NATURAL USER INTERFACES: The last few year have brought about a number of important innovations in the ways in which we interact and interface with technology: motion-sensing as with the Microsoft Kinect, the touchscreen of the iPhone, the voice-activation of Siri. Just as the graphical user interface, the GUI, opened computer technologies to new populations (specifically non-programmers), these natural user interfaces will likely push those things further forward, increasing accessibility.
WEB APPS (HTML5): Despite the popularity of Apple devices -- among consumers and in the classroom -- an emphasis or reliance on native (iOS or Mac) apps excludes a lot of people. The demands for tools that can be used at home and at school, regardless of device, will lead to more Web-based education applications. Thanks to HTML5 technology, Flash, which is still used by a lot of educational content providers, will no longer be as ubiquitous.
DATA: "Data-driven" has been a buzz phrase in education for a number of years now, but much of the emphasis has been on standardized testing. With more "data exhaust" from our usage of technology and the Web, there's a trove of information we aren't really fully tracking when it comes to teaching and learning. 2012 will likely bring about a search for new analytical tools to account for just this (many sidestepping the question of whether or not teaching and learning can be quantified and analyzed this way).
ADAPTIVE LEARNING: Adaptive learning companies had an interesting year: Knewton and Grockit raised substantial investment, for example, while Carnegie Learning found itself critiqued in a New York Times story. With the promise of personalized learning -- that is, instruction and quizzes aimed at a student's specific needs and skills -- adaptive learning is poised for widespread adoption, both at the K-12 and higher ed levels.
PRIVACY/SECURITY: There was an increasing realization in 2011 that many of the pieces of legislation that govern children and students' online interactions are woefully out of date. As such, there will be increased scrutiny in 2012 to COPPA (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), CIPA (the Children's Internet Protection Act), and FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). Whether or not the government's legislation and kids' usage actually match up will be another thing entirely. Another major trend of the year, particularly in light of an increasing importance of data: user (student) control of their own educational data -- that means both privacy protections and data portability.
OPEN LICENSING: "Open" may well be one of the big marketing terms we'll hear in the coming months, and it'll take some scrutiny to really evaluate what many companies mean when they adopt the label. That said, openly licensed content and openly licensed code is likely to be one of the most important trends in 2012: open source technology, open source textbooks, open educational resources, and open data.
PEER TO PEER: "Social learning" has gained a lot of attention in recent years as new technologies have offered ways for students to communicate and collaborate -- whether they're side-by-side in the classroom or thousands of miles away. The ability for learners to connect with one another will be one of the most important trends of the coming year. This isn't just a matter of connecting learners with online resources or with online instruction. Rather, one of the big opportunities will be to create a space in which learners can help and teach each other.
THE MAKER MOVEMENT: The Maker Movement -- encouraging people to make things by hand -- may be one of the most important keys to improving STEM education in this country. That's because it works outside the realm of standardized testing and all the associated hand-wringing. The movement, which includes efforts like Maker Faire and MAKE Magazine, may be the key to helping new demographics (or at the very least, "kids") discover science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in an exciting and hands-on way. Building and tinkering and playing all offer powerful ways to learn and experiment. We need more of this -- lots more.
GAMING: Game-based learning has been on the cusp of being "the next big thing" for a while now. Perhaps 2012 will be the year. With the flourishing of mobile technologies, with the promise of data and analytics, and with a realization that we can create new and engaging ways to move through lessons, we are likely to see an explosion of educational gaming apps this year. The big question, of course -- with this as with every new ed-tech development: does this actually improve learning? When is a educational game fun? What makes it engaging? What makes it actually educational?