Along with current trends, the Advisory Board notes critical challenges that schools face, especially those that are likely to continue to affect education over the five-year time period covered by this report. Like the trends, these are drawn from a careful analysis of current events, papers, articles, and similar sources, as well as from the personal experience of the Advisory Board members in their roles as leaders in education and technology. Those challenges ranked as most significant in terms of their impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry in the coming years are listed here, in the order of importance assigned them by the Advisory Board.
- Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession. The challenge is due to the fact that despite the widespread agreement on its importance, training in digital literacy skills and techniques is rare in teacher education and school district professional development programs. As teachers begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.
- Students are different, but educational practice and the materials that support it are changing only slowly. Schools are still using materials developed to teach the students of decades ago, but todays students are actually very different in the way they think and work. Schools need to adapt to current student needs and identify new learning models that are engaging to younger generations. Many education professionals feel that a shift to a more learner-centered model focused on the development of individual potential instead of the imposition of a body of knowledge would lead to deeper and more sustained learning across the curriculum. To support such a change, both teaching practice and the tools used in the classroom must adapt. Assessment has also not kept pace with new modes of working, and must change along with teaching methods, tools, and materials.
- Many policy makers and educators believe that deep reform is needed, but at the same time, there is little agreement as to what a new model of education might look like. It is difficult to envision profound change in a system as firmly established as K-12 education is today. Proponents of change promote more learner-centered approaches; open content; programs for continuing teacher professional development in partnership with higher education institutions; and the use of social networking tools to increase access to peers and professionals for both teachers and students, but not everyone is in agreement. Opinions also differ on how to make (and measure) progress at all and whether it is better to build success slowly, using pilots and small proof-of-concept classrooms, or to push for rapid and radical change on a broader scale.
- A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment. As long as maintaining the basic elements of the existing system remains the focus of efforts to support education, there will be resistance to any profound change in practice. Learners have increasing opportunities to take their education into their own hands, and options like informal education, online education, and home-based learning are attracting students away from traditional educational settings. If the system is to remain relevant it must adapt, but major change comes hard in education.
- Many activities related to learning and education take place outside the walls of the classroom — but these experiences are often undervalued or unacknowledged. Beyond the classroom walls, students can take advantage of online resources, explore ideas and practice skills using games and other programs they may have on systems at home, and interact with their extensive — and constantly available — social networks. Within the classroom, learning that incorporates real life experiences like these is not occurring enough and is too often undervalued when it does take place. This challenge is an important one in K-12 schools, because it results in a lack of engagement in learning on the part of students who are seeking some connection between their world, their own lives, and their experience in school.
These trends and challenges are having a profound effect on the way we experiment with, adopt, and use emerging technologies. These aspects of the world that surround and permeate education serve as a frame for considering the probable impacts of the emerging technologies listed in the sections that follow.