4 Education Technology Trends That Are Redefining K–12


Usually articles that talk about education technology trends and predictions appear at the end of year (e.g., Schaffhauser and Kelly’s predictions) or at the beginning of the year (e.g., Kajeet’s predictions). Throwing tradition to the wind, in this week’s blog post, coming during the home stretch of 2016 income tax filing season, we identify four trends that we predict will redefine K–12 education over the next five years. Redefine K–12? Yes! We understand the serious nature of that claim. So, without further ado, let’s see if we can’t convince you of our vision!

Trend 1: Paper-based textbooks are disappearing.

Yes, textbooks are some of the last paper-based books to stick around since, yes, districts are still purchasing paper-based textbooks. (Want a reference? Check with your local school board!) But the paper-based textbook industry is not growing; just the opposite. Textbook publishers are cutting their workforces and regrouping to produce… digital materials!  

Trend 2: Digital curricula is increasing.

Curriculum drives K–12:

  • "Research tells us that high-quality, aligned instructional material is important in helping teachers support their students…" Bob Hughes, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Teachers must have their curriculum! So as the paper-based curriculum industry is dying, the digital curriculum industry is emerging. For example, OER marketplaces (e.g., gooru, Edmodo, CK12) that focus on OER content continue to expand (Amazon is about to open Inspire, an OER website), while organizations that provide full OER-based curricula are beginning to hit their stride (e.g., EngageNY, Open Up). The latter provide the curriculum free — since it is based on free OER materials — but make money, and stay afloat to produce more curricula, by providing PD and other support services.

And yes, teachers too are producing digital curriculum — though, we (as well as others, e.g., Learning Counsel and the Rand Corp) have voiced concern on more than one occasion about the challenges classroom teachers face in producing "high-quality" curriculum while doing the zillion other things teachers are already required to do. Bill Schmidt, a well-regarded, math ed researcher concurs:

  • "It’s a rather elaborate and extensive endeavor to write instructional materials for a whole year, and I think that no one should expect that teachers have the time nor the professional background to do that."

The above caveat and concerns notwithstanding, some teachers who are producing high-quality curriculum are using our browser-based, device-agnostic and absolutely free Collabrify Roadmap Platform to do so. And, as it just so happens, we (C&E) are giving a webinar in the ISTE Spring Professional Webinar Series on how to use the Collabrify Roadmap Platform to create high-quality, OER-based curriculum. Join us live April 5th at 7 p.m. Eastern Time or watch the video later while eating popcorn. (N.B. The above alert was brought to by C&E’s Division of Shameless Self-Promotion.)

Bottom line: Digital curriculum will be the dominant medium for curriculum representation.

Trend 3: Ready access to a computing device is the new normal.

Let’s start with "1-to-1" — a classroom where each student has his/her own computing device. There is now a definitive, meta-study (a study of other studies) that finds solid empirical evidence for the significant benefits for student achievement in "proper" 1-to-1 classrooms. ("Proper" means that proper curriculum, proper instruction, proper time-on-task, etc., etc. were employed. No surprise there; 1-to-1 is impactful — just not magically so!)

As of 2015, studies show that half of America’s classrooms were already 1-to-1 — and that in 2016, the purchase of computing devices increased by 18 percent over 2015. Now, if the rate of computer purchases continue, then by 2020 — three short years away — America’s classrooms will be at 100 percent 1-to-1!

But let’s not end with 1-to-1. Project Tomorrow, an organization that has been collecting national (and international) data on technology in education since 2004, published a list of "Ten Things Everyone Should Know about K–12 Students’ Digital Learning." Two "things" are relevant here:

  • " No. 2, Students are Mobilists: Personal access to mobile devices has reached several significant tipping points: 86 percent of 9-12th, 72 percent of 6-8th, and 46 percent of 3-5th graders are smartphone users now."
  • "No. 10, Goodbye 1-to-1! Different tasks = different tools! Laptops top students’ list for writing a report, taking online tests and working on group projects. Smartphones are No. 1 for connecting with classmates and accessing social media."

Bottom line: 1-to-1 is just the beginning. Really, in K–12 it is 1-to-many — 1 student to many computing devices!

Trend 4: Constructive not instructive learning is winning the day!

Readers of this blog know that we have been less than thrilled with the adaptive learning — aka personalized learning — programs being used in schools. While direct instruction — the pedagogy underlying adaptive/personalized learning systems — will continue to be used, it is feeling to us that there is a new vibrancy in K–12 pedagogy — a vibrancy due in large measure to the spread of digital curricula and 1-to-many computing.  

So, here’s our prediction for the redefinition of K–12: As digital curriculum and 1-to-1 (nay, 1-to-many) continues to increase, as teachers become more comfortable and effective in exploiting their 1-to-1 classrooms, and as teachers feel the increasing joy filling out their 1-to-1 classrooms, classrooms will increasingly become makerspaces, classrooms will increasingly become hotbeds of inquiry and collaboration, with monologue-style pedagogy giving way to dialogue-style pedagogy. You can take that prediction to the bank!