Predictions about High-Tech in K-12 Schools in 2023

For the past three years, I offered predictions (see December 26, 2009, December 30, 2010, and December 29, 2011 posts) of what I saw around the corner for high-tech in K-12 schools. With weekly reports of schools adopting  iPads  tablets for kindergartners as well as high schoolers, with vendors touting interactive whiteboards, clickers, and tablets engaging children and increasing academic achievement, with policymakers mandating online courses for high school graduation, with the spread of blended learning in mostly low-income and minority schools, and with more and more  teachers blogging about how they integrate the use of new devices into daily lessons, including English and math Common Core standards–with all of that one would think that by 2023, age-graded schools and the familiar teaching and learning that occurs in schools today would be, well, passe’. I do not think so.

For nearly three decades, 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 age-graded schools and conventional teaching and learning.

Amid that skepticism, however, I have noted often that many teachers adopted the latest information and communication devices and software 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 and non-classroom tasks. Nor have my criticisms of policymakers’ decisions to purchase extensive hardware (far too 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 and social media seamlessly into their daily lessons.

My allergy, however, to rose-colored scenarios of a future rich with technology remains. I can only imagine how painful it must be for those hard-core advocates of more-technology-the-better who predicted the end of schooling years ago to see that public schools are still around. So what might 2023 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 here-and-now. And that is what I do.

Others have predicted the disappearance of schools and classrooms–a highly unlikely outcome. Such scenarios leapfrog the present and stretch unreasonably the potential of new technologies, thereby painting utopian (or dystopian) pictures. So given my allergy to rosy (or grim) scenarios, I will stick with current trends–the evidence at hand–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 the continued growth of digital textbooks downloaded on hand-held devices and tablets (smartphones, iPads, eBook variations), spread of computer adaptive testing, and expanded online learning (also see: goingthedistance). But not the slow dissolution or “disruption” of public schools.


Small and powerful devices in the hands of students will permit digitizing of texts. 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 devices. I noted last year that Korea has already committed itself to digitize all texts by 2015 even though there have been subsequent hiccups in the plan.


Used a great deal in the private sector for employment and other purposes, over the past few decades, computerized testing has now entered many public schools. In Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), for example, students sit in front of computer screens and take tests that are tailored to their ability. When a student answers an item (usually multiple-choice) correctly, then the student is given a harder item to answer. If the student gives a wrong answer, then the screen shows an easier question. This goes on until the computer bank runs out of items to administer students or the computer has sufficient information to give the student a score. Whichever happens first, then the test is over. Highly touted by promoters and vendors–see McGraw-Hill YouTube segment for an example of hype–CAT is part of the package that new national tests accompanying Common Core standards will include by 2014. So within a decade, as more and more tablets and hand-held devices become ubiquitous, both national and state testing via computers will become commonplace.


Advocates boost this form of teaching and learning as a powerful innovation liberating learning from the confines of brick-and-mortar buildings. Estimates (and predictions) of online learning becoming the dominant form of teaching turn up repeatedly yet 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. And even more evident is that many schools, particularly those catering to low-income students, will have blended programs of classrooms with teachers and computer labs with aides where online instruction is tailored to individual students. But do not expect much blended learning in middle and upper-middle class districts.

Even with this expansion, by 2023, well over 90 percent of public school students will be in places called schools where teachers teach at least 180 days a year in self-contained classrooms.

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, while creating imaginative short-cuts to achieve these ends online, overall cannot hack those duties and responsibilities.

So by 2023, uses of technologies will change some aspects of teaching and learning but schools and classrooms will be clearly recognizable to students’ parents and grandparents. Digital textbooks will surprise the older generation but turning in homework, taking teacher-made quizzes, students asking teachers questions will remain familiar.  Even with exposes of for-profit cyber-schools, online instruction will continue to expand incrementally, particularly for certain kinds of students but, overall, will still be peripheral to regular K-16 schooling.

For regular readers of blog, I am curious as to what you see for high-tech use in schools for 2023?


Filed under Reforming schools, technology use

32 responses to “Predictions about High-Tech in K-12 Schools in 2023

  1. Well said, Larry, once again.
    As a teacher of future teachers, part of my role is to prepare those novice teachers for the use of technology in their teaching. Inevitably, the question of the future of schooling and the security of teachers’ jobs comes up in the discussion.
    Like you, I see schools persisting into the future, with thinking, enthusiastic, engaging teachers being in high demand, rather than robotic automatic teaching “machines” that have, as you say, been touted as some sort of panacea for what ails schooling, for decades.

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  4. I totally concur with your predictions. I certainly see the use of digital books as being something that will save paper, rebinding and re-stocking on a yearly basis. As a parent of two children who spent thousands of dollars on university textbooks that the publishers re-issued each year so that the students couldn’t buy used versions, I applaud the move. One would hope that this will help to reduce costs but never underestimate the craftiness of big business.
    I also agree with your estimation of online courses but let me add another reason as to why they will never become mainstream. The reality is that the majority of teenagers do not have enough self-discipline to complete even one online course, never mind many of them. It takes a certain amount of desire and drive to do so. Presently, we have a few students doing this in school time with the help of a credit rescue teacher and even in this scenario, they are not always successful. Schools, as you have pointed out, do more than just deliver information and many students need to be stimulated by the give and take of a classroom environment.
    I am not particularly adept at technology but I am sad to be retiring when some very interesting applications are starting to become mainstream such as the ability to carry on a class discussion online. And as an English teacher, I see the benefits of having daily access to computers ( which I don’t have now) with respect to writing.

  5. Gabriela Cenich

    I think predictions are strongly affected by the teaching methodologies. My question is how teachers teach in 2023? Teach in the same way as they have been doing for decades?

    • larrycuban

      Perhaps you are right, Gabriela. Patterns in teaching are both stable over time among individual teachers yet those patterns, if you look closely also show small and big changes. Most people who talk about teaching seem to notice the stability but not the change.

  6. Rob

    Larry…hard to disagree with your analysis, but could you give us examples of schools where you see it working , as opposed to just stating what doesn’t work?

    • larrycuban

      Examples of what, Rob? I have plenty but you will have to specify.

      • Rob

        Examples from schools k-12 that demonstrate technolgy being used in ways that merit the money spent .

      • larrycuban

        High Tech High School in San Diego. New Tech High School in Napa (CA) and Mapleton (CO). As for elementary schools, Forest Lake Elementary School, in Columbia (SC)and Orion Elementary in Redwood City (CA) are examples of schools that have integrated new technologies into daily lessons. Many of these elementary and secondary schools use project-based learning as the dominant pedagogy. Edutopia reports on such schools regularly.

  7. wildacademicwoman

    I agree with your predictions. As a public school teacher for the past 10 years and now a first-year doctoral student in education (curriculum, instruction, and teacher education), I have used technology in various ways. The technology–both hardware and software–has come and go like the fads that they are. But I noticed that, no matter what technology I use to plan or deliver my lessons, I end up doing the same thing in the classroom–talking with my students in an effort to make sense of our experiences. Thus, I focused my thesis research on classroom discourse. In short, I don’t think technology in the way that we currently use it has essentially changed the nature of teaching and learning (with the caveat that we define what we mean by teaching and learning). Certainly, the daily use of technology has affected our brains in a way that some may deem detrimental. I am wary of the promises of technology use in the classroom. As we have seen in the history of education, there are often unintended consequences of any educational reform (Brown v. Board of Education comes to mind).

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  10. dlaufenberg

    Regarding the idea of digital texts – I would push a little further and ask, why we need to continue to purchase texts in a number of content areas. There is a ton of material open and freely available – We now have many schools moving towards device ubiquity in schools, why would we not take advantage of this access and get the resources for free.

    As a history teacher in a 1:1 environment, I taught for many years without a text. The wealth of information online in the realm of primary sources is immense. Using the device to access the freely accessible information was fabulous from both an economical, but more importantly, a pedagogical standpoint. Instead of telling students to study this particular primary source, we would work all year on becoming better curators of those large databases to make meaning of history from the wealth of resources. To think like historians, rather than just evaluate what the text or the teacher decided was noteworthy. Inquiry was the name of the game and the combination of open resources and 1:1 allowed it to thrive.

    So, in terms of digital text, I hope we are also considering a container that transcends the traditional textbook model. To move from paper to digital and only have the portability/size be the benefit would be to seriously miss the incredible potential of the wealth of resources, free and available on the web and not in a ‘textbook’.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Of course, you are correct in that the available web resources are enough to teach without a hardbound, much less, digital text. And much of what is available is free. It takes, however, a mindset and time to think and teach in the manner you are doing. If a secondary school history teacher has three preps for five classes and one planning period in a day, for example, one has to be a terrific manager of her time in and out of school to do what you encourage. Yes, some, like yourself do it but it is taxing. although the rewards are great in both teacher and student satisfaction and learning.

  11. dlaufenberg


    I understand your point, but I think that it uses as a premise, that teachers are solitary in their planning, alone to do the whole of the planning piece. I would posit that work is being done and can be done collaboratively with networks, #sschat ( is one, that already shares widely the units that are being created. There are more of these that exist, at many grade levels and in many disciplines… networks of teachers working collaboratively to build meaningful units and share. The capacity to create, build upon and share is also a massively helpful piece of teacher planning. We have the ability to make the classroom and the experience of the student much less scripted and much more about inquiry and discovery by wielding the capacity of many to create and share. In my experience that is what makes technology compelling… not the gadget, but what the gadget makes possible.


    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Diana, for pointing out the available collaborative planning that can occur among teachers.I have no idea how widespread such planning of units is but from you and others I do know that it happens. I appreciate the reminder that teaching does not have to be isolated and insulated.

  12. David Quattrone

    I will be interested to see how these various functions blur, blend, or merge: will digitized learning resources become more integrated with on-line units or simulations, with built-in assessments that help teachers and students decide what next steps to take? If so, a powerful tool for differentiation would be available. But we are clearly at the very early stages of such developments, and even if they come to pass, I think the active role of the teacher will remain central to successful classroom application.

  13. Larry – very compelling post – I always felt I was missing something – while understanding the potential of tech to transform education. My training as a psychologist made me wonder if we can fully mediate the experience of face-to-face learning. Perhaps we will one day, but this might require a change in society and culture as well as the advance in technology – perhaps 100 years into the future not 10?

  14. Hi Larry, Happy New Year to you and your readers…..I think your predictions are spot on. Here in the UK the growth of tablets has yet to be matched with cpd and sufficient consideration of the necessary changes in pedagogy. So I predict there will be some cupboards full of unused tablets. I was saddened to hear a Head at a recent conference announce he had “ordered 500 tablets for pupil use but has not told the teachers yet as they will only moan about it”!! Doomed to fail in my view!

    The big change here in the England will be a greater emphasis on Compter Science in the National Curriculum and the key challenge will be whether schools have to teachers capable of teaching the new curriculum. You will be interested to note that Google’s very own Eric Schmidt had a big influence on Michael Goves thinking on this issue despite the fact that Google pays no tax here in the UK!

    Have a great 2013 and hope to catch up next time I am in Palo Alto 🙂

  15. I think you and your readers will also find the NESTA 13 predictions interesting too?

  16. Bernard Bull

    Thank you for yet another excellent post, Larry. I, like Gabriela, am especially interested in how teachers will teach in 2023 and how students will learn. Will there, for example, be an unbundling of many tasks that historically resided with a single teacher? This is already happening in project-based learning schools. To what extent will differentiation, customization, and student-centered environments become the standard expectation of those in the teaching profession? What role will technology play or not play in cultivating learning environments rich with these attributes? Your mention of computer adaptive testing is one example.

    As Marshall McLuhan once noted, “First we build the tools, then they build us.” With this in mind, and aided by a wonderful discourse contributed by the many media ecologists among us, how will students in 2023 be prepared to understand how technology works on us and influences us? I am thinking of texts like Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed, where he argues for the importance of understanding how the digital and technological world works, how it shapes and influences, how technologies have biases, affordances, limitations, and how to reshape technologies in order to have more favorable biases. Will the schools of 2023 be places that are more effective at helping learners work through these issues? This is why I believe that it is important for us to start thinking about how to effectively dis-integrate technology in the classroom (not the removal of all technology, but involving students in a fair and substantive critique of it).

    With regard to educational leaders, it seems to me that many technology-related decisions in schools today remain trend-based rather than research-based and data-driven. Will this be any different in 2023?

    One thing that has certainly increased as a result of technology in the broadest sense (including things like models, systems, and policies as technologies) is choice. I live in an affluent suburban city. The last that I checked, I have over thirty local/regional schooling options for each of my elementary school children, most of which are free or inexpensive. This includes traditional schools, schools of the arts, Waldorf schools, STEM schools, online schools, Montessori schools, project-based learning schools, and much more. What will choice look like in 2023? If there is less, then I wonder if that it is as a result of an unfortunate authoritarian technological bias that is informed by an industrial vision of education. If choice increases and expands, then I wonder if that will not be made possible by the biases and influence of more democratizing technologies. Will the schools of 2023 be treated as nuclear plants or wind farms? Both are technology-rich environments, but one demands more centralized control (authoritarian). The other has less “risk” and is more easily established by individuals with limited oversight (democratizing).

    I hope that this is all not too far off topic, when we are speaking about high-tech in 2023, but I do get concerned if we hone in of physical technologies without also considering the many intangible technologies and aspects of technology that are at play in education and society.

    • larrycuban

      You broaden the discussion considerably on technologies to include both devices and processes, Bernard.I do not think folks have answers to your questions but they are ones that I do think about and can only speculate. Thanks for the comments and questions.

  17. Ian Rae

    Another thing that may occur is transparent schooling. As education material gets digitized, making it available to parents gets vastly easier. Also easier to provide parents with very detailed information about a student’s progress, and allow (some) school work to be done from home or while on vacation. The kids might not appreciate it, but parents could benefit.

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