What Will Education Look Like in 20 Years?

There are many factors influencing what schools may look like in 20 years: unprecedented global forces and unforeseen technologies and paradigm shifts in the ways students want to learn and teachers want to instruct. I predict that the future of education will require educators to be more entrepreneurial, collaborative, creative and innovative. Additionally, learners will be even more tech savvy, demanding, confident and focused as consumers of education.

It’s important to think about what we can do to prepare for the future, so we can improve areas of need today. Here are a few areas schools should focus on evolving to create a bright future for education.

Personalization and Customization

Today’s learners are digital natives. They are accustomed to getting information and meeting their needs with a click of a button in a user-friendly, personal and customizable way. Future educators will have to face the fact that students will need (and want) to learn in a flexible, personalized format — for some, this may mean having a more technology-focused classroom. Students will want their learning experience to meet their interests, time constraints and academic needs. Check out Education Week’s recent article “What Is ‘Personalized Learning’? Educators Seek Clarity.”

Student Ownership

In addition to personalization, students want to have a greater voice in their education instead of simply listening to a lecture. Since higher levels of thinking and learning require more student ownership, education will become more project based — a pivotal theme moving forward. Schools will need to allow students to choose what they learn, how they learn and what projects they participate in. For more information, go to the Buck Institute for Education.

Improved Curricula

In addition to having more project-based instructional models, schools will need to examine their core curriculum. Contrary to the old-school traditions housed in English, math, social studies and science, we’ll need to redesign curricula and courses to reflect the skills mandated by emerging economies and technologies. Skills such as coding, design, sustainability and financial literacy — to name a few — will have to be integrated and taught in classroom curricula.

Innovative Learning Spaces and Environments

Schools will need to rethink the classroom learning environment to better suit students’ needs. The environment should be conducive to innovative and creative learning. An important question to ask is: Where do people go to get their creative juices flowing? For example, coffee shops are common spaces that groups go to meet up for creative projects or test prep.

I was fortunate to open a 21st century high school in 2008 called Minarets High School, where we created a Media Lounge rather than a library. There were still shelves filled with books, but the space also had wireless Internet, flat-screen TVs, coffee, food, community events, a sofa and soft chairs. Can classrooms be more flexible, social, comfortable and interactive in this way? For more ideas, check out David Thornburg’s book From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments.


In 20 years, students will expect more of a mentoring relationship from their teachers, which is not the norm in schools today. Since more students will be learning and gathering information without attending school in person, future teachers will have to embrace various ways of staying connected and engaging with their students via social media, online communities, Google Hangouts, Twitter chats and more to stay connected with students.

Real-World Application Plus Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Schools will have to offer more ways for students to gain real-world experience that is applicable to their future careers. Schools should provide opportunities for students to intern at companies, mentor marginalized youth or collaborate in large groups, for example. Rather than limiting students inside a classroom, schools can create more opportunities for students to gain useful technical skills through real-world application.


Many schools now have one-to-one devices or are heading in that direction. Our future challenge relates to students using technology — if we look at technology as just a better tool to administer and grade tests, then we’ll have missed the boat. Presently, cell phones and social media are still frowned upon in the classroom in some areas of the country. In 20 years, schools will have advanced technology in the classroom to complement teachers’ lessons. For example, a science class may cover 3D printing and how it can be used to replicate prosthetic limbs to change someone’s life.

The technology is here now, but will we have the culture and pedagogy that optimizes the true impact of student technology use? In 20 years, I say yes. Hopefully, our pedagogy changes sooner.

Further Examination

Learn more about how schools may evolve in the future at Edutopia.