How We’ll Learn In The Year Ahead

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By popular demand, here is my look ahead at learning in 2013. Subscribers to The Brilliant Report, my weekly e-newsletter, saw it last week; if you’d like to be the first to see future issues of The Brilliant Report, sign up in the box to the left. Happy New Year!—Annie

How we’ll learn in 2013
Here are three big stories concerning education and learning that you’ll be hearing about in the year ahead—and some pointers on how to think about them:

The promise of educational technology—and its limits. Computers have been present in classrooms for a number of years now, of course, and in 2013 excitement about their potential to transform education will keep running high. Bulky desktop models will continue to give way to mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and even cell phones, and more schools will be experimenting with “BYOD”—telling students to “bring your own devices” to school. Innovative teachers and administrators will find ever more ways to integrate technology into instruction—from simulating science experiments on the screen, to turning boring math and vocabulary drills into enjoyable games, to promoting online collaboration among students on history and language-arts projects. At the same time, the runaway enthusiasm about edtech will begin to be tempered, I predict, by a more realistic sense of what computers can do for students, and what they can’t. Young people will still need to interact with classmates and teachers face to face. They will still need physical activity and hands-on experience with physical objects, whether in the art room or the science lab. And given all the time that kids spend staring at screens in school and out, they will still need plenty of time to be un-networked and unplugged.

The “common core” of knowledge that most American students will be expected to learn. Forty-five states have now adopted the Common Core State Standards, a set of academic expectations for what students in each grade should be learning in their math and English classes. The Common Core initiative has been controversial from the start, and it is sure to remain so as the messy business of implementing the standards in real classrooms proceeds during 2013. Part of the reason the standards have occasioned so much debate is that the content that’s taught in American classrooms has historically been left up to local control. But consider these three reasons why nationwide guidelines are a good idea: 1) Americans need to be able to move around. Millions of children change schools each year, and a consistent set of expectations will help ensure that they won’t fall behind or become confused or bored because of the move. 2) Americans need to be able to talk to one another. We’re a rich and varied country, and we’re sure to stay that way in 2013 and beyond. But having a “common core” of knowledge that we all share will ease communication and break down barriers. 3) Americans need to compete with the rest of the world. School systems in countries regularly outscore the U.S. on international tests, such as those in Singapore and Finland, have national curricula that build knowledge over time in a logical and systematic fashion. In order to compete in the global economy, American schools need the same.

The learning that happens outside school. More than ever before, 2013 will bring a recognition that learning can happen anytime, anywhere—not just in a classroom and not just during the school day. This coming year, we’ll see a greater focus on the “informal education” that happens in places like science museums and nature centers. We’ll continue to explore, for ourselves and with our children, the wealth of information and ideas available on the web (while finding ways to avoid its abundant falsehoods and nonsense). And if you thought you heard a lot about MOOCs in 2012, just you wait. “MOOC” stands for “massively open online course,” and I predict that more and more universities across the country will join Stanford, Harvard, MIT and other leading institutions of higher learning in offering such courses to anyone with an Internet connection. More and more individuals will enroll, sampling classes on subjects from artificial intelligence to contemporary poetry, and collectively as a society we’ll have to continue to grapple with the radical democratization of education that these developments entail. How do we deal with cheating and plagiarism in online classes? Should colleges award credit to students who learn from online courses and can demonstrate their skills? How do we wrap our heads around an educational universe in which a degree from Harvard costs upwards of $100,000, but some of its most popular classes can be had for free?

Predictions are always dicey, of course. But no matter what 2013 may bring, one thing is certain: education’s reputation as a sleepy, slow-to-change sector of society is gone. Keep your eyes on education and learning over the coming year, because a lot of exciting and disruptive change is on its way.

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11 Responses to “How We’ll Learn In The Year Ahead”

  1. Bob Rothman says:


    Very provocative list, and I am pleased you included the common core standards. However, I must take issue with your reason #2 for the standards. The standards do not provide a “common core of knowledge” that will facilitate communications in a diverse country. The common core is not a curriculum, and in fact, the standards explicitly steer clear of including a reading list for schools (although the document does include suggestions, to illustrate the level of complexity texts at each grade level should be). The idea is to ensure that the expectations for all students are the same, regardless of where they live, and that all schools should aim to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the academic knowledge and skills needed for success in college and careers.

  2. Dr. Susannah says:

    Great predictions – be interesting to see what happens. As someone who graduated from a homeschool, finished two graduate degrees and a doctorate through various non-traditional and New Millennium formats, I am all for MOOCs. The issue of cheating and plagiarism is only slightly different than in traditional situations, since most plagiarism occurs outside the classroom itself, and cheating requires the administration to be smarter than the creativity of the students. This is something that takes ingenuity no matter how the learning is delivered. Proctoring, “eyes on” (web cam supervision) while taking exams, and other such methods will keep cheating in perspective as in the traditional classroom.
    Kudos to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UofT, and other big, reputable universities for getting out on the leading edge of learning and making it accessible to those who can’t do the traditional route.
    I really hope this is one trend that continues.

  3. Hi Annie: Agree with many of your predictions. Do we dare add a prediction for improved reading and learning potential for students with disabilities? Accessible books, e-textbooks and reading technologies make this predication a reality. Thanks for creating a good discussion topic.

  4. I have two days to teach people Scrum (a radically different approach to the stuff we used to call “project management”). This is only possible with a combination of elearning material (see http://ScrumTrainingSeries.com ) and Sharon Bowman’s “Training From The Back of the Room” techniques. Conventional long lectures are only tolerated by captive audiences who have no alternative, such as schoolchildren. But even schoolchildren find ways to escape, such as daydreaming.

  5. Yashwant Mahadik says:

    Very sound predictions. There is some good technology being developed for customizing learning and make it learner centric and to provide learning any-time-anywhere.Traditional LMS is now being re-invented to be more than a record of learning or hosting of content.

    On your point about informal learning outside the schools or workplaces – well this needs to be dwelled upon more by learning professionals and researchers. I call it the Slum-dog-millionaire style (metaphor of style is based on the Oscar winning movie).

  6. Wrapped MOOCs. Large centrally designed and administered online courses that are “wrapped” by a local face-to-face experience. So a consortium of schools might offer 2 credits of online experience, wrapped by a 1 hour a week seminar with a local professor, or could use the open online course as a preface to a project-based portion of the class that meets the final four weeks of the semester.

    This separation of these elements — an online class containing thousands of students from many different institutions that can benefit from scale and the face-to-face wrapper that allows faculty to use their time on the sort of tasks where they are most valuable will ultimately have a huge impact on both K-12 and college.

  7. The Common Core State Standards in Literacy will not assure students fall behind or become confused or bored because as a reader (Bob Rothman) has already pointed out, the CCSS is not a prescribed curriculum. Instead the CCSS looks to develop skills. Depending on the class, students moving around the country could very easily repeat content (ex: School #1 teaches Romeo & Juliet in grade; School #2 teachers Romeo & Juliet in grade 9). In my 21 years of teaching experience, students are bored when they are not challenged or are misplaced in a class. Good teachers differentiate instruction to address boredom and confusion; this differentiation is not at the core of the CCSS “one size fits all” strategy.

    As for comparing us to Finland, the CCSS may be placing us in a wrong direction. The CCSS are spawning a myriad of tests to measure student understanding, which in turn are spawning test preparation software (including the ed tech you mention). These tests will also be tied to teacher evaluation programs. The USA’s over reliance on single metric tests is flawed -these tests are a snapshot of performance on a given day. Finland, in contrast, has cut school hours, gives little homework, gives no standardized tests, provides 50-minute recess and free lunch. Finland’s assessment of students is based on problem solving with critical thinking skills over time. Using Finland as a model and employing the CCSS to achieve the same results is counter-intuitive.

  8. Rachel Magee says:

    Love these predictions!! I have enjoyed being involved in this movement in my state (Louisiana). It’s been exciting work; the move to CCSS has opened doors for so many opportunities for students to learn and for teachers to lead the way by developing effective strategies to facilitate student learning, work with students to make progress, and increase academic achievement. CCSS have also opened up a whole new world of communication/collaboration among educators across the country to work together to help students–this has been particularly exciting to me as an educator.

    As a parent of a six-year-old, I am amazed at the instruction taking place at his school, all he is learning, his excitement about what he is learning, and his application of concepts like inequalities in real-life situations. As a brief example, he had just completed a homework sheet on greater than/less than and then we played a game of basketball for fun. During the game, he kept up with the score and let me know at one point (on his own) that because 20 (his score) was greater than 12 (my score), he was winning. Love that!!

    I’ve been really impressed in working/collaborating with educators in and outside of LA and with our DOE at the wide-range of talent and knowledge educators have and are sharing through face-to-face working groups; electronic forms of communication, PD, and other trainings. CCSS and technology have made that increasingly possible. I do agree there is a balance with technology and maintaining face-to-face interpersonal
    relationships–we need both among adult collaboration and with our students in the classroom.

    Thank you for your post! Glad I was able to get connected!!


  9. Hi Annie, I agree with your predictions. My wish for 2013 is that more people will see life as one great learning process. Learning is everywhere anytime, it’s only the way you define it!

  10. Chris Amor says:

    “Common core” or standardised benchmarks concern me a little. It is very established that all students learn, grow and flourish differently and that age is not always the biggest factor in this development. Benchmarks can all to easily lead to setting unrealistic pressure on some students while not challenging others to meet their full potential.

  11. […] “How We’ll Learn in 2013″ first appeared on Annie Murphy Paul’s blog. […]

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