Active Learning Classrooms: The Top Strategic Technology for 2017

The EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research report, Higher Education’s Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2017, identifies the new technological investments colleges and universities are actually planning and implementing in 2017, as well as technologies they are tracking or simply not addressing for the time being. ECAR defines a technology as “strategic” based on the time, active attention, and priority granted to it at a given time. Institutions can use the annual report as a guide to consider which technologies they might focus on, where they might be lagging, and where they might be leading.

Active learning classrooms (e.g., student-centered, technology-rich learning environments) was the overall top technology this year (see figure 1); ALCs were also the top strategic technology for all Carnegie classes with the exception of BA institutions, for whom it came in at number 4. According to Baepler, et al., active learning classrooms (ALCs)

typically feature round or curved tables with moveable seating that allow students to face each other and thus support small-group work. The tables are often paired with their own whiteboards for brainstorming and diagramming. Many tables are linked to large LCD displays so students can project their computer screens to the group, and the instructor can choose a table’s work to share with the entire class. Wireless Internet plays an important role in retrieving resources and linking to content management systems, and depending upon the size of the room, table microphones can be critical so that every student’s voice can be broadcast across the room. (p. 10).

In practice, considerable variation in the levels and combinations of low and high technology persist due to costs, infrastructure, and goals. Regardless, the principles governing room layout/design, furniture, technology, and other features are that of active learning pedagogical approaches.

Figure 1. Technologies with the fastest predicted deployment

Figure 1. Technologies with the fastest predicted deployment

For institutions considering the adoption of ALCs in the near future, a couple of excellent resources can facilitate the planning, design, and building of these formal learning spaces. The range of ALC designs can be explored at Flexspace, a repository of images and information describing the attributes of learning spaces from around the world. And, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) has developed the Learning Space Rating System (LSRS), “a scoring system to serve as an indicator of how well a classroom's design serves the goal of active learning.”

With the adoption of ALCs expected to grow in 2018–2019 and become mainstream by 2020–22, EDUCAUSE offers the following advice: Become more familiar with ALCs and understand how they do or do not fit your institution. Find role models among peer institutions and communities of practice to help you understand how best to introduce and deploy ALCs at your institution. Convene and collaborate with key institutional partners (including the instructors who will teach in ALCs) to shape a collective understanding of the institution’s needs for such learning spaces.

The EDUCAUSE list of the top strategic technologies can inform — but should not substitute for — a strategic plan or roadmap. IT leaders and professionals should always ensure that institutional strategy drives IT strategy and that IT strategy and architecture drive technology decisions. In addition to ALCs, “The Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2017” also includes the following:

  1. Technologies for improving analysis of student data
  2. Incorporation of mobile devices in teaching and learning
  3. Uses of APIs
  4. Mobile apps for enterprise applications
  5. Blended data centers (on-premises and cloud-based)
  6. Technologies for planning and mapping students’ educational plans
  7. Database encryption
  8. Technologies for triggering interventions based on student behavior or faculty input
  9. Mobile device management and Technologies for offering self-service resources that reduce advisor workloads (tied)

For More Information

For more on active learning classrooms, register for the August 2017 ELI course Making Learning Spaces Work: Designing a Comprehensive Support and Faculty Development Program for Active and Collaborative Learning Spaces.

For more on the 2017 strategic technologies, including data almanacs and an interactive graphic that shows how the top 10 list varies among institutional types, visit the ECAR research hub. The strategic technologies research complements the 2017 Top 10 IT Issues. Together, the EDUCAUSE Top 10 research helps CIOs and IT leaders understand what’s important and where to focus.

The strategic technologies research and all ECAR publications will be available to individuals at EDUCAUSE member organizations beginning July 1, 2017, under the new, all-in-one membership.


D. Christopher Brooks is the director of Research at EDUCAUSE.

© 2017 D. Christopher Brooks. The text of this blog is licensed under Creative Commons BY-ND 4.0.