Imaging the Future: How Innovative School Districts Are Looking Ahead

Through our advocacy, advisory and coaching services, we work with impact-oriented partners (including innovative school districts) to invent the future of learning. This post is part of a blog series designed to share lessons learned, case studies, and thought leadership from our projects and campaigns. To learn more about our services division, visit

For the last 50 years, school districts have acted as a central pillar for American communities. They not only provide education for our students, but they provide a sense of culture and community in neighborhoods that is difficult for anything else to match. As we look to the future, innovative school districts will take this responsibility to new heights by extending the options, opportunities and services they provide.

As technology advances quickly, the opportunities (and implications) for teaching and learning in traditional school districts will continue to evolve. A recent district partnership encouraged us to take a look into the not so near future in order to paint a picture of possible futures for how educational services might be delivered in district settings, and to help the district prepare to strategically respond to high growth and future facility needs.

Imagining the Future

When we think about planning for the future of learning, we can start by diving into the innovative practice that schools and districts are already engaged in around the country, but it is also important for us to think about what key emerging factors will impact the world at large (like artificial intelligence). The intersection of today’s most promising trends with high impact factors on the future creates a space for potential futures (or “imagine if”) scenarios. Paying attention to these scenarios can help us prepare and innovate. For example, let’s look at the intersection of personalized learning and artificial intelligence.

Current Trend: Personalized Learning High Impact Factor: AI & Big Data
According to the National Education Technology Plan, “personalized learning” is paced to student needs, tailored to learning preferences and customized to the specific interest of different learners. We believe personalized learning also includes daily engagement with powerful learning experiences, flexibility in path and pace and the application of data to inform the individual learning trajectory of each student. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have more influence on the lives and livelihoods of young people over the next few decades than any other factor. While AI will help address our most pressing problems, it has the potential to exacerbate gaps in society and pose existential threats. We are at a pivotal moment in time to disseminate the advanced technologies that are occurring in the technology sector in order to create an impactful connection to education that will transform the classroom.

As access to technology increases and as the amount of information that technology can take in and process becomes more sophisticated, the amount of data that environments such as school communities can gather will have a direct impact on learning. Students (and teachers) will know more about what is happening in their brains (including, but not limited to, mental and physical health). Sensors in buildings will allow us to consistently monitor and automatically adjust water and air quality. Students monitoring for health and safety combined with a super sophisticated privacy authorization, will present indicator-by-indicator information sharing. Getting that nested permission right, and the reliability high enough to count on, will be a challenge, but learning environments in the future will take the idea of a “smart facility” to a whole new level.

Imagine if every student had an intelligent digital assistant. The digital assistant will be able to monitor health and wellness, agile transportation scheduling, ongoing learning opportunities and complex schedules. In the next 5 years, student profiles are anticipated to become more substantial than they have ever been, but they will continue to get exponentially better and more comprehensive in the next decade.

What does this mean for schools and districts? This will have implications for school staffing models. It has the potential to reduce staffing loads, and will change the way that districts staff with more focus on social-emotional components and less on content sharing (which will be available from a variety of learning sources).

AI, big data and continued technological advancements will exponentially impact the way that both teachers and students learn. As we prepare for a hyper-personalized and automated future, the involvement and engagement of high-quality and passionate teachers will be more important than ever as they act as the central bridge between the opportunity that technology offers and the relational advisory that students need.

The Next 50 Years for Innovative School Districts

Although it is difficult to say with complete certainty what learning will look like 50 years from now, the combination of new technologies with a deeper understanding of how the brain learns should yield a highly personalized experience for learners where students will progress by mastery of content rather than solely by age cohorts. Soon, data will be tailored to specific customer situations. Much like mobile push-learning, content delivery will be informed by learning data.

Districts of the future will make the adjustments needed to prepare students for an unfamiliar future. There will be a greater emphasis on early education and the effects it has on equity and preparation. Students will be given more opportunity to engage in experiences and meaningful projects that prepare for an increasingly project-based world. Students will prepare for jobs that may not exist now and will be prepared to create their own paths toward college and career and life readiness, often starting before high school graduation.

We believe that it will be more important than ever for districts to continue community conversations to shape what students should know and be able to do and to continuously redefine graduate profiles that are innovative and relevant. In addition to boldly thinking about what is possible in the distant future, we think that districts should start with what will be key in the near future. How will you:

  • Maintain a strong connection to the community with connected community services that support students physical and mental health;
  • Respond to competition with intention by providing a variety of options for students that fuel increased engagement and student success;
  • Enable high quality options for a variety of learners (including early learners);
  • Extend the classroom beyond school walls (especially for middle and high-school students); and
  • Take steps to transition into a competency or mastery based system in which students progress based on mastery and have the option to combine a variety of learning experiences.

When you imagine the future of learning, what do you see? What do you think is possible in education in the next 50 years? Tweet us @GSmartServices.

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Are you working to invent the future of learning? Looking to increase innovation in your district or design powerful learning opportunities for your students? Whether it is strategic consulting, leadership coaching, or planning support, Getting Smart Services can help. We facilitate strategic plans and long range facilities plans; we support design and growth of innovative new schools; and we conduct EdTech research. To learn more about our coaching and design work, check out

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