Plenty of people make a living building spaces that are entirely online and there are dozens of options for getting full degrees online or attending fully online high schools. However, there is a reason that traditional conferences have changed but not disappeared. It is because life in the digital world is inherently blended, and most things digital eventually gravitate toward blended. Online experience is an extension of human capacity, not a replacement. Marshall McLuhan wrote about the “extensions of man.” Henry Jenkins wrote about “convergence culture.” Howard Rheingold wrote about “mind amplifiers.” Seymour Papert wrote about “mindstorms” and Sherry Turkle wrote about the “second self”, this notion that computers and technology are an integrated psychosocial part of our lived experiences. George Siemens and Stephen Downes emphasize a learning theory called connectivism which embraces a new understanding of human knowledge that is informed by the digital age. While willy different concepts, each of these (and many others) describe the human experience with media and technology as blended. It crosses between the digital and the physical world, Internet community and the broader psychological and social part of humanity.
While there will continue to be concerns about whether individuals or entire societies and sub-cultures have the blend “right”, 2014 will reveal that all learning is blended. As I’ve noted before, there is no such thing as an entirely online learning experience, not as long as the learner resides in the physical world. It is always blended, but sometimes we’ve compartmentalized our thinking so much that we fail to notice the blend, even when it is an essential part of the environment.
With this in mind, I’m willing to take a chance about making a prediction for 2014, although I consider this to be a relatively safe one. Following the recent trends and experiments, I expect to see this blend become much more evident in 2014. 2014 will be the year of convergence and augmentation, with new and interesting mixes of the physical and digital. We will see the growth of blended MOOCs, K-20 learning organizations developing clearer visions for blended learning, and fully online programs embracing a vision for blended learning activities and extracurricular experiences in the physical world. In the broader technology industry, the fastest growing aspects of the social web in 2014 will be those that enhance and expand life in the physical world (which is already what we see with diverse apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Waze, Moves, Yelp, At the Pool, Highlight, and Quietly). Some apps start with physical life and add digital extensions. Others will start with the digital experience and extend it in the physical world. A classic example is the experimentation with Google Glass over the past year, which will spark the move of augmented reality into the mainstream. I am increasingly confident that it is within the intersection of the two that we will see some of the most fascinating innovations and epic wins of 2014.
Within the education sector, this more intentional blend will also force and highlight innovative uses of physical learning spaces, with a growing number of schools and informal learning environments highlighting creative ways to leverage digital integrations into physical spaces, connecting remote physical spaces with digital technologies, re-imagining physical learning spaces, and digital spaces being “decorated” and infused with links to the physical world. None of these are new, but 2014 will see unprecedented growth in these areas. While the Internet of things will not become fully mainstream in 2014, the conversation will start in the next 12 months, with some impressive and attention-grabbing examples reaching the mainstream media this year.
All of this should make for an action-packed 2014! I don’t have hard data to support these predictions, but I have a high level of confidence based upon persistent and informal longitudinal qualitative data. Much of this comes from informal observations and noticing an increasingly obvious trend in the digital world since the 1990s. Whatever the case, if I were a betting man, I would be investing in the blend, whether is in educational technology startups, educational / learning space design, innovations in K-12 learning organizations, or working on building a 1-3 year strategic plan for my organization.