An End of Year Prediction: Classroom Technologies in 2020

For the past quarter-century, I have written about teacher and student access to, and instructional use of, computers in schools. In those articles and books, I have been skeptical of vendors’ and promoters’ claims about how these ever-changing electronic devices will transform teaching and learning.

Amid that skepticism, however, I have noted often how teachers glommed onto the latest devices not only for home use but also to become more efficient in planning lessons, using the Internet, grading students, communicating with parents and other educators, and dozens of other classroom duties. Nor have my criticisms of policymakers’ decisions to purchase extensive hardware (often without teacher advice) prevented me from identifying (and celebrating) teachers leading classes in computer graphics, animation, and computer science as well as classroom teachers who have imaginatively and creatively integrated new devices seamlessly into their daily lessons.

I do confess, however, that I have had little patience for champions of new technologies who have written scenarios of a glowing future rich with technology. For more-technology-the-better advocates, those past rosy scenarios must be painful to read since, time and again, futurists predicted the end of schooling yet public schools are still around. So what might 2020 look like?

Predictions about future use of computers are often made by projecting existing trends into the next decade. This tactic embraces a conservative view of the future since it is rooted in the now. No-more-traditional-classroom scenarios, on the other hand, leapfrog the present and build on the potential of the new technologies, thereby painting a Utopian picture. Any prediction, of course, can be easily undercut by unexpected natural and man-made disasters, political and social revolutions, or similar events. So given my allergy to Utopian scenarios, I will stick with current trends, acknowledging that they, too, may end up in a pile of debris should major unplanned events occur.

Clear trend lines for U.S. classrooms in the next decade are hand-held mobile devices (iphone, Blackberry, Kindle variations) and online learning (distance education).


Handhelds will permit the digitizing of texts loaded on to the devices. Student backpacks will lighten considerably as $100 hardbound books become as obsolete as the rotary dial phone. Homework, text reviews for tests, and all of the teacher-assigned tasks associated with hardbound books will be formatted for small screens. Instead of students’ excuses about leaving texts in lockers, teachers will hear requests to recharge their Blackberries, iPhones, etc.

Based on current Twitter and other future social networking traffic, shorter and shorter messaging will also become a mainstay of teacher-student communication. Some sample Twitter messages:

*In a college course on consumer sciences, the professor asked his 250 students to post questions on Twitter. On the topic of car insurance for those under 25 years of age, a student asked: ‘What happens if you get married and then get divorced at 24? Would your insurance go up?’ ”

*In the same course, during an exam, a student tweeted a fellow student and asked for the answer to a question. Teacher caught the student because although the software said “anonymous” on the handheld, the name of the student showed up on the teacher’s screen.


Proponents talk about how this form of teaching and learning as a powerful innovation that will liberate learning from the confines of brick-and-mortar buildings. Estimates (and predictions) of online learning becoming the dominant form of teaching turn up repeatedly and, somehow, fade. Surely, there will always be students and adults drawn from rural, home schooled, and adult populations that will provide a steady stream of clients for online courses. Nonetheless, by 2020, well over 90 percent of public school students will be in places called schools going at least 180 days a year to self-contained classrooms where a teacher will be in charge.

The error that online champions make decade after decade (recall that distance learning goes back to the 1960s) is that they forget that schools have multiple responsibilities beyond literacy. Both parents and voters want schools to socialize students into community values, prepare them for civic responsibilities, and yes, get them ready for college and career. Online courses from for-profit companies and non-profit agencies cannot hack those duties and responsibilities.

So by 2020, uses of technologies will change some aspects of teaching and learning but schools and classrooms will be clearly recognizable to students’ parents and grandparents. Online instruction will continue to expand incrementally but will still be peripheral to regular K-16 schooling. End of prediction.



Filed under technology use

11 responses to “An End of Year Prediction: Classroom Technologies in 2020

  1. The best thing about technology during this holiday’s snowstorm is that I got introduced to your excelent blog. I’ve already borrowed from you for a This Week in Education post this Tuesday.

    Our inner city school has wasted hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on technology since NCLB. Often, the software and hardware would sit unopened until a thuderstorm and our leaky roofs would destroy them.

    There were a lot of culprits: lack of money in the operational budgets, lack of consultation meaning that lousy software was left unused, lack of consultation so that software that might be good was left unused, and above all, using technology for a quick fix to transform the learning culture when a changed learning culture was actually the prerequisite for the proper use of technology. If I had my druthers, I’d just hire a bunch of 20 somethings with a budget for creating gaming programs and other programs to build engagement rather than force all of the square, triangular, and broken pegs that are urban teachers into the round hole of somebody’s political agenda.

    I see a lot of potential for cell phones, for instance, in classroom improvements for schools that already have a viable learning culture. In schools as violent and chaotic as mine, however, cell phones are dangerous weapons. And don’t get me started on text messaging in class. … If texting while driving is like driving while drunk and/or high, what is the effect of letting teenagers text about “he said she said” while trying to get them to master academic standards?

    When I watch students at the morning scanners being allowed to pass their cell phones through, I wonder why they don’t allow the same for weapons. Decades of exprience have taught me how to communicate with a kid with a gun. Talking sense to a kid with a cell phone, however, is tough. Of course, I’m kidding. But they remind me of the old bumper sticker “You can have my gun (or cell phone) when you pry off my cold dead fingers.”

  2. By 2020, I hope that we move farther than you wrote. I cannot see in my vision our school buildings used in the same manner 180 days a year open only for students. Here’s what I hope to see: schools and public libraries as community learning centers available to all learners open 24/7 supplemented with online courses, professional development, coaching, networking, and publishing.

    These community learning centers are home-base for learners similar to independent study. Starting as toddlers, parents sign up with their children for parent classes forming relationships with other parents. Learning starts at birth. Parents are life-long learners and a large piece of the solution. Students start portfolios collecting evidence of their learning via digital content. Parents form a team with a learning coach. Teachers play multiple roles: coach, mentor, facilitator. They no longer have to be the expert and are more of a guide and adviser along with counselors, medical personnel, and digital guides.

    Our students will need new skills and knowledge that we are not even aware of now. We cannot continue to teach subjects in isolation if we want our children to be leaders in their world. Skills that will be important include creativity, innovation, leadership, and finding their own passion. Today’s K-12 schools do not teach these. In fact, they strip our children of the importance of play and finding how to reach their potential.

    We need to reinvent schools: what learning means and how teaching supports learning. How about each student starts with an individual education plan that follows them throughout their entire learning life? I hope that the arts are more integrated and important. I hope that students work on project-based activities around real world problems.

    I believe our students will lead the way with technology. They use cell phones for their communication. iPhones and Droid phones are commonplace now. Just imagine what apps and devices will be available in a year. 10 years? I can’t even imagine what cars will look like then and what software will be embedded. Access to the internet will be every where with free wifi. Students will be using virtual worlds to share digital content and collaborate. Twitter is today. What kind of online collaboration will they be involved in?

    Why don’t we ask our students what they see in their future?

  3. Pingback: online ≠ isolation « When the Curves Line Up

  4. Larry, I am surprised that you have predicted the end of $100 textbooks. 1:1 laptop programs have failed to deliver on this promise, despite the great versatility of laptop computers. Why should e-readers succeed?

    Early e-readers have created many more obstacles to large-scale use of electronic texts than did computers. Four proprietary, incompatible devices dominate the young field. Kindle offers neither institutional purchasing nor centralized management of many devices. If a teacher writes his own book, good luck getting it onto a Kindle. It remains much easier for a teacher to distribute digital music to students than digital texts. We teach students to mark up their texts, but it’s hard to envision e-reader manufacturers bringing this feature up to the necessary standard.

    What do you see that would enable the e-reader industry to reverse these early trends and become the open, broadly compatible, usable device that schools will demand?


    • larrycuban

      Thanks for your comment on my prediction. Actually, I wasn’t thinking of e-readers for the many reasons that you gave. I was thinking of those schools in Arizona, Texas, California, and Maine that have through creative ways already downloaded required texts on students’ laptops and eased the weight of backpacks considerably. The 1:1 laptop school I know best still has students bent over with hardbound texts plus their laptop–that is a situation that will, I am guessing, disappear before the end of the decade. California has a open source digital textbook initiative that, with changes in the state code about hardbound texts, would lead to texts on laptops and handhelds. I believe other states will move in that direction also. Larry

  5. Just a quick follow-up to Richard’s post:
    >> If a teacher writes his own book, good luck getting it onto a Kindle.
    It’s actually not too difficult for someone to get a book she has written onto a Kindle. There is a free tool to do this. And publishing text into different formats (you only have to do it once, of course) isn’t too terribly taxing, at least when compared with other, more fundamental challenges in getting texts to appear on [insert name of e-reader]. The obstacle isn’t the Kindle (or the Nook or whatever gadget you want to choose) — the problem is with her publisher. (Of course, as with most explorations of the use of ‘educational technologies’, the technology is hardly ever the *really* tricky part.)

    I expect this opposition from publishers (to the extent that it exists now) will change. When I speak with many educational publishers, I find them *very* interested in promoting the use of e-readers for the simple reason that they feel they offer an opportunity to claw back some of the revenue that they feel they are currently losing due to sales of used textbooks in secondary markets.

    Responding to another comment: I am not really sure why we wouldn’t expect e-reader manufacturers to improve a reader’s ability to mark up her own texts — maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I expect that competition and innovation would crack that particular nut, especially over a period of ten years.

    Using e-readers changes very little in the ‘typical’ educational experience, and this, I think, removes a big obstacle to their adoption in classrooms. Students hunched over textbooks versus students hunched over e-readers — the end result doesn’t look too terribly different (and thus isn’t that potentially disruptive, or threatening). We shouldn’t be too surprised when ‘transformative’ educational technologies aren’t adopted — ‘transformation’ is pretty hard. (Just to be clear: I am not saying that the use of e-readers may not in the end have transformative impacts in various ways — just that this will not be a compelling factor in their adoption.)

    Finally, for what it’s worth: I don’t think that’s Larry’s prediction of greater use of e-readers necessarily means the end of the ‘$100 textbook’! There’s no reason publishers can’t choose to charge $100 for a digital text, especially when the use of a given text is mandated by a professor, making the publishers in effect monopoly providers.

    Richard, I trust my contrary take on things doesn’t come off as harsh — the feed from your blog now has pride of place next to Larry’s in my feedreader!


  6. I actually desire to book mark this particular article, “An End of Year Prediction: Classroom Technologies in 2020 | Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice”
    on my very own web page. Would you care in the event that I reallydo it?
    Thanks -Charlotte

  7. Pingback: Where education technology will — and won’t — take us by 2024 |

  8. Pingback: Where education technology will — and won’t — take us by 2024 | Tech Bit

  9. Pingback: Where education technology will — and won’t — take us by 2024 | Education In the US

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s