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Five Ed-Tech Themes for 2010

So if you're like me, you tend to start thinking about 2011 as soon as the presents are all open and you're struggling to find a place to throw away all that wrapping paper. And given all the movement we've seen this year, it really is exciting to ponder what the next 12 months will bring. (An explosion in adaptive learning? A comprehensible definition of cloud computing? An iPad app that delivers Karen Cator's ed-tech stump speech on demand?)

Bu before the rampant speculation about next year commences, let's remember it's as important to remember where you've been as it is to know where you're going. Especially when filing expense reports.

So without further ado, here's what we on the Digital Education Blog see as the five biggest ed-tech trends of the past year.

Blended Learning

No, I'm not talking about that feeling of being smarter after a mug of eggnog.

Across the country, more educators are agreeing that the natural path of online and brick-and-mortar learning is to continue to blur until their separation becomes almost indecipherable. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning identified blended learning as one of its hot trends within online learning this year, which includes schools offering online courses to supplement brick-and-mortar classes as well as schools where teachers implement online activities to extend their reach beyond the face-to-face classroom. And one study found that many brick-and-mortar high school principals were interested in expanding their online learning options, especially in cases of Advanced Placement and credit recovery courses.

Federal Involvement

From the U.S. Department of Education's National Education Technology Plan, to the Federal Communication Commission's National Broadband Plan, to real policy changes such as indexing the E-Rate funding cap for inflation, the federal government has made it a major point to push the importance of technology as an agent for reforming and transforming schools.

Now, 2011 may be a referendum on whether the initiatives pushed by ed-tech chief Karen Cator, FCC chair Julius Genachowski, and others have the clout to lead a larger swath of the nation's schools to modernize their thinking about technology from something that is layered over top of education to something that can help completely reinvent it.

Technology as a Cost Cutter

Expect to read a lot more about this in our upcoming 2011 issue of Quality Counts. But the basic gist is that ed-tech leaders say they are beginning to win the battle, both with technology and non-technology education professionals, of convincing them that technology can be an expense saver, rather than an expense builder. The desire to provide low-demand classes at less cost appears to be much of what is driving curiosity in blended learning, while social networking is starting to be pushed as a logistically and financially viable way to expand the school day. And in some cases, technology is even looked upon as a way to travel the world from within the classroom.

Mobile Learning

The smartphones and other handheld devices once thought of as a major classroom nuisance are starting to gain acceptance as tools with real educational potential. And it doesn't hurt that many of these devices are student owned, meaning their use for learning can occur at a minimal cost to the district. Research is also finding benefits of mobile learning even for preschool age students, who are more likely to use the devices during time spent with Mom and Dad than in a class with a preschool teacher.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Not that this doesn't always happen in technology—our beat may be more tied to business than any other here at Education Week, but even in a difficult financial climate (or perhaps because of it), some potential big investors appear to be throwing their weight behind technology. Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch are among those from the celebrity realm who've made commitments to education technology in 2010, and in the background, a flurry of mergers and acquisitions has categorized the ed-tech scene this year.

What do you think?

Did we do a good job identifying the hot topics in 2010? Or did we slight something like increased attention to cyberbullying or the growing push for computer science education? And what do you think will change between now and this time next year? If you've got time between the verses (verse?) of "Auld Lang Syne" and the trips (trip?) to the gym, let us know what you think. We'd love to read what you have to say.

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