Defining and characterizing emerging technologies

Essential Question:  How do we define Emerging Technologies?

I often hear (and use) the terms new and emerging technology and I believe that there is a distinction between both terms.  I think of new technologies as the “first of its kind” or new ideas or areas of studying technology and its uses.  For me, the term “emerging” refers to a new(er) technology or idea that is taking hold or gaining traction and is becoming applicable across a broader range of content areas or industries.  Veletsianos (2010) gives us a better context to understand the broad range of technologies that could be described as emerging.  The first two characteristics he mentions are reflective of what I initially assumed about emerging technologies; that they can be new developments or applications as well as just being new creations (or inventions), and that emerging technologies are still in a process of development and improvement.  With emerging technologies, we understand that there is a new idea or product that is beginning to take shape and form.  Veletsianos’ (2010) third characteristic of emerging technologies is that they endure a “hype cycle” and those technologies that emerge are “stable (and staple)” (para 5).  The hype cycle is a model that helps us understand the progression of an emerging technology.  Last year, Gartner’s Hype Cycle was focused on the stage of digital business that enterprises embark on and how they utilized emerging technologies in strategic planning and development (Gartner, Inc., 2014).

Gartner’s 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Maps the Journey to Digital Business

The fourth characteristic of emerging technologies is that we acknowledge that we still don’t know what kind of impact they will have and there is still not enough data, evidence, or research to help us know more about that impact.  I think this is an exciting aspect of emerging technologies, that while we still have to figure out what they are about, increasingly, more and more people have access to emerging technologies and information to be able to examine their purpose and impact.  When I think of tech startups, Kickstarter campaigns, the Shark Tank, and other ways that emerging technologies are being introduced and shared with people, I can’t help but believe that its consumers or the public that are having an increasing role in whether or not a technology is able to emerge, fully develop, expand, and flourish!

And finally, the last characteristic of emerging technologies is that they have yet to be realized, which is why they are emerging, it makes sense!  However, I think this is another reason that the hype cycle is a useful way of understanding emerging technologies.  In order for a technology or idea to be truly emerging, it should make us uncomfortable and challenge our assumptions and what we think we know and believe.  Any business, organization, or industry is complex because it has been built and developed over time and impacted by history, culture, and many other societal factors; an emerging technology can certainly provide new opportunities for growth, improvement, and positive changes, but the path to get there is often winding and complex.

Consider this infographic about emerging technologies that were appearing in schools in the fall of 2013;

we may still be riding the wave with some of these emerging technologies, but the pace at which schools adopt emerging technologies cannot keep up with the emerging digital ideas, and tools that our students experience outside of the classroom!  Cloud computing, mobile devices (BYOD’s), gamification, and learning analytics were also outlined in the 2014 NMC Horizon Report.  Another important issue that was examined, was the changing nature of education not just in pedagogy but particularly in the physical space or infrastructure of traditional schools and newer, alternative types of learning environments (The New Media Consortium, 2014).  Emerging technologies have the potential to greatly impact this changing nature of the “school” as we know it and enable newer learning environments for students to learn.

I believe teachers have a vital role in discovering emerging technologies that could be used in the classroom and helping to close that gap; if we are going to prepare students for a career that doesn’t exist yet, we owe it to them to bring an exciting educational experience that introduces new AND emerging technologies.  You never know, those careers that have yet to be created or invented, just might come from one of your students!


Duet, D.  (Nov 30, 2013).  Technologies taking hold of education environments.  Retrieved from:

Gartner, Inc.  (2014).  Gartner’s 2014 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Maps the Journey to Digital Business [Press release].  Retrieved from

The New Media Consortium.  (2014).  The NMC Horizon Report:  2014 K-12 Edition.  Retrieved from:

Veletsianos, G.  (2010).  A Definition of Emerging Technologies for Education.  In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 3-22). Edmonton, AB: Athabasca University Press.   Retrieved from:

4 thoughts on “Defining and characterizing emerging technologies

  1. You last statement of “I believe teachers have a vital role in discovering emerging technologies that could be used in the classroom and helping to close that gap; if we are going to prepare students for a career that doesn’t exist yet, we owe it to them to bring an exciting educational experience that introduces new AND emerging technologies.” You are so right. If there is new technology, and the developer wants to know if it is a viable tool for learning, let teachers be the beta sample. Where better to test anything than in the trenches. But I firmly believe that the technology has to be a useful learning tool. 3-D printers will not teach kids to read, they will be good in a STEM class, maybe even math, but they will not write a paper. Google glass is a great technology, but how will it help students take a standardized test? Cloud computing is a solid technology with many applications. Mobil devices as in BYOD, is ok for older kids, but will not help kindergartners in a high poverty area. We have to pick and choose sometimes which is unfortunate, but to simply know the technology is there can be a useful tool. Your whole presentation I think is spot on, and you make some great points!!


  2. Mia, I think the point you made about our students holding jobs in the future that we don’t even exist right now is such a great point. Many of the jobs adults have now never existed, or could have even been imagined a few decades ago. I never really thought of my students like that before. I find so much value in traditional forms of learning, I love reading books and love seeing my students reading books, but with the influx of technology we are seeing these traditions being disregarded. It’s kind of sad to me, but it is a reality of our times.


    1. I can totally understand that, but I don’t see the technology necessarily replacing “traditional” forms of education, just supplementing them in ways that support student learning. The actual printing of books is becoming less and less of a viable option and its not good for the environment unless we begin using different materials or technology for book printing; bookstores are moving online and libraries are investing more in digital print because it’s just not cost effective anymore to print and buy multiple copies of books. For readers in remote areas, being able to get a digitally printed book is more accessible and affordable then an actual book copy. So the underlying value and skill still exists, reading and accessing print material, but we don’t have control over whether books will continue to be printed, so we must adapt. It’s hard for us to see but students feel those same attachments to a “book” when they read a great story, regardless of what medium they use. I also like that students can interact with a book in more ways today than ever before; I mean, why shouldn’t they be allowed to rewrite an ending, build a virtual diorama of the story, or illustrate their own copy of a great book? I think it’s this love of the “traditional” forms of teaching that we can use to make sure that new and emerging technology can help our students to love learning as well!


  3. That is a great infographic! Thanks for sharing that. I didn’t know what cloud computing was at first but when I looked at this, I was like, hey I do this. I use google docs with my students all the time. I didn’t know what Moocs was either. This is nice for visual learners like me. I do believe teachers have a vital role in emerging technology. That is why I am taking these courses, in hopes that what I learn I can help prepare my students for things to come.

    Liked by 1 person

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