Five Trends That Will Shape Education’s Future

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{taken from this year’s volume of The Board, a publication for school board members}

Meeting the need to redesign and realign

Many experts believe we are on the verge of major changes that will dramatically transform schools, teaching, and learning. The result will be a more productive, flexible, and responsive system that is focused on individual learners. A close look will reveal that a number of the pressures and developing paths leading to transformation are already visible. Others are emerging and hold the promise to make a powerful and growing impact in the years ahead. We can already see the implications of these forces and opportunities in a number of schools across the nation today.


We risk missing the greatest
opportunity in decades to align learning with
the needs of our society and economy.


If we are not aware of the forces at play and the opportunities they create, we risk missing what may be the greatest opportunity in decades to align our schools with the needs of our society and demands of our economy. Let’s examine five growing trends and the promises they hold to transform the learning experience of students and the role of educators.

Trend #1: Moving from an historic focus on teaching to a focus on learning. Our educational system is designed to focus on teaching as the key activity and learning as the hoped for result. Too often, our accountability systems focus heavily on teacher techniques, practices, and procedures and not enough on the resulting learning. For decades, we did not need all or virtually all students to learn at high levels. We could afford to focus on and organize around system inputs. Today, we must focus on what is necessary to make sure every student learns and to configure instructional systems and supports around what learners need. Fortunately, technology tools are available and are being created, new techniques are emerging, and system redesign options are making such a shift increasingly possible on a national scale.

Trend #2: Shifting from learning as accumulating content to developing competency. There was a time when students needed to memorize a wealth of information because it was not readily available through other means—and the pace of change was slow enough to ensure that what was memorized would remain useful for most of a lifetime. Today much of this information is immediately available via personal technology. Further, a good portion of what students have been asked to memorize in the past may not be relevant, as our world continues to change at an ever-increasing pace. It is difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate all the content students will need to know to be successful in their future. Therefore, we must ensure that they have the skills and competencies necessary to continually learn, understand context, apply the correct skills, and make thoughtful decisions regardless of the changes or challenges they face.


We are moving from
assessment based on responses to
assessment based on demonstrations.


Trend #3: Moving from assessment based on learner responses to assessment based on learner demonstrations. Most formal assessments over the past several decades have been based on the strategy of presenting probes or questions to students and asking them to use their learning to respond. While this approach is efficient from a time and cost perspective, it falls short when it comes to capturing what students really know. Probes only give access to what students offer in response to what is asked. The problem is even worse when the questions presented are close-ended or position students to choose among response options. We need a more complete picture of what students are learning and what they can do with what they have learned. When students demonstrate a skill, produce a product, solve a problem, or create a solution, we gain a much more complete and nuanced view of what has been learned. Equally important, assessments constructed in this manner can reinforce and further the learning process rather than interrupt it.

Trend #4: Using technology to customize learning experiences rather than merely to support teaching activities. Research on the use of technology in schools shows that much of our investment has been used to accomplish the same teaching and learning tasks teachers and students engaged in before the technology was available. We should not be surprised that results have remained the same. The shift occurring around technology is to apply it to support learning at the individual learner level by capturing real-time data, providing diagnostic information, calibrating and presenting appropriate learning challenges, giving learners access to unlimited content, increasingly presenting life-like simulations, and other rich learning support experiences.

Trend #5: Moving teaching from a mid-skill job to teaching as an increasingly impactful and respected profession. The trends discussed here point to a different role for teachers and a different process for instruction. Teaching as telling plays a much smaller role, while coaching, customizing, and coordinating learning activities will grow in focus and time allocation. Seeing that students are competent learners is a much more complex and challenging activity than teaching them to recite what they have been taught. With success in managing this complex but crucial transformation will come a new sense of respect and appreciation for a profession that has too often been criticized and discounted.


The wise board knows that the
institutions we govern are in need
of redesign and realignment.


The wise board understands that the institutions we govern are in need of redesign and realignment to meet the needs and demands of our society and economy. Failure to meet this challenge places our educational system and our collective well-being at risk. Only by remaining aware of emerging trends and opportunities and committing to make the shifts necessary can we hope to meet the challenges ahead.

{Get The Board for your entire school board next year}

Notice a trend in education that needs to be addressed? Leave a note in the comment section and get the conversation started today!

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