John Taylor Gatto, New York City Teacher of the Year in 1990, once said: “I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools anytime soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution ‘schools’ very well, but it does not ‘educate’ – that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent, it’s just impossible for education and schooling ever to be the same thing.”
So, if we won’t be getting rid of schools anytime soon, what will education look like in 10 years? That’s always a fun and important question to think about and reflect on. This question makes me think about what education looks like today and it forces me to think whether education has changed or not in the past 10 or even 20 years.
Before I move any further I need to clarify the question. To be clear, what will education look like and what should education look like 10 years from now are two very different questions. I’ll do my best to stick with will and not turn this into a wish list by focusing on the should.1
One of the key factors in the last handful of years is that our students have access to the same information that teachers have access to. In the future, education will no longer be about receiving information, memorizing and regurgitating back to show proof of memorization skills. The student already has the information, so now what? Well, in 10 years our students will demand to be allowed to take the information they already have and do something with it, go make a difference with it and put it to use. I believe because of this change, education will be more focused on student experiences and will require our students to get outside the walls of their schools. I think there is some momentum in this direction already, but I think it will only increase.
Project and problem-based learning, inquiry-based learning and challenge-based learning are only growing in popularity and I believe they will become the norm in 10 years. I love the idea of challenge-based learning because it feeds right into the natural desire for our students to see an issue in the world and want to engage it from all different directions. The creative side of the learner will see the issue from all sides and want to learn more. This means that the learner will need to be part of the process that will determine where, what, and how he or she learns. Through their experiences the students will learn the necessary math, writing, collaboration skills, grit, and perseverance they will need as they continue down the path of engaging their world.
In order for our students to be the directors of their learning and turn their focus on experiential learning we will redesign the structure of the traditional school day. There is no way a traditional school with a traditional schedule can provide our students with authentic learning opportunities and experiences.
First and foremost, the bell system will have to be eliminated. Where else in life are we run by a bell system? It is a system that has been in place for over 100 years. It’s time to move on. In 10 years, when a student finds him or herself caught up in the joy of writing a short story they will be allowed to finish and not be interrupted by a bell that tells him or her to close their notebook and go on to the next cell (classroom) and memorize dates that seem important for understanding the Civil War and are completely unrelated to the short story they were writing just moments ago. Our students will have time to really focus on the short story that has clearly capture their attention. The shift to experiential or curiosity-based learning will provide our students amazing opportunities that do not exist today. Curiosity-based learning is what we find in Natural History museums, aquariums, science centers and the Denver Christian School summer science, art and math camps. Think about those field trips to the museum where the students bounce from exhibit to exhibit or staying at one as long as the exhibit holds their curiosity. No one is standing over them with a stopwatch telling them when their learning of that particle display has ended.
Teachers’ job titles might even change, maybe they are called facilitators or field guides. Who knows? Imagine the joy on the students’ faces as they became experts in a field of their choosing. Albert Einstein says, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” The current structure of our schools inhibits learning and makes it difficult if not impossible for our students to grow and shape themselves into the unique people that God has created them to be. As Sir Ken Robinson states, “If you design a system to do something, don’t be surprised if it does it”.
As a part of our students exploring their own interests, gifts and talents they will be out participating in apprenticeships and internships learning from experts in the field in real time. Our students will demand this rather than just hearing about it or reading about it. Through these internships and real time learning they will discover so much about themselves, they will discover how to be independent and adaptable to the world they are a part of.
There is, of course, a whole technology component to this look into the future. In 10 years, technology will not be an add-on or a novelty but completely ubiquitous in the education process. Let’s be honest–technology is everywhere already, whether it is virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence or 3D printing. We are already wearing tech or carrying it around in our pockets. We are completely surrounded by technology yet in many schools we ask our students to unplug. This will not happen in 2026. The omnipresence of technology allows us to ask more questions than we ever have in the past because we have access to the pretty much any answer we want.
By the year 2026, our students will spend their days learning in the field. They will experience education from so many different sources. They will spend their days in collaboration learning alongside people of all different ages, backgrounds, professions and walks of life. Our students will insist on learning to make a difference not learning for the sake of memorization of various facts. Our students will demand that educators, facilitators, field guides, etc. provide them opportunities to use what they are learning. Our students want to engage the world right now. It is up to our system to adapt and change now to allow them to grow into the person they are created to be.
Interestingly enough, I could ask 50 different educators about what education will look like in 10 years and I could get 50 different answers. ↩
Sounds great but I’m afraid companies with liability insurance issues might put a damper on
it for these younger aged kids. Who wrote many years ago Education is Experience?
I think the insurance issue is a hurdle worth trying to work around. Not sure what you mean by your second question.
While I agree largely with the sentiment behind this article, there are two very important things to consider:
1) having access to information is not the same as having it in working memory so that connections can be made to new ideas and experiences. Real critical thinking and problem solving requires that I actually know enough about a subject to critically analyze other ideas or fit possible solutions into a broad framework of information and ideas. How do you even decide what information you should go look for unless you already have a sense of the scope of a problem and the relevant context? It is actually really important to know stuff. Knowing stuff does not require memorization and regurgitation type learning I agree. Experience is a great learning tool but doing it reflectively and with a variety of different lenses to make sense of our experiences.
2) I think you would agree that learning something differently is actually learning something different. If that is the case, what should our learning standards look like- or should we dispense with standards all-together? (that’s a real question) You mention allowing students to choose how they learn best- is there a common set of experiences, ideas, dispositions, etc that we hope all students will develop/experience?
What you have described above resonates strongly with the Montesorri model. Why hasn’t it been adopted more broadly? We have had books and movies with lots of information available to us for many years but this model hasn’t been broadly adopted… Do you think it is just inertia?