US Futurist says E-Books Will Replace University Textbooks Within Three Years


Electronic books are expected to replace traditional textbooks in universities in two to three years’ time, according to the New Media Consortium’s authoritative Horizon Report, a comprehensive annual study of developments in e-learning. At ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2010, Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium, will discuss the very latest findings of the Horizon Report 2011, before the official release in January. The annual report is based on the views of hundreds of technology experts in education, museums, business and creative industries. Here, Larry Johnson takes a broader look at the technological trends in this field.

OEB: Two technologies with considerable potential for teaching, learning and creative inquiry seem to be emerging rapidly: electronic books and simple augmented reality. According to your research, how are they going to be used in the academic world over the next two to three years?


Electronic books, put simply, are going to replace traditional textbooks. They solve two problems for university students – they are lighter and they are cheaper. The prospect of holding all the reading materials you will need in a single device weighing less than a kilo is a powerful driver from the consumer side, and we are seeing a number of universities that are pushing publishers to move in this direction. They solve a number of problems for authors, including making it easy to include video, color imagery, animations and much more that when possible at all, is very expensive in print format. Any discipline that can benefit from these sorts of visual learning aids – i.e. all of them – will see textbooks change in ways that make them much more flexible and attuned to learner needs and preferences.


The Horizon Report: Key Technology Trends for the Next Five Years

After nearly a decade of tracking the evolution of emerging technology as part of the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project, project researchers have uncovered seven clear patterns in the evolution of technology that can only be seen over time:


Computing in Three Dimensions
Moving the computer into three dimensions has been a recurring theme and development has been extensive, and all manners of enhanced visualisation tools are probing the depths of rich data sets for new learning and knowledge. Three-dimensional computing opens the door to new forms of refection, art, inquiry, and methods of discovery that is also taking advantage of advances in cognitive and neurological sciences.


Intuitive Interfaces
As computing becomes more natural, more gesture-based, it also becomes more transparent and more an extension of our natural capabilities. Touch screens, gesture-based computers, imbedded sensors, GPS, and accelerometers are adding applications we once only dreamed of to the devices we carry.


Serious Games
Today, a gamer is more likely to have children than to be one. Two generations of people worldwide have now grown up with games as an ever present part of their lives, and even in poorer cultures, gaming is something that people naturally gravitate towards. Gaming brings not only new tools, but new pedagogies to the educational mix, with results that are increasingly easy to document.


Users As Producers of Content
All the largest websites in the world are based around the notion of providing a framework for showing, organising, and finding user-generated content. With mobile multimedia capture devices in the form of cell phones in the hands of much of the world’s population — in October 2009, the Economist magazine reported that 3.6 billion people owned and used cellphones worldwide. Increasingly these same devices are able to access the Internet as well. The implications of these trends for education are profound, as the need for information and visual literacy have never been higher.


Collective Intelligence
An unprecedented sea change is taking place in the ways we create new knowledge – we are more and more both producers and consumers of knowledge. The collective sharing and generation of knowledge was discussed in the very first Horizon Report, and has appeared in one form or another in every report since. Since that time, three distinct forms of collective intelligence have begun to emerge – tacit, explicit, and semantic. Increasingly, collective intelligence, in the form of undiscovered relationships among information and data on the web, is the source of new and significant insights and knowledge.


A Network Organised Around Us
For years now, a profound shift has been taking place in the way resources are organised on the network, and increasingly, it is people that are the organising principle, with tremendous implications for how we assess authority, reputation, credibility – and above all, communication. Of all the trends listed here, this is easily the one that will produce the greatest change in how we connect to, learn from, and relate with each other. New tools are allowing us to connect with each other ever more seamlessly, over greater distances, and for less and less (or no) cost.


There are still problems with the cost and pricing models of publishers, however, who are still locked into the reward systems of hard copy sales – this is the primary reason this is pushed out two to three years in higher education.


In primary and secondary education, where books are typically provided by schools, there is less interest because theconsumer is the institution – and because typically ebooks imply purchasing a new device to read them with. As new devices like the iPad that can deliver ebooks and a lot more take hold, however, this constraint will ease – we think in about two to three years, as publishers, like the music industry before them, sort out how to sell in this new medium.


Augmented reality is interesting to education on several levels. First, it is a simple way to add 3D content to a range of common things, like books, paper, and even phones via simple marker-based technologies and laptop webcams. Authoring tools abound, and the technology is instantly interesting to users as it feels like something completely new.


Where augmented reality really gets interesting, however, is when it is joined with geolocation on mobile devices. This allows common information, such as the location of subway stations or restaurants, to be overlaid over all sorts of common mobile applications like maps or video. The implications for field study are enormous, as augmented reality will allow students to enter real time observations into larger datasets delivered right to their hands. In a lab situation, augmented reality can help students understand complex or dangerous processes with just-in-time information flows, images, figures, and animations.


OEB: According to the Horizon Report, gesture based computing will have replaced the keyboard and the mouse within the next four or five years. This technology is already used by the electronic games industry. What impact will it have on education, learning and creative inquiry?


Gesture-based computing will replace all of the devices we commonly use, and that applies to education just as it does to the rest of our lives. Even smartphones with keyboards incorporate elements of gesture-based computing, and new interface technologies like Kinect, Sixth Sense, and Tamper are using completely new and very intuitive approaches to how we connect with our computers.


The impact on education will come through the ways intuitive interfaces drop the barrier between humans and their machines. One only has to look at the increasing number of people eager to leave their laptops at home and instead carry an iPad to see how quickly we will be willing to leave the old clucky keyboards.


The one development yet needed is an efficient way to write – but most other uses for computers are already seeing significant impact from new ways of interacting with content. Video, imaging, and audio are already seeing tremendous development, as are games and entertainment. We think a credible writing tool will replace the creaky Word versions most of us use today within this timeframe.


OEB: Who are your “trend scouts”, and how do you recruit them?


We talk to technology experts from education, museums, business, and the creative industries all over the globe. They are a unique group for every edition. For example, our Australia-New Zealand Edition taps primarily experts from those countries. Our museum edition reaches out to experts that are very familiar with the work of museums.


Larry Johnson

It is their consensus views that are ultimately published in the various Horizon Reports we produce each year. Each advisory board is composed of about 45 experts, and every year, about a third rotate off and are replaced to ensure we have a fresh perspective. The total number, across the sixteen advisory boards we have convened in the last eight years, is over five hundred, and they have represented more than forty countries.


OEB: How do your experts identify the trends?


We begin our process by sharing a very fresh set of resources on emerging technology, technology and popular culture, published “technology to watch” lists, and several other categories that we curate from a daily review of some 700 news sources, publications and research centers. All the members spend about a week reviewing that body of material to ensure we all start from the same place. At the same time, we are very interested in their own subjective perspectives. Indeed, that is the focus of our research – to uncover the consensus of experts.
We push them in our process to look first to common innovations that some institutions are already using that show enough promise that all institutions should be considering them. Then we ask them to look out to business and entertainment for technologies that innovative institutions should be looking into. Finally, we ask them to look beyond those sectors to science and engineering discoveries that are promising. These discussions are rich and informative and are the source of the list of 100 – 200 emerging technologies that we examine each year. Then, in successive rounds of Delphi-based voting and additional research by staff, we reduce that set of 100 – 200 to the six that all agree should be included in the report.


OEB: The Horizon Report is published in several languages including Japanese, German, Chinese, as well as Spanish and Catalan. A new Spanish language report has been just published. How do these reports differ – are there different trends in different markets?


The new Iberoamerican Report is a regional report focused exclusively on the fourteen countries in Latin America, plus Spain and Portugal. That was the first Horizon process to be conducted completely in another language, and to incorporate sophisticated statistical translation tools. The Iberoamerican Report was published in Spanish, but is also being translated into English and Catalan.


Now that we have piloted that process in the Iberoamerican Report, we are looking to expand into other localised editions completely conducted in the local languages. The other foreign language editions are translations of the globally focused report published in English each January.


OEB: In your opinion, which trends are most likely to enter mainstream use on campuses this year, to be published in the Horizon Report in January 2011?


We have just started this research – I’ll have an answer to this question by the time I see you in Berlin!


Larry Johnson will deliver his keynote speech in the academic plenary of ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2010 on Friday, December 3, 09:30 – 11:00.




The Horizon Report 2010 is available here:

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