Technological trends that colleges should watch: Adapted Learning, Digital Badges, Gamification, Social Networking, Mobile devices

The technological trends that colleges begin to embrace should be equally studied for Christian higher education institutions.

As mariners scan the horizon for changes in weather patterns, so must Christian colleges watch for changes in technological trends.  Identifying technological trends that colleges could embrace can expand their reach and relevancy.

Those trends that affect secular public universities eventually affect private Christian universities. It’s prudent to stay informed and consider how such trends can be used for the advancement of your students’ academic and spiritual lives.

Unlike other industries, education has not kept pace with technological innovation and automation. Manufacturing has its robots, distribution has automated warehouses, but education still clings to a one-to-many instructional model based on seat time that was established in the late 1800s. However, a perfect storm seems to be brewing that will stimulate change.

Here are the reasons why:

  • High tuition cost
  • Ballooning student debt
  • Reduced state funding
  • Wide diversity of non-traditional students
  • High attrition and need for remediation
  • Faltering performance of U.S. students compared to other countries
  • Growing cries for accountability

As a result, we have identified five of the most talked about technological trends that we believe will have the biggest impact on education in the future:

  1. Adapted learning
  2. Digital badges
  3. Gamification
  4. Social networking
  5. Mobile devices

Change is occurring. Money is pouring into educational technology start-up companies again. According to CB Insights, funding to education-technology companies reaching $1.6 billion in 2014 compared to $416 million in 2010.1 The pace is quickening.

Adapted learning

In 1984 Benjamin Bloom reported that one-on-one tutoring was the most effective form of instruction. He speculated that technology could make this feasible in the future. Today, several ed-tech companies say that day has arrived.

The reason? Big data analytics developed by Google, Facebook, and Amazon are now used by adapted learning software. Just as Amazon’s recommendation engine looks at what you bought, what you didn’t buy, and how long you looked, so too does adapted learning software.

As students read, work on problems, or take quizzes online, the software continuously captures student data, such as lessons repeated or rushed though, time spent, questions answered correctly, etc.

All of this is matched with data from other students to predict what the student knows. Then, the software provides new content or remediation and the cycle repeats. Therefore, no two students take the same pathway to mastery.

Vendors like McGraw Hill Education, Knewton, and Smart Sparrow are providing such software. Publishers like Pearson, Cengage, and Wiley are also jumping on board. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is provided funding.2 And schools like Arizona State University are rolling out adapted learning courses.3

This technological trend could greatly enhance the effectiveness of any Christian college.

Digital badges

Unfortunately, degrees don’t provide detailed information about what a graduate knows and can do. In addition, many students lose their credits when they change schools. In response, there is a growing movement to provide digital badges or micro credentials that signify competency in subjects and skills.

This trend is known as competency-based education — a flexible way for students to get credit for what they know.

Measuring competency can be done through testing and evaluating work samples.

Verifying a student’s identity can be done through proctoring (onsite and by webcam), requesting personal challenge questions, or using facial recognition algorithms or student keystroke cadence algorithms.

Western Governor’s University pioneered the use of competency-based education. Now a Competency-Based Education Network of 30 colleges and universities are working together to design, develop, and scale competency-based degree programs.

In the meantime, Mozilla has initiated the Open Badges project—an open source software collaborative effort that issues badges with detailed criteria for how a badge was earned along with verifiable evidence of the skill achieved. These badges can then be shared freely through social media and other online networks, such as job sites and schools.

Carnegie Mellon offers its own digital badges for its Computer Science Student Network. And companies such as Degreed and Pathbrite have entered the market with various competency tools.

Eventually badges will be machine discoverable, so employers can search for people with specific skills.

This technological trend could provide new groups of short-term students for Christian colleges.


Much like adaptive learning, gamification has gained attention from educators because it can personalize learning and motivate students. Gamification is the use of electronic games that provide instant feedback, goals, encouragement, progress reporting, and engagement.

Digital games are already played by most students and can present real world contexts.4 Therefore, researchers are developing “stealth assessment” methods to make sure that educational games provide more value than just play.5

One example of gamification is Re-Mission in which players (designed for patients with cancer) destroy cancer cells with various treatments while managing their side-effects.

This technological trend could help educators contextualize learning to the culture of new generations of younger students as well as provide immersive learning experiences, a highly effective learning approach.

Social Networking

The popularity of digital games is eclipsed by social networking, although educators in general have not embraced Facebook and Twitter. In fact, many educators find social networks to be a distraction.6 Even so, in 2014 the two largest social networks reached over one billion users.7

Due to the mass popularity of social networking, more researchers are focusing on how to create a valid pedagogical use of social networks.7 What they found is that social networks enhance engagement in learning.

An example of this student engagement is revealed in a study conducted by White and Hungerford-Kresser7 where 18 volunteer university students in an English course adopted the characters of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in a social network.

The results were imaginative, expressive, and demonstrated student critical thinking and content comprehension. Yes, skeptics of the social network and pedagogical connection exist, yet, the more researchers prove the validity of this connection, the more accepted it will become to educators.

The degree of interest in social media is often so different between the students and the faculty, but this technological trend suggests that colleges might want to offer faculty development on how to use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media in pedagogically effective ways.

Mobile Devices

Just as billions access Facebook and Twitter, so too are billions using mobile devices. McGraw Hill Education found that more than 80 percent of students use mobile technology to study.7

As a result of this trend, the Board of Education’s National Education Technology Plan (NETP) is calling for educators to use mobile technology to provide engaging, meaningful, and powerful content learning experiences for students.7

But how?

One example is Project K-Nect, which issues smartphones to some school districts in North Carolina. Math students use these phones to instant message teachers and others in the project, interact on the official math blog, and view and post videos of math solutions and explanations. Preliminary results show that students in Algebra 1 outperformed peers who were not in the Project.8

Perhaps colleges will want to have faculty and students brainstorm together on how to implement this technological trend.

Relevance of Technological Trends to Christian Educators

The trends in technology that affect secular schools will eventually affect Christian schools. Perhaps they should do so sooner rather than later, since embracing new technologies can improve motivation, engagement, and comprehension, thereby making Scripture even more relevant and meaningful to students.

Here is a sampling of what your students can do for the Kingdom with emerging technologies:

  • gain biblical literacy quicker through adapted learning,
  • graduate and start their ministries sooner by receiving credit from digital badges,
  • practice evangelism more effectively through role-playing digital games,
  • share the Gospel easier through social networks, and
  • learn anytime, anywhere with mobile devices.

The proactive and forward-thinking Christian university and school will embrace new technological trends, advancing the Great Commission by training students in biblical basics. The opportunities are vast. The limitations only arise when we avert our eyes from the horizon or, as educators, choose not to notice.


(1) Funding To VC-Backed Education Technology Startups Soars 96%

(2) Gates Foundation Announces Finalists for $20 Million in Digital Courseware Investments

(3) The Great Adaptive Learning Experiment

(4) Impacts of the Digital Ocean on Education

(5) Stealth Assessment: Measuring and Supporting Learning in Video Games

(6) Social Media and Academic Performance: Does the Intensity of Facebook Activity Relate to Good Grades?

(7) Report: New McGraw-Hill Education Research Finds More than 80 Percent of Students Use Mobile Technology to Study

(8) Solving Algebra on Smartphones


  • Samora and Johnson

    Dr. Johnson is a Full Time Professor at Northcentral University where he teaches foundational scholarly writing principles to graduate and doctoral students. Dr. Samora is a Currcilum Developer and Professor at Northcentral University where she develops courses in many disciplines and teaches Organizational Leadership courses to doctoral students.

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