For the past hundred years or so, America’s schools and classrooms have been very familiar spaces. While the one-room school house has evolved into the modern school building, and the blackboard has been replaced by the smartboard, the physical building has been the locus of learning and the teacher has been the person at the front of the room imparting knowledge to students seated in neat rows or clusters.
That’s all about to change.
Over the last few years a revolution in how we educate our students has been building momentum in America’s progressive education centers. It’s been a slow process, for sure; but now, as the technology and tools have become readily available combined with demand from administrators, educators, parents, and students, the changes are progressing much more quickly.
So, what are the changes we are most likely to see in our educational spaces and in how our students receive the information they need to learn? Here are my picks for the most significant changes that will come to educational environments over the next five years.
The 21st Century School Might Not Be a Physical Space
Despite fond and fanciful wishes on the part of students, kids will still “go to school,” but the definition of what going to school means will definitely change. While the brick-and-mortar school building will remain an important location, kids will not always travel to a physical space to learn. In fact, I see the school building evolving into more of a college-like common space, even at the elementary education level.
In parallel, the classroom will also evolve into a learning commons—think of a family room or coffee house structure. There will be designated areas where conventional instruction takes place, but the rows or clusters of desks will be replaced by less formal learning environments.
The evolution of education’s physical space is going to require some work on the backend as schools ramp up infrastructure, access to devices, and content, as well as work around the constraints of legacy buildings, but these are challenges that we can overcome.
The 21st Century Teacher is a Director of Learning
As curriculum delivery evolves, the role of the classroom teacher will shift. As I see it, teachers will be less focused on being the classroom administrator and manager, and evolve into the Director of Learning. Their role is to enrich the learning experience by tailoring learning content to individual student needs, providing opportunities for enhanced learning through virtual field trips and other curriculum enrichment.
One of the best examples of this is the flipped classroom where face-to-face time is spent in critical and creative applications of lessons versus the actual instruction portion, which students complete at home or during study periods. Classroom time evolves into applied learning experiences like mock trials, or other project-based learning, where teachers are focused on bringing to life what kids are learning online and are better able to assess if they’re comprehending the lessons rather than waiting for the end of unit, or end of term, test. An added benefit of this change: we’re going to get more emphasis on critical and creative thinking, which will provide students with a strong foundation not only for college, but for their work lives as well.
Moreover, the classroom instructor will become one of many teaching resources that the student is able to interact with throughout the course of the day. Through their online learning platform, the student will also interact with other teachers such as a subject-specialist tutor, or a virtual instructor who can provide enhanced learning opportunities, or who is able to spend additional time with a student needing remedial assistance.
A teacher’s physical interaction with the student will not go away and remains critical to the student’s success, but it will evolve to be more like our interactions in the era of social media networks. That is, while there will still be in-person interactions, there will be as much interaction outside of formal class time. Despite all these changes, the teacher’s primary responsibility hasn’t changed, nor has the criticality of their role.
The 21st Century Student is Recognized as a Unique Learner
What about the 21st Century student? Because of the shift in the role of the teacher in the 21st Century classroom, the student becomes a unique learner, rather than a statistic on a bell curve. As a director of learning, the teacher is able to adapt the curricular and instructional experience of each student based on their needs, interests, proficiencies, and deficiencies.
Equally, student attendance will no longer be based solely on "time in seat." As educators have known for many years, time spent in a classroom is no guarantee that material will be learned and synthesized into applied knowledge. What matters in determining educational success is whether or not material is mastered, not whether or not a student was present when it was taught. So what does a new measure of attendance look like? I think it should look like a kid’s digital footprint. That is, information derived from a student’s engagement with learning materials whether they engaged with that material during a traditional school day or after school hours, on a weekend, or during school vacation periods.
And finally something for students to rejoice about—their hefty backpacks will become relics. With a single device—at this point likely a tablet—the 21st Century student will be able to access their entire school day—from texts and other learning content to homework and assessments—through a single portal.
What do you think of my vision for learning in the early part of the 21st Century? Am I off-base, right on the mark? Let me know in the comments below.
Gregg Levin is General Manager of Fuel Education, which partners with school districts across the U.S. to help them make the shift to online and blended learning.