The education sector has not historically been very dynamic, but this year things changed. Despite the recession, we have seen more start-ups and more cool applications than ever before. More investors have joined the space, and the big guys remain acquisitive. The pivot from print to digital learning, classes to students, seat time to competence is on. Here is how it will play out over one, five, and ten years from now.

One Year

1. NCLB should have been tweaked three times since introduction, but a year of political gridlock will result in further delays to the reauthorization of ESEA. In 2012 when Boehner needs to pass something, Kline will push through a bill gutting federal involvement in school accountability. In the meantime, Duncan’s team will attempt administrative unraveling to avoid the ridiculous number of schools on the needs-improvement list.
2. The Facebook-like ability to create groups, messages, and share content is fueling the rapid growth of social learning platforms, and 2011 will be the breakout year—hitting 5% market penetration—on a rapid growth curve.
3. Lingering budget woes will cause several districts and charter networks, particularly in California, to flip to a blended model, with a shift to online or computer-based instruction for a portion of the day to boost learning and operating productivity.
4. A state and a handful of urban districts will stop buying print textbooks in 2011 and will shift to customizable digital texts and open education resources.
5. Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy will embrace a portfolio strategy in Los Angeles, commit to more charters, close bad schools, and embrace school management partners. (And Chicago will hire an outsider, Mayor Gray will keep Henderson, Pittsburgh will pick another Broadie).

Five Years

6. The Common Core and Web 2.0 platforms will boost 2011-2012 venture and philanthropic investment in digital content, yielding innovative, engaging, and adaptive content libraries and related mobile apps.
7. The Common Core and Race to the Top assessments will frame the decade the way NCLB did in the 2000s. (In 2015, they will only be in year two of implementation.)
8. Widget-rich social interfaces will dominate personal digital learning platforms (what replaces LMS).
9. The instant feedback from content-embedded assessment, especially learning games, simulations, virtual environments, and MMOs (massively multiplayer online games), will be widely used in formal and informal learning and will build persistence and time on task.
10. Adaptive content will result in more time on task (in some cases, two times the productive learning time over the course of a year), and better targeted learning experiences will boost achievement, particularly among low-income and minority students.
11. Comprehensive learner profiles will gather keystroke data from learning platforms, content-embedded applications, as well as after-school, summer school, tutoring, and test prep providers. Students and families will manage privacy using Facebook-like profiles.
12. Most learning platforms will feature a smart recommendation engine, like iTunes Genius, that will build recommended learning playlists for students.
13. Learning at home (home education and virtual charters) will triple and then plateau at 10% penetration.
14. Baby iPod vocab apps will build infant/toddler vocabulary and school readiness.
15. Low-cost plastic networked tablets will probably be the breakthrough learning technology for the developing world.
16. Innovative mobile learning blends from India will be adapted/adopted by several U.S. districts.
17. Several pilots of merit badge systems of assessment that certify mastery of competency clusters will boost motivation, relevance, and application.
18. All U.S. students will have access to online courses for Advanced Placement, high-level STEM courses, and any foreign language (this should happen next year, but it will take us five years to get out of our own way).
19. Lifestyle applications for personalized health, finance, augmented reality, and carbon footprint will be widely used in education.
20. Distributed workforce solutions will be common in special education, STEM, AP and IB, and online learning (i.e., if you are good, you can live and teach anywhere).
21. Data mining the flood of keystroke data will unlock a new field of motivation research, which will yield a set of perseverant behavior profiles—factors likely to cause students to persist through difficult work.
22. All of these five-year advances will be made possible by a dramatic increase in learning venture investment,including foundations joining the ranks of impact investors. Learning will no longer be a cottage industry.
23. Second-generation online learning will replace courseware with adaptive components in a digital content library (objects, lessons, units, and sequences).
24. Learning games, both individual and massively multiplayer online (MMO), will become part of every student’sextended day learning.
25. Science will confirm the obvious about how many boys learn, and a couple of school developers will produce active learning models with playlists, projects, and expeditions.

Ten Years

26. With nearly a decade of data, second-generation recommendation engines will drive tutoring applications more effective than one-on-one tutoring.
27. Most high school students will do most of their learning online and will attend a blended school.
28. More than one-third of all learning professionals will be in roles that do not exist today; more than 10% will be in organizations that do not exist today.
29. The higher ed funding bubble will burst, and free and low-cost higher education alternatives will displace a significant portion of third tier higher education.
30. Informal certification systems—portfolio and references—and a “show-me-what-you-have-done-lately” culture will displace some formal technical certification programs.
31. The U.S. K-12 instructional materials and related technologies segment of the K-12 market will double in size despite slow top-line growth.
32. Many schools (maybe a fifth) will exhibit a new learner-teacher compact, featuring self-directed learning, peer tutoring, and brokered career/community connections.
33. Blended high-tech/high-touch school models in every urban area will leverage community resources, including museums, theaters, and parks.
34. There will be more than $10 billion in annual school facilities sold for redevelopment as it becomes ridiculous to consider major remodels of antiquated buildings.
35. As online options expand, a three-year highschool experience including college credit will be common. Early college pathways to degrees/certifications in emerging industry clusters will be common.
36. Several states will use performance contracting (what we call charters today) to authorize and manage the relationship with all schools and education providers.
37. There will be several DIY High options—online high schools with an engaging and intuitive merit badge sequence that will allow students to take ownership of and direct their own learning. They will still benefit from adult assessment, guidance, and mentorship but in a more student-directed fashion.
38. Business-sponsored courses will promote workforce development in emerging industry clusters.
39. Pharmacological learning enhancements will increasingly become an informal part of learning (i.e., Ritalin-boosted SAT scores) and will be more widely used in the future, but now I am way out of my depth.
40. Low-cost private schools will serve more than 100 million students in India, China, and Africa. Most will use low-cost mobile learning technology.

The pivot to personal digital learning will change the world—and you have a chance to be part of it.

(first appeared on EdNet Insight)


  1. […] “There will be several DIY High options—online high schools with an engaging and intuitive merit badge sequence that will allow students to take ownership of and direct their own learning. They will still benefit from adult assessment, guidance, and mentorship but in a more student-directed fashion” ( […]

  2. Fascinating. Even if these predictions are slightly optimistic in terms of adoption rates, its amazing how much of the educational model is turning to digital, online media. Perhaps Tom can revisit these next year and we can all grade ourselves and the world we try and change!


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