2018 Trends and Technologies: Domain Reports

Joanna Lyn Grama, EDUCAUSE
D. Christopher Brooks, EDUCAUSE

Friday, March 30, 2018


Since 2014, EDUCAUSE has examined higher education's top strategic technology priorities and the trends that influence institutional and IT strategy. The 2018 Higher Education's Top 10 Strategic Technologies and Trends research provides a snapshot of the relatively new technological investments that colleges and universities will be spending the most time implementing, planning, and tracking, as well as the trends that influence IT directions in higher education. Together with the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues list (now in its 18th year), these resources help IT leaders know what's important and where to focus in their IT planning and management activities.

This report focuses on the widespread trends and technologies influencing higher education institutions across nine technology domains:

  1. Analytics
  2. Cloud Technologies
  3. Infrastructure and Operations
  4. Mobile
  5. Research and Scholarship
  6. Security, Identity, Privacy, GRC
  7. Student Success (iPASS) Technologies
  8. Teaching and Learning
  9. User Support

Each section of this report provides an analysis of that domain area, looking at the trends, strategic technologies, and expected pace of change for the strategic technologies included in each domain.

Institutions can use this report as a guide to consider the trends that are most influencing a particular domain and which strategic technologies an institution might focus on within a particular domain area. Because trends and technologies can and do change from year to year, paying careful attention to that change helps IT leaders adjust course on their institutional IT strategies.


We assessed the 39 trends and 73 strategic technologies presented in this report via a single EDUCAUSE survey in the summer of 2017. The survey was distributed to 11,797 EDUCAUSE members as part of the Top 10 IT Issues survey, with three reminders sent. We received 438 (a 4% response rate) responses to the survey. Where multiple representatives from a single institution completed the survey, we selected the response from the representative in the highest-ranking position. The final top 10 list is based on the responses of 310 US-based respondents.

We reexamine ours lists of trends and technologies annually. The lists in this year's research were derived from the 2017 lists and from several authoritative sources that annually identify emerging and maturing technologies in higher education.1 The ECAR Working Group Strategies Committee and EDUCAUSE staff who lead program areas (ELI, ECAR working groups, ECAR research, cybersecurity, and enterprise IT) reviewed the lists and augmented and edited them.

Several technologies on the 2017 lists were removed. Some were eliminated because they were obscure, becoming irrelevant as technologies and practices continue to evolve, or still too nascent in higher education to warrant inclusion (e.g., virtual assistants, autonomic computing). Some technologies were redundant with content from the Core Data Service or were widespread enough based on the 2017 research to exceed our threshold of institutional deployment at no more than 30% of institutions. We refactored other technologies to better describe them and their relevance to evolving practices.


Technologies, on the other hand, are what IT organizations do. Mature, commonly deployed technologies (such as financial information systems or networks) may be among the most mission-critical technologies, but they are generally more likely to receive operational than strategic attention.2 Strategic technologies, by contrast, are the relatively new technologies institutions will be spending the most time implementing, planning for, and tracking in 2018. None of the 73 technologies analyzed in this research is currently in place in more than 30% of institutions.

In our survey respondents indicated the attention their institution was planning to devote to each strategic technology in 2018. Respondents selected one of six response options:

  • Don't know: I don't know what this technology is.
  • No deployment: None of this technology is in place, and no work will be under way or resources committed for this technology in 2018.
  • Tracking: Multiple person-days of effort will be assigned but restricted to monitoring and understanding this technology (much more than just reading articles).
  • Planning, piloting, initial deployment: This technology is not yet available to users; however, meaningful planning for deployment is either in development or in place. Staff are investing significant time (multiple person-weeks of effort) and resources in executing the plan to pilot or deploy this technology within a defined time frame.
  • Expanding deployment: In 2018, we will move from initial or partial to broader or even institution-wide deployment.
  • Institution-wide deployment: Full production-quality technical capability is in place, including ongoing maintenance, funding, etc., with deployment potentially supporting institution-wide access.

Data tables are provided for this research that include the breakdown of the above responses.

To minimize "don't know" responses, respondents were presented technologies according to their areas of expertise based on current roles in higher education IT. However, each respondent was given the option to respond to all 112 technologies and trends. Further, if several members from a single institution completed the survey, only one rating was included (we used the CIO as the primary rater). As a result, the number of respondents rating individual technologies ranged from 248 to 298, and the number of respondents rating individual trends ranged from 293 to 299.

We assigned attention scores to those responses, and the scores were weighted to highlight responses indicative of higher levels of activity (expanding deployment; planning, piloting, initial deployment; and tracking) over responses that suggest little or no activity of that kind (institution-wide deployment, no deployment, and don't know). For context, attention scores for the 73 strategic technologies of 2018 range from 0.32 (cryptocurrencies) to 3.25 for our top strategic technology, uses of APIs. The cutoff for the top 10 strategic technologies of 2018 is 2.49 (a tie between IT asset management tools systems and student success planning). The middle 50% of technologies have attention scores between 1.37 and 2.31. The median attention score, 1.91, is shared by three technologies: adaptive learning, augmented and virtual reality for teaching and learning, and games and gamification.

Looking beyond attention scores, we sought to understand the kind of effort that the largest proportion of institutions is devoting to each strategic technology. We created four attention categories by combining adjacent responses:

  • Expanding deployment and institution-wide deployment, combined as deploy and maintain
  • Planning, piloting, initial deployment and expanding deployment, combined as pilot and deploy
  • Tracking and planning, piloting, initial deployment, combined as decide and plan
  • No deployment and tracking, combined as track and learn

Although nearly every strategic technology was represented to some degree in each attention category, we assigned each strategic technology to the attention category with the greatest amount of institutional activity for that strategic technology in 2018. This approach allows us to highlight the general area of most common focus for each strategic technology, usually among the majority of responding institutions.


Many thanks are due to the EDUCAUSE staff who made this report possible. Joanna Lyn Grama and D. Christopher Brooks led the Top 10 series research project. Ben Shulman led the statistical analysis, and Kate Roesch developed the graphics that help bring this information to life. Ana Borray, D. Christopher Brooks, Malcolm Brown, Veronica Diaz, Susan Grajek, Joanna Lyn Grama, Leah Lang, Nancy Millichap, Betsy Tippens Reinitz, and Karen Wetzel advised on the choices, definitions, and categorization of technologies. Gregory Dobbin provided his usual expert editorial review. Lisa Gesner led the marketing strategy for our entire Top 10 series research.

EDUCAUSE members are amazing. The time members spend to support the association is critical and deeply appreciated. The ECAR Working Group Strategies Committee, the Higher Education Information Security Council (HEISC) Leadership Team, and the HEISC Technologies, Operations, and Practices Working Group in particular gave invaluable feedback on the technologies we should include.

© 2018 Joanna Lyn Grama and D. Christopher Brooks. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.
Citation for this work
Joanna Lyn Grama and D. Christopher Brooks. 2018 Trends and Technologies: Domain Reports. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, March 2018.


  1. Primary sources were The Horizon Report, Gartner's Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends, and multiple Gartner Hype Cycles (education, big data, cloud computing, cloud security, enterprise architecture, enterprise information management, GRC, identity and access management, IT operations management, privacy, business intelligence and analytics, and emerging technologies). We augmented those with several additional technologies and trends that we had noted in higher education literature.

  2. EDUCAUSE tracks these types of established technologies in the Core Data Service because they are widespread enough to enable institution-level benchmarking.