A new decade.  What is in store for education in the next decade? We are living in the knowledge and information age.  With information multiplying daily and knowledge being generated and shared seamlessly in real time, we live in an era where change is a constant.

The relationship between society and education is intertwining and influencing.  Society influences what happens in education and similarly education influences society.  There are three emerging and growing trends in society that will impact education, how we perceive the world and the way we live.

Art of Storytelling

Every moment of every day we have direct access to news as it unfolds in real time.  People make choices about how to navigate and channel the flow of information.  We choose what we want to watch, listen, and read.  The distribution and sharing of information is increasingly being bifurcated based on political, societal, and religious beliefs.  We prefer to watch, listen, and read stories that reflect and reinforce our own beliefs.  From social media applications to television news outlets to local newspapers, stories are shaped and shared that reflect the storyteller’s personal beliefs, professional biases, and desire to tell the story in a compelling and interesting manner.  The art of storytelling is a defining characteristic that impacts our political, religious, and social preferences and decisions.   How do we help learners navigate and discern the vast and rapidly increasing universe of information and knowledge?  We need to help learners acquire and apply the skills needed to understand and unpack the stories that fill their lives every moment of every day.

The Meaning of Data

Data, data, data…we are data-centered.  How often every day do you form an opinion or make a decision based on data?  Whether it is ordering a meal, selecting a movie, making a purchase, or planning a trip, we are increasingly dependent upon data to make these decisions.  Research has indicated that people rely more on customer reviews on a product or service than an independent expert provides.   With an abundance of data infiltrating and influencing every aspect of our lives, how do we decipher and decode data in a consistent and reliable manner so that we are making informed decisions?  This is a critical skill that must be developed and evolved for all learners of all ages.  The power of data is that it can paint a variety of pictures for the same scenario.  Deciding data, with or without bias, has tremendous influence over our attitudes, behaviors, and habits.  Consider the ongoing debate about climate change and how people’s opinions about it shape their attitudes, behaviors, and habits.  Helping learners evaluate data, without bias, can strengthen one’s capacity to make informed and reliable decisions.

The Millennial Shift

In the next decade the millennial generation will be the most populous group overtaking the baby boomers.  The millennial generation will influence the way we work, live, and learn as its influence accelerates in the next decade. As this generation assumes and advances leadership roles in government, business, education, healthcare, and politics, we will witness fundamental shifts in policy and practice.  We currently live in a world where, for the most part, work and learning our activities are defined by space and time.  We are expected to go to work or school for a specified amount of time at a specific location.  As the millennial generation gains influence over our policies and traditions, we will see fundamental changes where work is not a location but an activity that can be engaged in anytime, anywhere.  The forty hour work week will no longer be the standard.  Similarly, learning will become an activity that can be engaged anytime, anywhere so that learners of the future will have the freedom and flexibility to structure their learning experience based on their preferences rather than institutional policy.

Education Impact

For well over a century, the practice of schooling has been largely influenced by an industrial model of learning where time and space have been fixed constants in the structure and delivery of education.  Human development is a complex process where time is a variable not a constant.  Every human learns to walk, talk, and learn at a different pace and within a diverse set of experiences and environments.  Yet, formal schooling today remains structured as if human development occurs within a fixed time frame whereby milestones of development occur at the same time within the same manner for every learner.  In the next decade the complexities of learning will influence the reshaping of how, when, and where learning occurs.  Personalized or individualized learning will not supplant current structures as learning is a social activity that requires interaction with others.  Rather, technological advances will support the development of assessments systems that are dynamic, embedded models that assess learner development as it occurs rather than at a point fixed in time.  For example, math standards could be assessed within a variety of learning experiences rather than simply those taught within a fourth grade curriculum that is assessed at a fixed point(s) during the school year.  This will begin to view the entire curriculum offering of a school as development tools that support learning standards rather than a few select subject matters.  Brain development in math reasoning is supported through a variety of curricula including learning music, a second language, and scientific analysis.  Today, learning and assessment remain divided by subject matter.  This model is deeply rooted in our industrial approach to schooling. But in the next decade, we will begin to transform learning as a complex system of interrelated experiences that support learning as a developmental process where growth is monitored specific to the learner.

As these new systems of complexity develop, it will be critical that the design and delivery of such systems maintain coherence and continuity.  It will require the development of standards of learning that are not subject-centered but rather learner-centered.  Today, we deliver curricula in subject matter structures that require the learner to make connections between and among curricula.  These connections reinforce the learning and can be powerful influencers in the learner’s development.  However, when the learner is unable to make such connections, the learning process is often truncated and limited whereby little or no application of learning will occur outside the subject matter.

In the next decade, we will see the reemergence of curricula and programming that for the past couple decades have been diminished in our schooling.  All learners will experience at much earlier stages of development music, learning a second language, developing a growth mindset and scientific reasoning as well as a renewed exposure to physical fitness, the arts, and other related disciplines.  Each of these experiences along with traditional learnings in math, language arts, social studies, and science are critical attributes that contribute to the development and preparedness of the learner.  Achieving and growing reading and math literacy will be greatly enhanced by the collection and interaction of these experiences rather than simply the subject matter exposure.  Schools will begin to redesign the learning experience for the learner rather than a schedule of fixed, subject oriented instructional periods.

Project based learning that focus on the integration and application of learning will begin to emerge at all levels of learning.  Problem solving will be the cornerstone of the skills every learner must develop to be prepared and ready for their future.  There are schools today that are teaching design thinking and problem solving as early as kindergarten.  The traditional curricula offered in these schools are a collection of experiences whereby design thinking and problem solving are the key attributes seeking to be developed within and across all programming. With a focus on developing problem solving skills, the school is focused on providing the learner with experiences whereby the application of learning is the goal not simply the attainment of knowledge.

Assessing a learner’s growth will require significant innovations in assessment.  How we assess learning, when we assess learning, and why we assess learning will be reimagined in the next decade.  Today, we primarily measure learning in distinct subject matters (e.g. math, ELA, science) with defined standards within each subject matter for which assessment content is developed, applied, and analyzed.  The measurement of learning occurs in fixed time frames within a school year albeit through interim or summative instruments.  In this next decade, the shift in when and how these assessments of learning occur will be learner initiated rather than institutionally driven.  Learning standards will be developed that are beyond subject matter structures and assessments will be developed to measure such standards across the curriculum.

Learning is a complex, human developmental process that we engage in every day and every moment.  In the next decade, schooling will begin to transform learning experiences from an industrial model to one whereby the experience embraces learning as an innate and human process of development.  This shift will be possible as we continue to advance our technological capabilities, our understanding of what data mean and how data can guide growth, and our knowledge of the complexities of learning as a human developmental process. It may take two or more generations for us to achieve this transformation from our current structures that have defined schooling for over a century of practice.  However, in the next decade the underpinnings of this transformation will begin to emerge in how our learners experience school.

The influence and interchange between society and education will impact learning and the learner experience.  With courage and leadership, we can initiate change that transforms and propels the learning experience for every learner.


Mark A. Elgart, Ed.D.
Mark A. Elgart, Ed.D.,  serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Cognia. Dr. Elgart works closely with government agencies and other leading education-focused organizations to help establish the policies, strategic vision, and actions to propel and transform the learning experience so that every learner is prepared for the rapidly and ever-changing global world. Dr. Elgart provides vision and leadership for a global nonprofit in over 90 countries, 40,000 institutions serving and supporting nearly 18 million students and 5 million educators every day. Cognia is an undeniable force for enhancing schools, engaging students, and driving better outcomes for all learners. Dr. Elgart’s professional experience includes serving as a mathematics and physics teacher; a middle and high school administrator; and a middle school principal. He earned a bachelor’s in mathematics from Springfield College, a master’s in education from Westfield State College, and a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts.