Future of the Classroom

Today’s classrooms must prepare students for careers and challenges that don’t yet exist. Here’s a look at research-based trends to watch and resources to help your school prepare students for what’s next.

Classroom education is evolving

Education is evolving at a faster pace than any other period in recent history. There’s a growing awareness among educators and families that today’s curriculum needs to evolve to meet tomorrow’s reality. Beyond tools and technology, students need to develop new skills to solve tough problems, collaborate effectively, and express ideas in new ways.

To better understand these changes, Google for Education partnered with a global team of researchers and analysts to examine evidence-based shifts in classroom education.

Computational Thinking

A conversation with Chris Stephenson

Head of Computer Science Education Strategy, Google

How would you expect that computer science education will change over the next decade? How will it look different than today?

Computer science is currently undergoing tremendous change and I believe this trend will continue and likely accelerate. The last ten years have been typified by huge improvements to CS learning environments as exemplified in the growth of block-based programming. Perhaps more importantly, the focus on truly engaging all students has put a new emphasis on not just what we teach, but how we teach. I believe that this shift to more research-driven engaging teaching practices/methodologies will continue to improve our ability to engage and inspire all students. So ten years from now I would like to think that we will be providing all students with the computing skills they need to thrive in the global economy.

What does it look like when computer science and STEM education is going well? What does it look like when those efforts are ineffective?

Like any classroom, a successful computer science or STEM classroom is a place where all students are deeply engaged in genuine learning and where every student, regardless of her or his ultimate career pathway, is learning how to solve problems and express solutions using real-world tools and strategies. For computer science and STEM in particular, we know things are going decidedly less well when the children in the seats do not reflect the diversity of the larger population. In these cases, our greatest challenge is about who is not in the room, which students are not having these opportunities and cannot see themselves succeeding in these disciplines in the future.

What foundational pieces must be in place for effective computer science education in schools?

I believe that computer science is no different than any other academic discipline when it comes to what is fundamental. First and foremost, well-trained teachers who demonstrate an excitement for the discipline and teach in a way that is relevant and engaging to all students. Students who are involved, inspired, and learning. And finally, teacher and students who have access to the tools that support teaching and learning in the discipline.

Student-led Learning

A conversation with Rob Houben

Head of School, Agora

Why do you think more schools are focusing on student-led learning? What do you see as the most significant benefits?

Schools finally beginning to realize that you can’t force passion and motivation upon students. We know that it is not your IQ, but your passion and motivation, that are the keys to success. So, if we can start with the student's interests, we can build skills and knowledge from there. Then, learning comes in overdrive and students are set up well to become lifelong learners.

Tell us about the best example of how you’ve seen student-led learning in action.

At Agora, we had a student who explained to the atom bomb to us. We have other students who repair car engines. We have other students who made our digital school environment and started their company at the age of 16. Another of our students learned Korean on her own and gave Korean guests a tour at our school. I see students start projects on their own and end up with a group of 15 or even 30 other students working toward a successful project. I see projects that start with 13-year-old students and, along the way, get adult experts hooked up with the project on a voluntary basis for one day a week.

What foundational pieces must be in place for effective student-led learning in schools?

It’s all about the mindset of the staff and teachers. You have to forget what you know about teaching, and how schools are organized, and start with what you really know about learning! You need to start with the personal goals and personal learning paths of the student, and that means starting with something that the student wants to learn, make, or do, and giving the student the chance to fail and reflect on that along the way. A ‘teacher’ should use all his or her knowledge to ask the right questions and help the student reflect, not simply explain to them. This enables students to manage their own learning process. You don’t need preset courses, classes, class timetables or age groups for that.

Innovating Pedagogy

A conversation with Anneli Rautiainen

Head of Innovation Unit, Finnish National Board

How do you see professional development evolving over the next 10 years?

Professional development needs to be continuous and part of everyone’s work in the future. Teachers and principals should have an individual professional learning plan, which would include self-reflection and peer reflection. Capabilities will become even more important than knowledge in the fast moving world in the future. Online learning will be evolving. Learning will take place in learning communities, which can be global or local.

Describe effective classroom innovation in 10 words or less.

Effective classroom innovation has been co-created by or with students.

What foundational pieces must be in place for schools and educators to effectively innovate their classroom instruction?

A collaborative school culture must be in place. Teachers and students form a learning community, where learning is continuous and knowledge is being shared. Principal’s task is to build possibilities for the learning communities to meet and work together.

Computational Thinking

A conversation with Dr. Tim Bell

Professor, University of Canterbury

How have you seen computer science education evolve in recent years?

The biggest thing I've noticed is that we don't teach it the way we always have, since we want to make it accessible to people other than just those we have always attracted. At the same time, computing has become a lot more human-centred. In the 70's and 80's we had multiple people using one computer, and we had to take turns to use this limited resource. Now multiple computers take turns for us to use them, and we have lots of discretion about which ones we buy, so a great user experience is important. This means that we're seeing human-centred software developers being valued more and more, and that diversity is becoming a priority. In education this has resulted in a push to give a wider range of students a chance to develop a vision for how they might have a part in this field. Of course, we have a long way to go yet on this front!

How would you expect that computer science education will change over the next decade? How will it look different than today?

I can't predict the future, but the future that I'd like to invent is one where all members of society feel that they are empowered to participate in our increasingly digital world. As well as creating new things, we are likely to have to make sensible choices about how we use and regulate new technologies, whether it's social media, AI or quantum computing. Making good decisions about these requires an informed society, and CS education is needed to achieve this.

What does it look like when computer science and STEM education is going well? What does it look like when those efforts are ineffective?

When it's going well, I think we will see teachers who feel confident to teach it, and can see the point of it. When it's not going well, we see inequitable access to good education, both in terms of resources but also in terms of access to confident and competent teachers.

What foundational pieces must be in place for effective Computer Science education in schools?

Having good support from school management and officials in the education system is needed from the top down; and from the bottom up, teachers need to be given the opportunity to learn how to teach the subject (e.g. not just learn programming, but learn how to teach programming.) This is a big change, and resourcing for this (time and money) is hard to find in most education systems.

Life Skills & Workforce Preparation

A conversation with Amanda Timberg

Head of Talent Outreach & Programs, EMEA, Google

Why do you think so many schools are shifting their focus toward making their students workplace-ready?

Getting a good job has become more difficult over the years and as subsequent cohorts of students leaving school or university failed to find jobs that made use of their degrees, schools and governments took note. In the UK, for instance, OFSTED grades schools on destination data, ie ensuring those who left entered Employment, further Education or Training. This has held schools more accountable to making sure students have a clear pathway to one of those next steps. So the accountability, alongside the duty of care that schools feel to ensure students progress, has led to this shift.

What skills are in highest demand from employers like Google?

Different jobs will require different minimum qualifications that make someone suitable for that role, e.g. a job in Legal and a job in Marketing require different experience. However, in terms of the professional skills and attributes we look for, here are a few I’d highlight: intellectually curious, collaborative, ability to navigate ambiguity, resilient and inclusive.

From an employer perspective, what does it look like when a recent graduate is prepared for the workforce?

Because recent graduates typically lack significant work experience, employers are looking for other indicators that will ideally predict success in role. Previous achievements academically or in extracurriculars often provide this, such as grades, leadership roles or experience in teams. In the interview recruiters are looking to see that the graduate can communicate effectively, demonstrates commitment and also a passion for the work.

Describe ‘life skills’ in 10 words or less.

Navigating life’s opportunities and challenges with grace and resilience.

Computational Thinking

A conversation with Markus Hohenwarter & Stephen Jull

Founder/CEO & COO, GeoGebra

How have you seen STEM education evolve in recent years?

Aside from the now ubiquitous recognition of the acronym worldwide, itself indicative of the increasing value and importance placed on science, technology engineering and mathematics curriculum, I would have to say the addition of ‘arts’, resulting in STEAM. STEAM has opened the door even wider to a greater number of students who may not otherwise have considered getting excited about what was, historically, considered a curriculum area limited only to those with a love of mathematics. From our perspective at GeoGebra, math is everywhere - across all the creative subjects, and core to innovation and exploration. And, well, who doesn’t like to explore?!

How would you expect that STEM education will change over the next decade? How will it look different than today?

Students’ biggest complaint in schools is arguably still the relevance of the curriculum to their everyday lives - now and in the future. STEM subjects are already improving in status among students, if only because students everywhere use, create and influence technologies. Schools have the opportunity to put that interest and competency in technology to work in the learning process. Here at GeoGebra we are all about exploration in learning across the STEM subjects, and for us, perhaps the biggest area of change will come through the impact of AR powered technologies - including GeoGebra’s 3D AR app - enabling a hands-on exploration of the physical and mathematical properties of the world all around us. When a student can walk into and through a morphing Tesseract using AR technology after having completed A Wrinkle in Time in English class, they will leave that experience understanding 4D theory in a way that wasn’t possible until now.

Tell us about the best example of effective STEM education that you’ve seen in action.

This is the impossible question, as there are so many and such varied examples that it’s quite impossible to pin one down. It would be a cop-out to just point to something from the global GeoGebra community of teachers and students, and so I am going to resort to the great stand-by, but never dull, space travel - or in this case nearish space - with the ‘Lego Man in Space’ project by students from Toronto. Anytime you can get nearly 3M+ views of a student STEM project you know you’re doing something right :) Were there a repeat mission, I suppose an obvious extension of the mission would be to send a phone along to collect sensor data to capture and display the mission in GeoGebra!

What foundational pieces must be in place for effective STEM education in schools?

If there is one common thread running through all great classrooms and schools, it’s great teachers who share a joy and love of learning with their students. High quality, engaging STEM education doesn’t necessarily require technology. But...if you’ve got great teachers; a supportive and engaging learning environment, and you mix in the best technology, that’s when things start to get really exciting!

Emerging Technologies

A conversation with Michael Bodekaer Jensen

Founder, Labster

How do you see virtual reality evolving over the next 10 years? How might that impact classroom education?

Virtual reality hardware will keep improving drastically over the next 10 years. Increases in visual resolution and performance will make the virtual and real world indistinguishable and lag completely disappear, all while all-in-one headsets become cheaper than $100 and much less obtrusive. We will also see additions such as haptic gloves become mainstream, making the experience even more immersive. Live and collaborative VR learning experiences combined with instant translations to hundreds of languages will completely shift the concept of an educational “classroom” to that of a “virtual global class.” If used well, this will give educators the opportunity to provide their students experiences that haven’t been possible before. Just imagine being able to learn science on the International Space Station with students all over the world, or shrinking to the size of a DNA strand to collaboratively manipulate molecules hands-on, and traveling back in time to explore ancient Rome and role-play out important historic events – all from the safety of the physical classroom.

Why do you think emerging technologies like virtual reality have gained so much momentum and interest in recent years?

While the concept of VR is not particularly new, technological advances in recent years are now making it possible to produce VR equipment that is both cheap and high enough quality to provide a comfortable immersive user experience. While there is still plenty of room to improve, VR is close to a mainstream breakthrough because of 1) the continuous technological improvements combined with 2) the increasing content quality developed specifically for VR and 3) research providing evidence of the effectiveness of VR in education.Last year, Arizona State University launched the world’s first fully online biology degree using VR. This collaboration between ASU, Google and Labster has given remote students access to perform lab experiments in VR – something that simply wasn’t possible in the past. Students can access the lab on their own time and spend as much time there as they need. The degree has been a huge success, attracting thousands of students so far.

Tell us about the best example of how you’ve seen virtual reality in action in education.

Last year, Arizona State University launched the world’s first fully online biology degree using VR. This collaboration between ASU, Google and Labster has given remote students access to perform lab experiments in VR – something that simply wasn’t possible in the past. Students can access the lab on their own time and spend as much time there as they need. The degree has been a huge success, attracting thousands of students so far.

Describe virtual reality in 10 words or less.

VR provides every student equal access to education, virtually.

Emerging Technologies

A conversation with Dan Lindquist

Expeditions Product Manager, Google

How do you see virtual reality evolving over the next 10 years? How might that impact classroom education?

Virtual reality has undergone a lot of changes over the last few years as the technology has matured and companies have gotten a better handle on what applications are most appropriate for VR. When VR first came to the forefront of consumer awareness, most of the expected uses were around gaming and entertainment. Now, however, we’re seeing a shift to more pragmatic use cases in education and enterprise applications like architecture. I believe we’ll see hardware prices for VR devices drop sharply within the next several years, which will create more opportunities for schools to integrate them into their technology portfolio. Even as prices drop, the devices will get more powerful, with higher resolution screens and faster processors. This will happen alongside the rollout of high-speed 5G networks, all of which will contribute to richer, more immersive VR environments that really increase the sensation that users are actually somewhere else. In education, we’ll see VR experiences being used to provide experiences that are hard or even impossible to bring to students today. Google Expeditions, for example, enables students to take field trips to faraway places without the logistical complexity, while companies like Labster let students run full labs without any lab equipment or supplies. More and more of these applications will be created, letting students have a wide range of experiences with a lower investment in highly specific classroom equipment.

Why do you think emerging technologies like VR and AR have gained so much momentum and interest in recent years?

VR and AR both create new avenues for engaging students in ways that simply weren’t possible before. Students can explore a high fidelity simulated environment or object, indulging their curiosity and inspiring them to ask unique questions based on what they’re observing. The increased engagement helps students better solidify and retain knowledge about a topic. Teachers also love seeing the excitement that students experience when they bring VR and AR into the classroom, so they are finding lots of new ways to incorporate the tech into their lessons. As more and more teachers figure out the best ways to integrate VR and AR with their lessons, it gets easier and easier for other teachers to follow suit.

What does it look like when virtual reality is used effectively in classroom instruction? What does ineffective use look like?

We love seeing VR integrated as a way to bring extra depth and engagement to an already thought-out lesson plan, rather than trying to use VR as a lesson substitute. Teachers that use VR successfully will build the class up to the VR experience through appropriate context building, then put the students in VR to explore and add depth to the earlier context. We also recommend that teachers keep students engaged during the VR experience itself. Sometimes it can be hard to have students listen to the lesson while they’re excitedly exploring their VR environment, so we encourage an in/out cadence; teachers let students explore for a minute or two, then have the students take their headsets off to ask questions and engage the students face to face. This helps students solidify the learnings from the experience while maintaining their attention throughout.

Tell us about the best example of how you’ve seen virtual reality in action in education.

We visited a classroom that was teaching students about archaeology and the study of ancient civilizations. The teacher started by telling students about the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations and their histories. After the students gained an appreciation for this history, the teacher then put the students into a virtual reality tour of Chichen Itza to let them see and explore the ruins themselves. After the VR tour, the teacher switched to talk about the practice of archaeology and how archaeologists can infer insights by studying the artifacts that a civilization leaves behind. The teacher pointed out that properties of artifacts can tell us certain things, like how finding an arrowhead suggests the civilization used bows to hunt. The teacher then used augmented reality to show a series of Mesoamerican artifacts in the classroom and asked students what they could learn about the civilization from each one. The students were able to look at the objects from all angles as if they were transported into their classroom, examining them firsthand. The teacher did a fantastic job using both AR and VR to drive home the lessons they were trying to convey.

Describe virtual reality in 10 words or less.

The closest we’ll get to teleportation or a time machine.


See education trends by country

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Global education trends at a glance

Learn about what trends — both now and in the future — are shaping the global education landscape.

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Global education trends at a glance

Learn about what trends — both now and in the future — are shaping the global education landscape.

View Global Report

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Classrooms in an Information Rich Age

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Student-led Learning and Empowerment

Student-led Learning and Empowerment

Whitney Drewrey, 2019 Mississippi Teacher of the Year, sees student empowerment as a critical piece of unlocking their potential in the classroom.

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