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Education Predictions for an Unpredictable 2021

By: Anthony Kim on December 29th, 2020

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Education Predictions for an Unpredictable 2021

Personalized Learning  |  Innovative Leadership  |  Teams & Culture  |  Virtual Learning  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

I got started with this tradition of predictions in 2010 after reading Disrupting Class, a book by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn. In their book, they predicted that by 2019, 50% of all high school courses will be online in some blended learning model. That was a pretty bold prediction in 2008 when the book was published, but their model for cycles of innovation seems pretty accurate now that we have hindsight. Even as of May 2019, there were people pointing out the failure of this prediction. Now at the end of 2020, I’d estimate that +95% of all K-12 students took some form of an online class, and most likely this trend will continue into 2021.

One reason I love writing this post each year is because it’s a tremendous tool for reflection. It allows me to think about a vision for the future and how we at Education Elements may contribute to it. So here are some highlights from past predictions and points of view:

  • 2013: Schools and foundations shouldn’t become software developers. We are far from having enough “Big Data” to make day to day instructional decisions.
  • 2015: Content providers will shift from supplemental instruction to core instruction. Professional development is a crucial part of any change.
  • 2016: Common Core in its originally conceived form is DOA. Teachers will demand personalized professional development. School systems will have a greater focus on the whole child.
  • 2017: The EdTech marketplace will continue to consolidate and offer more value to school districts. Through competition, districts will need to think more like customer-centric organizations. Districts will start measuring their success around equity and diversity.
  • 2018: I urged districts to focus on competency-based education and personalized learning. I asked for ways to relook at the local community, especially in historically struggling communities, to create inclusive opportunities. I stated that we need to design systems that allow for 20% to 40% of the school year to be spent on creativity, social-emotional learning, and deep learning skills.
  • 2019: YouTube will replace and disrupt conferences in 2020. Teaching will be about teams. We will shift from talking about goals to habits - the things you do every day.

As we kick off 2021 – and want to forget 2020 – I think we need to be really careful not to forget our learnings from the past year. We need to evolve and by all signals most of 2021 isn’t going to be easy. While there’s a vaccine in sight, full deployment isn’t expected until Fall 2021. So with the current surge and the potential surge upon a surge, we can expect conditions to continue to be in flux. There are massive amounts of uncertainty around budgets due to the changing tax patterns in each state. We have a new administration who will be putting new policies in place. Finally, as we enter more than 9 months of a pandemic and continue to live out this pattern for another 6 to 9 months, you can imagine the changes in behavior and habits. 

So as we begin 2021, here are the trends and predictions I’m working off of to make strategic decisions.

1. How we experience learning and networking at conferences will completely change leading into 2022

In 2020, most of our conference trips were canceled and that’s likely to continue well into late 2021. Since large conferences take close to a year to plan, we won’t experience them in person until 2022. By then, these conferences will need to change their business model and our expectations and behaviors will change. Expect more events to have fewer attendees and a higher price tag. Like the TED conference, in person will be a pricey privilege, and online will be the norm.

2. 75% of our meetings will continue to be on Zoom in 2021

Many studies are estimating that there will be 30-40% less travel for a few more years. This will have a significant impact on business trips. I imagine companies and school districts will be more precise about when they have online meetings versus in person. Organizations are realizing that not all meetings have to be in person to get the work done. In places like Los Angeles, I’ve heard of principals having to commute 2 hours each way to get to a district meeting. Imagine the savings and reduction of aggravation. 

3. Questioning efficiency over effectiveness

When the desired outcome is clear and you can demonstrate that you can achieve the desired outcome with some regularity, then an organization can focus on efficiency. In 2020, many parents, politicians, business leaders, and educators started questioning what they were getting efficient for when they couldn’t agree on the effectiveness or the role of the school system.

4. Teaming and Learning Organization

I want to thank the leaders who spoke to me this year about The New School Rules, 6 Vital Practices for Thriving and Responsive Schools. In 2020, as districts started return planning, many experienced the need to practice the rules “Plan for Change, Not Perfection” and “Harness the Flow and Let Information Go” from the book. In 2021, I believe the relevant chapters will be: “Build Trust and Allow Authority to Spread” and “Schools Grow When People Grow”. After our collective experiences in 2020, we need to establish trust and we need to learn from the past year before we plot a vision for the future.

P.S. The New School Rules is now available on Audible.com!

5. Parents will ask school districts for more options

In 2020, everyone cared about schools. News about school openings hit the cover of every newspaper, superintendents were being interviewed by CNN, and every politician made promises about schools. We finally realized the role schools play in our economy and society. Many parents and students also realized some things worked better for them remotely versus in person, there was some content they wanted taught a different way, and that there are more options and ways of thinking about learning than they were previously aware of. Come Fall 2021, parents will demand more from school districts, now that they know what’s possible and have formed strong opinions. In fact, I believe that +20% of families will want to stay in remote learning environments through 2021. As companies across the country allow for more remote work, families will seriously consider remote options for their children.

You might be thinking, well, now what? You have these predictions, but what should we do with these predictions? In other industries, we are already seeing major shifts. Companies like Peloton are growing exponentially and acquiring traditional companies like Precor and talking about micro-gyms. Film companies aren’t relying on the release of new movies in theaters but realizing that they can stream the release and have more control. Wineries are offering customized tasting experiences online and chefs are offering cooking classes with meal deliveries. As I think about the possibilities of education, I’m thinking about where I live, Las Vegas. I’ve been talking with educators and business leaders in the county. Las Vegas is truly a 24 hour city. It’s not that everything is open at the same capacity all hours of the day and night, but they optimize based on demand. So many services are accessible 24 hours a day, I started wondering how families manage and engage if their kids go to school during the day and the adults have to work evening shifts. I’m working on a design for a school system which is Open 24 Hours. Expect to see more from me on this topic in 2021!

About Anthony Kim

Anthony Kim is a Corwin Press bestselling author, with publications including The New Team Habits, The New School Rules, and The Personalized Learning Playbook. His writing ranges the topics of the future of work, leadership and team motivation, improving the way we work, and innovation in systems-based approaches to organizations and school design. Anthony believes that how we work is the key determinant to the success of any organization. He is a nationally recognized speaker on learning and his work has been referenced by the Christensen Institute, iNACOL, EdSurge, CompetencyWorks, Education Week, District Administration, and numerous research reports. In addition to his writing, Anthony is the founder and Chief Learning Officer of Education Elements, a trusted partner and consultant to over 1,000 schools nationwide. Anthony has been the founder of several companies across multiple industries, including online education, ecommerce, and concerts and events.

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