JISC Observatory Technology Forecast Literature Review

One of the tasks the JISC Observatory has undertaken is to identify trends of emerging technologies and applications from outside the European and N American educational domains that could conceivably be relevant to the UK higher education system. In order to do so my colleague Phil Barker and I carried out a brief literature scan of the major technology forecasting publications from business and other sectors which are available through open access, e.g. PwC Technology Forecast, Gartner’s Top IT Predictions, etc.

Around thirty publications describing emerging technologies predicted to be important to domains other than education, were suggested by members of JISC’s two Innovation Support Centres: Cetis and UKOLN. These are listed on the delicious website. These were read and the technologies they identify summarised in a Google Doc. These technologies were then grouped into themes for discussion. For each theme we provide a brief introductory definition, a short snapshot of relevant technologies and applications in business and the wider world, and its implications for an organisation’s IT and business strategies. The final report is now available for download.

Overall the themes that were identified as being widely discussed in the technology forecast publications came as no surprise, but there were some interesting trends that were picked up by only one or two of the forecast publications that wered new to us, for example, fabric-based computing (a modular approach to computer hardware, Gartner 2010), that might be worth considering further.

Disruptive innovation and Open Education in HE

In my presentation at the recent CAL conference on disruptive innovation and Open Education in institutions I looked at the implications of OERs and Open Education initiatives in HE provision by applying Clayton Christensen’s disruptive innovation framework. Clayton Christensen offers two types of innovations that affect how we improve business and organisations: sustaining and disruptive. According to Christensen, a sustaining innovation is about improving the existing system while a disruptive innovation, on the other hand, creates an entirely new market, typically by lowering price or designing for a different set of consumers or different needs of existing customers. The theory of disruptive innovation helps explain how complicated, expensive products and services are eventually converted into simpler, affordable ones.

HE institutions are currently facing the challenges of funding cuts and rising tuition fees; on the other hand, the rapid development of OERs and Open Education initiatives provides opportunities for institutions to explore new business, financial and revenue models for free or lower cost and flexible HE provision to meet different needs of learners. As with many other technology related initiatives in education, it is clear that most institutional OER programmes focus on sustaining their current business and practice. Inevitably, the existing culture and organisational structure poses huge barriers to innovative models for the use of OERs and provision of Open Education. By contrast, many disruptive innovations around open courses, which offer different models and approaches to make education more accessible and free for all, have grown rapidly outside institutions. Examples of this type of innovation, such as DIY U, P2P U, OER U etc., can be seen as a complement or threat to traditional universities.

Disruptive innovation theories offer possible business solutions and organisational strategies to respond to open educational service provisions, such as by setting up new units with different resources, processes, and priorities to explore new educational approaches and services. Institutions can launch new market disruption to target those who are not being able to go to universities, or either launch up-market sustaining innovations by reducing the cost and providing better learning experiences without extra cost or low end market disruption to target those who look for simple and straight forward courses rather than complicated university degrees. The challenge for institutions is how to implement both sustaining and disruptive innovation in order to improve the existing teaching and learning practice as well as move away from highly formalised, standardised and expensive HE provision towards an individualised, cheaper, flexible and effective education economy.

The slides of this presentation are available at the Slideshare.