Are You Ready for These New Education Technology Fads and Trends?

by Frank Catalano

At one point in early May, three different edtech conferences overlapped in the San Francisco Bay Area in the same week: NewSchools Venture Fund’s invitation-only NewSchools Summit, the Software and Information Industry Association’s annual Education Industry Summit, and the U.S. Office of Education Technology’s Future Ready Summit.

Coming on the heels of other high-elevation edtech events with record crowds (Austin’s festival-like SXSWedu in March, and Scottsdale’s Burning-Man-for-investors ASU+GSV Summit in April), it’s no wonder attendees are all left gasping as the seasonal climb nears its end. It makes no difference if one is in industry, policy, funding or teaching, or focuses on K-12 schools, higher education, or lifelong learning. By the time summer arrives, everyone is dazed and confused, and only part of it is altitude sickness.

The result? If you’re an old hand, new to the industry, or just want to understand what all the self-described cool kids are abbreviating (education does so love its jargon), here is your highly opinionated cheat sheet to ten trends, fads, and inexplicable WTFs of edtech, 2015 edition.


BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement: Encouraging students to bring their own laptops, tablets, and even smartphones to school to help get to 1:1 computing (that is, every student has a device) faster than relying solely on school-issued devices. A strong trend, more so at the high school level where many students are more likely to already own a mobile device. Big drivers are the move to digital materials and strained school budgets; challenges are network security and equity for students who don’t have devices or broadband access at home.

Open Educational Resources (OER): Creating digital instructional materials that teachers are free to use, change, and share. A moderate trend, propelled by foundation and government money and pockets of highly motivated educators who develop the resources on their own time, or on school time as part of an institutional effort. Appeal is, well, the free part (except labor); a challenge is maintaining OER over time and getting the resources to combine neatly with other digital content a school may already have purchased.

Freemium: Products or services that have a useful version that is free forever, with an upsell for more scale (say, from individual classroom to school district level) or for more features. A strong trend that has its roots in the long-time concept of consumer or business freeware or shareware, brought to education by savvy startups either wholly aimed at schools (Schoology) or that crossed over from consumer (Evernote). Once considered a fad, freemium moved to trend after some school districts stopped resisting the idea that teachers could identify, try, and recommend good products – and bought.

Student data privacy: Protecting digital student data through security, policy, and practice as consumer apps enter the classroom and pieces of the data persist across 12, or even 20, years of formal education. A moderate trend if you go with the training-wheels (but important starting point)Student Privacy Pledge signed by 140 companies. But much stronger when you add in proposed federal legislation and overdue updates to laws like FERPA (look it up, as your teacher may have once scolded).

Edtech investment bubble: Too much investor money chasing too many similar or bad ideas (for reference, see “dot-com era” and a cute mascot). It’s a strong trend. While the total amount of venture investment in edtech pales by comparison to, say, a single Uber, stupid money appears to be tripping over smart to get in on action and into a market they don’t fully understand. The debate isn’t about whether there is a bubble; it’s whether the bubble is limited to certain segments or is over-inflating all of education technology equally. Unless you’re asking an investor benefiting from inflated values – then it’s all about the kids. Greater fools may abound.


Going 100 percent digital: Replacing everything a student touches, from instructional materials to tests, with digital equivalents. Works great in a world of unlimited bandwidth, perfectly reliable devices, and totally flexible and intuitive software. Oh, and lots of money. This has been attempted in a few perfect-world school districts in the U.S., or where mandated (and funded) by top-down education ministries in other countries. But in much of the messy, unequal, real world, it’s still easier and more common for teachers to do a pop quiz on paper or to ensure educational equity by simply sending home a paperback copy of Shakespeare.

Coding classes and camps: From CoderDojo and to many more, one hour, one weekend, or after-school efforts to get kids to learn computer programming languages to develop logical thinking and STEM (science-technology-engineering-mathematics) skills. We’re in the middle of an if-thenbubble. But the ultimate result will likely be non-binary and more trend than fad, as groups like hope: More recognition of computer science, which is far broader and deeper than coding, as a legitimate part of the K-12 curriculum.


Open Badges: Portable digital graphics with embedded data that represent a skill or achievement and can be easily and securely shared by the earner, then confirmed by an institution or employer, as micro-credentials. Launched by the Mozilla Foundation, Open Badges have failed to take off in K-12 schools as much more than digital gold stars for motivation – there’s far more (albeit still nascent) traction in higher education and professional certification where “chunking” and “stacking” individual accomplishments into, say, a degree or resume is better understood. Open Badges in schools may be facing a classic chicken-or-egg problem. Or districts too chicken to try something this new.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses): Free classes held online at huge scale that are open to anyone. After a burst of success with computer science topics, companies trying to monetize MOOCs have conveniently begun dropping words from the acronym, mostly “massive” (limiting enrollment to a specific institution or company) and “open” (by charging to take part). While MOOCs haven’t been the harbinger of traditional higher education’s doom that some had gleefully predicted, they have succeeded in attracting students of every age to learn more about parts of classes that interest them, and shone a light on the potential of the remaining two words: “online courses.”

With careful study, this cheat sheet of education technology developments and their near-term outlook should make that next education meetup, pitchfest, or conference far more understandable, if not tolerable. Because there will be a test. In education, there always is.

Short URL:

Leave a Reply

Keep in Touch With AdjunctNation

Graphic Graphic Graphic


Want to see your advertisement on Click here.


Want to see your advertisement on Click here.


Want to see your advertisement on Click here.



From the Archive

  • Teaching With Moodle

    by Thomas N. Robb Virtually every educational institution has by now adopted a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or CMS (Course Management System) for use either as an adjunct to its traditional courses (often called a “blended” or ”hybrid” course system), or as a tool for its distance education program. The “big players” are WebCT and […]

  • 500 American University Part-Timers Consider Joining SEIU

    by Chris Lewis Starting today, adjunct faculty at American University will begin voting on whether or not to join the Service Employees International Union. Supporters say collective bargaining can help improve pay and job security for adjuncts, the academic world’s version of migrant labor. Non-tenure-track faculty are generally paid much less than their tenured counterparts […]

  • #Teaching: Survey Finds Profs Use of Social Media Increasing

    College faculty have evolved their use of social media for professional, personal and instructional use, with a decrease in concerns around the value and amount of time spent using social media, according to a new report from the Babson Survey Research Group. The annual survey of nearly 4,000 teaching faculty from all disciplines in higher education, […]

  • Evaluating Adjunct Faculty

    by Richard Lyons IN THE INCREASINGLY competitive, accountability-conscious environment of higher education, all of us are seeking cost-effective ways of improving our institutional effectiveness. Assuming your institution, division, or department employs a significant number of part-time instructors, I would encourage you to invest time at the end of this academic year to analyze your process for […]

  • How to Develop a Great FAQ Page for an Online Course

    by Rahel Anne Bailie When instructors and course designers create an online course, an accompanying FAQ page is often included as part of the package. While the creators of FAQ pages may feel virtuous about providing contextual information, the effectiveness can’t be confirmed until the other side of the equation has been calculated: Are learners […]


Want to see your advertisement on Click here.


Want to see your advertisement on Click here.

Recently Commented

  • Rick: If your looking for non-academic jobs, or “menial” jobs do not even mention your graduate...
  • AdjunctNation Editorial Team: @Jeffr thanks for pointing out the distinction.
  • Jeffr: Note that adjunct faculty are considered to be on a “term” basis and receives no protection except...
  • Scott: I believe Sami is correct in that this no reasonable assurance language will allow adjuncts continuing access...
  • Nancy West-Diangelo: It’s as if we’ve lost the ability to listen critically. If the point of the work we...