk about learners having a short attention span, can’t sit still for ten minutes in a lesson, how is it these same learners can play World of Warcraft for four hours…

Using games for learning is not new, as an old economics teacher I use to use paper based business games a lot. However video games now offer so much more and there are lots of ways that gaming can be used to enhance and enrich learning.

Back in 2011, many colleges were using Brain Training on the Nintendo DS and there was lots of talk about creating learning video games.


This week, Jisc published their gamification toolkit.

This infokit explores gamification and its application to the field of education, learning and teaching. It is written for instructors such as lecturers and teachers, and is also of interest to learning system developers, education technology organisations, metadata specialists, librarians, and anyone concerned with effective learning either within, or outwith, curriculum requirements.

There is still a long way to go before we see colleges and universities embracing and embedding gamification, even if they do it at all. The focus on skills and employability may mean the idea of gamifying the curriculum is left in the cupboard. One spin off that does appear to be gaining traction though is the use of badges and especially open badges.

Gesture-based Computing

The iPad is all about gestures. Microsoft Kinect allows you to play games without needing to use a controller. It won’t be long before we control our devices by waving our hands about!

I said in 2011 it won’t be long, well it is looking like it will be longer than I thought it would be back then. I have to say though gesture based physical interaction on the iPad does make it so much easier to use.

Learning Analytics


You probably already know a lot about your learners, colleges gather huge amounts of data about each and every learner, about them, their progress, their success and their failure. The question is are you making use of that data to make business decisions? Are you analysing learners on entry, during their course and where they go, in order to make decisions about which courses you are running and importantly which courses you should close.

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs.

This area still probably has some way to go before it is embedded into colleges and universities, but there are many places out there who have been using big data and analytics for a while. In addition Jisc have a co-design project looking at analytics for the sector.

Universities and colleges use student data to help make informed decisions which can lead to improved student satisfaction, retention and attainment. However the learning analytics market is undeveloped. Organisations would benefit from tools and exemplars so that they can implement the best solution for their needs and priorities.

Our aim is to provide a set of basic learning analytics tools drawing from a range of data sources and using proven metrics.


3G already offers fast wireless speeds, the future though will be 4G which will allow learners to have download speeds in excess of 20 Mbps, or even faster. This means that learners will be able to stream video content, access a range of media using mobile devices where and when they want to.

In 2011 there was no 4G, and now there is. My experience with 4G has been very positive apart from the cost! The speeds are incredibly fast making it possible to easily consume high quality content such as audio podcasts and video streaming, as well as upload content fast to the web.

We are seeing some price drops in 4G costs, but at the moment it is beyond the price point of most learners.

Connected Televisions

80% of televisions sold today can be connected to the internet, they can be used to access content and resources. Whether they are actually connected is a different question. However popularity of services such as YouTube, BBC iPlayer, 4OD and other content delivery systems, demonstrates that this could be a real way to deliver learning in the home.

Though some colleges and universities experimented with their own TV channels, the real way into the home through connected televisions appears to be through YouTube. However the challenge there is the creation of compelling useful content and avoiding the complication that rights and copyright adds to delivering video over the open internet.

Can I show a pre-recorded DVD in the classroom?

A passing comment mentions other technologies

There are other technologies as well: fibre broadband, voice recognition, voice commands, cloud computing to name a few.

Fibre broadband is on its way to cover most of the country, well not my end of the street. The concept of having really fast broadband, is a reality for a lot of people, making it easier for homes to do multiple high-bandwidth activities all at the same time. Streaming HD video is seemed as quite normal and easily done through devices, computers and televisions.

Tools such as Siri from Apple and Cortana from Microsoft are showing how voice recognition, voice commands and personal assistants are becoming more and more mainstream. Google has built voice recognition into search, and though you need an internet connection for most of these services to work, they are a real leap forward from the voice recognition technologies we were dealing with five years ago.

As for cloud computing, well it’s probably easier to note who isn’t using it, rather than who is. Usage of tools such as Google Apps, Dropbox and Office 365 shows that cloud computing is embedded into people’s day to day activities, whilst tools such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon S3 (simple storage service) show how easy it is for enterprise level applications to be hosted in the cloud. Of course what cloud really means, is letting someone else host your data and applications rather than do it yourself, it’s still on a computer somewhere, just not on yours!

Predicting the future accurately is a real challenge, and nigh on impossible to do, however what is certainly possible and  feasible, is to prepare an institution for the future. By ensuing the strategic approach of the organisation can accommodate what may and could happen, it makes it much easier to prepare for change and importantly take advantage of what the future might bring.

In another post about a seminar six months later, I reflected on why we don’t prepare for the future.

As for the next five years? Well that’s another blog post… sometime in the future…

One thought on “Emerged Technologies”

  1. So, my thoughts
    *Kindle* I have one & love it. I have the kindle app on my phone, iPod & Tablet, but can’t remember the last time I used it on any of them. Reason: The Kindle has an infinitely better battery life, I don’t get distracted – and it’s easier on my eyes. When it finally dies, I’ll certainly replace it. But, I’m also a reader & I have a *lot* of books round the house. I wonder if the move from book to Kindle to Tablet is more pronounced the fewer books on average you read a year.

    *Dumb phone* – I have one- which I keep a spare PAYG sim card in, useful for places that don’t get 3, (its vodaphone). We had a lot of problems trying to find Dad a basic phone – with big buttons (remember the days when smaller was better if you have a phone). Today it seems to be bigger is better – and the basic ones are small, unless you want to pay a lot more for a “special” one. Which isn’t special really, other than being big.

    *Augmented reality* – yes, need to find the right uses for them educationally; from a personal point of view, my phone (Sony Xperia) has a camera setting “Info Eye” – which relies on visual recogition to work out where the photo is. It doesn’t use location tools (I’ve tested it when it got something very wrong … Uppsala Cathedral [it thought it was Blackpool Tower]). It also doesn’t work when it’s offline – so you can’t take a photo – then hook into the wifi when you find some, so not that useful if you’re travelling.

    *Gamification* – I’ve not read JISC’s toolkit, but what are you/they seeing as differences between “games” and simulations of a business nature? [I did VSO in the mid 90s & before we went there was a training session on issues of development. One thing they had was a paper based game in which you were a leader of a country. It was structured in such a way that the rich countries got richer – and the poor, poorer – and it was very hard to equalise the wealth.

    *Gesture based* – given that smartphones are now the most common way people access the internet, and if those that rejected Windows 8 take up 10, maybe touching screens will be come ever more common. Who knows, maybe those leap motion things will finally take off! (And the rise of wearables) When I first started teaching, converting a regular screen to touch for children with severe disabilities meant putting a great big frame round it; so much easier today! [And I still have an old Toshiba M100 that was a Windows XP tablet … ]

    *Learning Analytics* can be useful, I agree, but, there needs to be a human element; I’d hate to see decisions made purely on measuring behaviour, without trying to find out why … we have enough issues trying to monitor “attendance” [which i know doesn’t equal engagement – the Home office are interested in attendance, I’m interested in engagement] But I’m sure all your readers agree!

    *4G* – love it when I can get it & having 3 means it’s no more expensive than 3G – but, I only get it in limited places.

    *Connected TVs* – BobNational would be really good on a TV – though I suspect that would be a rights nightmare! [I should really try seeing if screen mirroring works for it

    [ *Voice recognition* – I wish my phone would remember that I *don’t* want to use it. It will keep asking … ]

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