Technology vendors, in attesting to the veracity and transformational power of their software/hardware and its use for teaching and learning, sometimes make claims that cannot be substantiated or are exaggerated. This is known as a “hype”.
National Day to Celebrate Failures
The world is full of epic failures of technology. The Museum of Failure in Los Angeles is full of examples, like Google Glass (2013), the Apple Newton (1993-1998) or the Nintendo Power Glove (1989). Finland has a national holiday to celebrate failures. On October 13 of each year, Finnish colleagues get together to explore examples of failure either in their own lives, in the community, or in business or public service. Technology failures are a key talking point, with 3D television and inappropriate uses of Alexa at School amongst their favourite examples.
Realistic Assessment of Impact of a Technology
Gartner, a world leading information and communications technology (ICT) consultancy, developed a framework for the “realistic assessment” of the likely impact of a technology. Gartner looked at what, over time, is the likely impact of a range of technologies on specific sectors, such as health, education, defense, manufacturing, etc.
- Innovation Trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off. Early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity. Often no usable products exist, and commercial viability is unproven.
- Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories, often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not.
- Trough of Disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver. Producers of the technology shake out or fail. Investments continue only if the surviving providers improve their products to the satisfaction of early adopters.
- Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can benefit the enterprise start to crystallize and become more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear from technology providers. More enterprises fund pilots; conservative companies remain cautious.
- Plateau of Productivity: Mainstream adoption starts to take off. Criteria for assessing provider viability are more clearly defined. The technology's broad market applicability and relevance are clearly paying off.
The idea of hype is captured in their “peak of inflated expectations”, the difference between current reality and the way in which a technology is positioned in the marketplace.
In their 2013 hype curve for education Gartner saw adaptive e-textbooks as being hyped as the next best thing since sliced cheese (sliced cheese was first created in 1903) but they would not really reach a productive space for 5-10 years. While it took some time for adaptive textbooks to “mature”, adaptive learning is now a key feature of all learning management systems (LMS) (especially Blackboard and Brightspace), enabled by artificial intelligence (AI) and major publishers are offering adaptive text. In the seven years since Gartner’s 2013 review, the adaptive e-textbook shifted to the plateau of productivity but was also redefined based how it is delivered via an LMS (including publishers’ own LMS).
Mirco-credentials, gamification and massive open online courses (MOOCs) moving from hype to disillusionment
In this same year (2013), Gartner saw gamification in the same way, heavily “hyped” at that time, but 5-10 years away from maturity. With advances in computing power, especially on mobile devices, as well as faster and smarter ways of game development, this too is about right. Serious games and simulations are both growing in use and are more widely available, both to buy and as open education resources.
The 2019 eLearning Hype Curve sees AI as massively over-hyped at this time alongside analytics, but that micro-credentials, gamification and MOOCs are moving from hype to the trough of disillusionment (pre COVID-19) and mobile learning and simulation are now firmly established on the plateau of productivity.
Part of the challenge with technology investments is they usually require significant change in how learning designs, assessment and related business processes work to ensure the full power and value of the technology is achieved.
For example, an investment in chatbots for intelligent tutoring made by a college or university will not produce results until investments are made in “training” each chatbot to support each course offered by the institution. Related business process, such as student support services, office of the registrar and tutor behaviour, also have to change.
Blockchain as one of more over-hyped technologies
One of the most over-hyped technologies of recent times is blockchain technology. Though there are significant use-cases and examples of use around the world of the smart deployment of blockchain in higher education, claims this technology would “revolutionize” higher education are yet to show any signs of emerging at scale.
Rated as amongst the worst claims of the decade by some, the challenge to the claims about blockchain is based on a deep understanding of just how colleges and universities work. Most technology vendors are blissfully unaware of the complexities of the regulatory and operational environment of higher education institutions. As one writer observed about the blockchain claim, “techno-fetishist windbags never let issues as small as “what customers want” get in the way of a good fantasy”. Almost the perfect statement of what a hype looks like.
A catalogue of 100 most significant debacles in EdTech over a decade from 2010
EdTech journalist, Audrey Watters, offers a catalogue of the 100 most significant debacles in EdTech over the decade from 2010. For each example, Audrey provides details of what the intention was and why the hype did not match reality, with examples such as Kno, Galvanic Skin Response Bracelets (tell us if students were engaged in their studies; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded some of this work) and Edmodo, a social networking site for schools. While some of the technologies she documents are still in use, the plateau of productivity was not reached for a great many of them. Some gather dust.
No magic bullet!
The lesson of the hype curve and EdTech failures is simple. There is no “magic bullet”. Teaching and learning is hard work and is fundamentally about relationships and the co-discovery and creation of moments of insight and deep-learning. While technologies can enable these moments, some of the claims made for a new or emerging technology must be treated with caution.
Before becoming excited, check the most recent edition of the Gartner Hype Cycle for Education and check against user reviews.
Don’t be disappointed.
 This list is taken directly from Gartner descriptions at https://www.gartner.com/en/research/methodologies/gartner-hype-cycle