3 turbulent decades that are changing education forever

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

by Beth Bacon

The first three decades of the twenty-first century will go down in history as the years that changed education forever. And the transition is full of turbulence.


Will lecture-style classes disappear as digital learning rises?

Right now, in 2013,  the United States is just about in the middle of this thirty-year transition period from a low-tech to a digitally-integrated K-12 environment. How has digital learning affected education so far—and what will K-12 schools look like in the future?

Let’s take a look into the crystal ball, viewing this transition period decade by decade.

The last decade 2000-2010: Technology as “nice to have”

In the previous decade, digital devices functioned as adjuncts to traditional teaching. Digital learning was supplemental to traditional coursework.

Most classrooms with computers were laid out exactly like classrooms without computers—in rows, facing the front. The Internet was used the same way a library was used, as a source of research material. Often, “computer class” was separated physically and scholastically from the rest of the classes.

Students could perform, and succeed, equally well whether they used computers or not. Technology was an accessory.

The next decade 2020-2030: Technology will be fully integrated


Digital tools let students work in decentralized groups.

In the third decade of the twentieth century, technology will be fully assimilated into teaching and learning. No one knows exactly what the technology environment will look like in ten years, but here are a few predictions.

Many people see a future where all students have full-time access to digital devices. Where interactive software platforms and digital learning environments have replaced textbooks.

Teachers probably won’t spend their days standing in front of rows of children, delivering material to thirty children, lecture-style. Educators will work more as collaborators, mentors, questioners, and guides.

Classrooms are predicted to be decentralized, or at least “de-pyramided.”  Take a peek into a learning center in, say, the year 2027 and you may see a beehive of activity, with small clusters of children and educators participating together in demonstrations, experiments, presentations, readings, and data entry.

In this view of the future, student assessments—progress reports and metrics—will be available in real time, online, immediately after the student performs the work. Instead of the teach-memorize-test-and-move-on model, feedback loops will be integrated into learning. Continuous formative assessment—interactive feedback based on performance as learning happens—will be the norm.


Dashboards and formative assessments may change grading as we now know it.

Today’s periodic report cards will be replaced with interactive dashboards that can be viewed onscreen, any time by any authorized party, the teacher, the students themselves, the parents, and members of the administration. Oh, and teachers won’t have to stay up late grading student work—the software platforms will do that automatically.

This Decade: 2010-2020 “The turbulent decade”

So where does that leave us today? How will we get from the traditional low-tech K-12 classroom of yesteryear to the active, decentralized learning beehive of this century’s third decade?

“Right now we’re in the decade of turmoil,” said John Halpin, Vice President of Strategic Programs  and Education Practice leader at the Center for Digital Education. “During this decade, everything is in flux.”

More and more schools are adopting tablets, which will begin to untether students from their desks and encourage self-paced learning. But the new content that takes advantage of the tablets’ many capabilities—interactivity, collaboration, photography, 3D modeling, just to name a few—is still largely untested.

Teachers in this decade are the ones who will have to experiment with these new tools. Some of tools will provide amazing learning experiences. Others will not.

Administrations are beginning to modify school calendars and curricula to integrate formative assessments. There will be growing pains as classes move into these new schedules and modes of learning.

Are you an educator or parent experiencing some of the volatility surrounding the adoption of new digital tools? If so, you’re not alone. “There area about 14,000 school districts in the US,” said John Halpin, and when it comes to integrating digital tools into learning, “there are almost that many starting points.”

Images of classroom, students, and report card via Shutterstock.

3 thoughts on “3 turbulent decades that are changing education forever

  1. Pingback: Contemporary Learning | Pearltrees

  2. Liz

    Education has changed. I have teens who have a year behind them in college doing dual enrollment credits online with the university. I have one who will receive his Associate Degree two weeks after he graduates from high school.

    Homeshooling attracts millions of students and they are being accepted in the best colleges because they have the ability to be responsible for their work with minimal adult supervision by the time they are 8th grade.

    K-12 schools are popular for public school student who choose to do their studies online. All books and computers are furnished and it cut the cost to a county by 3/4.
    It is a new world today for the youth.

  3. umbrarchist

    The problem is most teachers are afraid of what computers can do. We don’t hear about Vero Beach Florida high school in 1987. The computer companies know the schools won’t buy if it is perceived as a threat. So they aren’t doing what really can be done. But the technology is getting cheaper and more powerful than anyone expects. So educators are in trouble even though they try to slow things down.



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