As we close out yet another school year, we can leave the challenges and distractions behind us and pause to appreciate what we have learned and how we have grown. It has been a remarkable year. It has also been a time of new beginnings as we contemplate education in a post-pandemic world.
While the pandemic presented us with myriad challenges, it also offered new insights, led to new ideas, and launched several trends that will grow and impact our thinking and practice in the next several years. Let’s explore five emerging areas of attention, engagement, and opportunity likely to have an impact between now and 2025.
Trend #1: An increased focus on the mental health of students and adults. The mental health of our youth has been deteriorating for some time. It was a serious and growing concern prior to the pandemic with suicide rates climbing and increased reports of stress and depression among young people. The pandemic has only exacerbated the situation. Meanwhile, conditions created by the pandemic have increased awareness and concern about the mental health of educators. Increased responsibilities, growing cultural conflict, and attacks on the profession have led to growing stress, burnout, and departures from teaching. Look for increased investments, additional resources, and role adjustments to better prevent and address mental health problems.
Trend #2: Continued growth in online and hybrid learning. The sudden shift away from face-to-face instruction at the beginning of the pandemic caught most educators unprepared and students inexperienced in the skills, strategies, and routines of online learning. Only through the flexibility and dedication of educators were schools able to make the shift and continue operation in the uncharted context. Still, the consensus has been that despite everyone’s best efforts, the learning experience of most students during the pandemic was less than optimal and reports of slow learning progress provide the evidence. However, even though the initial attempt at large scale remote learning was less than successful, many important lessons were learned, and many students, families, and educators saw possibilities for better strategies, more effective tools, and more satisfying learning experiences. The result is accelerated growth among online and hybrid learning providers and a wider array of options for students and families. The online and hybrid learning market is projected to grow to $319 billion by 2025.
Trend #3: Growth in homeschooling and learning pods. The disruption of the pandemic also provided families with experience in more active roles in the academic learning of their children. Some families embraced the role and have chosen to continue homeschooling their children rather than send them back to traditional school. The pandemic also led some families to collaborate within their neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and other settings to form learning pods to serve their students’ learning needs. In some cases, families pooled resources and hired skilled and experienced educators to support their students. In other cases, parents assumed the role of educators within the pods. Remarkably, studies have shown that students who experienced learning pods during the pandemic demonstrated learning growth comparable to what might have been expected had there not been a pandemic and in some cases, they experienced accelerated learning. The combination of growth in homeschooling and learning pods may have enrollment and funding implications for schools. The effectiveness of learning pods also offers lessons and strategies for traditional schools to consider.
Trend #4: Accelerated application of neuroscience to learning and instruction. The combination of more accessible and applicable research on the brain and learning and pressure to catch students up in the aftermath of the pandemic has led to increased interest in and exploration of strategies to increase learning and instructional effectiveness. For example, a significant amount of research points to the effectiveness of micro-lessons to increase learning impact and extend the length of learning retention. Micro-lessons involve short bursts of instruction on a specific topic or skill, followed immediately by application opportunities. Within a few days instruction returns to the topic or skill with another layer of information or complexity to build on previous learning. The cycle continues over time, consistently building and reinforcing learning. Other applications for neuroscience include greater focus on learning over earning grades to increase ownership and depth of learning and extend learning retention, performance-based assessments to help learners integrate and organize learning, and reduced focus on memorization in favor of deeper, more experience-based learning.
Trend #5: Growing interest in and application of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Most applications of virtual reality in education have been confined to supplemental experiences. The minimal advances artificial intelligence has made to education have been primarily embedded in technology systems. However, recent research combining artificial intelligence and virtual reality for training in business is showing remarkable promise. Studies are showing accelerated rates of learning, increased learning retention, and reduced instruction time. It will take some time for applications in elementary and secondary education to be developed and adopted, but the promise of virtual reality and artificial intelligence to transform learning experiences for students and educators is intriguing.
Even though each of the trends are unique and will have distinct impacts on education, learning and instruction, they point in a common direction. Each of the trends speak to greater customization, personalization, and learner-centered approaches in education. One thing is certain: The days of one-size-fits-all education are waning. The future demands and will offer a widening array of opportunities to make learning a deeply meaningful, purposeful, personal experience.