Predictions about Technology in K-12 and Higher Education for 2024

For the past four years I have offered predictions of what I see around the corner for high-tech in K-12 schools (see December 26, 2009, December 30, 2010, December 29, 2011, and December 27, 2012 posts).

But not higher education. So I venture one now.

Last year was the year of the MOOC. Hysterical predictions of the end of higher education and the transformation of teaching soared through cyberspace and media (see here and here). And then just a few weeks ago, Sebastian Thrun, one of the “godfathers” of   MOOCs who sang the siren song of a revolutionized higher education, warbled goodbye to MOOCs. But MOOCs continue to thrive although the rhetoric has been dialed back (For an overview of the past year for MOOCs in a distinctly skeptical voice, see here).

For those who see MOOCs as a fine example of the Hype Cycle (as I do) I would put MOOCs in the “Trough of Disillusionment” in 2013. Over the next decade, however, I do believe, as others suggest, that there will be a slow crawl–see here–up the Slope of Enlightenment as community colleges and state universities, but not elite institutions, figure out how to incorporate MOOCs into revenue-producing degree programs (there are less than a handful now for the bachelors and masters degrees). No MOOCS, however, for K-12 public schools.

For public schools in 2013, reports of Los Angeles Unified School District largest (and most expensive) adoption of  iPads in the  U.S. overshadowed monthly announcements of  districts buying tablets for kindergartners. Vendors continued to tout interactive whiteboards, clickers, and devices  engaging children and increasing academic achievement. Policymakers mandated online courses for high school graduation.Blended learning, including “flipped” classrooms, spread across the country. Moreover, teacher bloggers told anyone who would read their posts how they integrated the use of new devices into daily lessons, including ways to accommodate English and math Common Core standards.

Where once limited teacher access to new technologies  doomed innovative electronic devices (recall film projectors, radios, instructional TV, computer labs in the 20th century), in 2013 policymakers have been largely victorious in getting laptops, tablets, and hand-held devices into the hands of most teachers and students.

With all of the above occurring, one would think that by 2024, age-graded schools and the familiar teaching and learning that occurs today in K-12 and universities  would have exited the rear door.

I do not think so. Getting access to powerful electronic devices for all students and teachers is surely a victory for those who believe in better technologies solving teaching and learning problems. But access does not guarantee use, especially the kind of use that vendors and ardent technophiles seek.

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. Even in the face of accumulated evidence that hardware and software, in of themselves, have not increased academic achievement, even in the face of self-evident truism that it is the teacher who is the key player in learning not the silicon chip, enthusiasts and vendors continue to click castanets for tablets, laptops, and other classroom devices as ways of getting test scores to go higher (see The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_FULL_REPORT_(2012) and here).

Amid that skepticism, however, I have often noted 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 to advance student learning.

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 2024 look like?

In the past four years, I have predicted that textbooks will be digitized, online learning will spread, and the onset of computer testing will create more access of devices across schools and accelerate classroom usage. These will fan out incrementally over the next decade and will be salient but hardly dominant in K-12 age-graded schools.

While the textbook market in higher education has shifted a great deal to e-books and less expensive ways of getting content into students’ devices, the K-12 market remains a proprietary domain of a handful of publishers (e.g. Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill Education) in part due to the mechanics of  certain states (e.g.Florida, California, and Texas) dominating which texts get chosen. But changes continue. Vail (AZ) gave up textbooks; California permits districts to buy digital texts with state money; Florida will do so in 2015. Start-up companies are making digital texts available for under $20 as opposed to $80-100 prices. Changes in K-12 texts will occur in bits and pieces as publishers adapt to the impact of the web.

K-12 online learning will also spread slowly, very slowly, as blended learning and “flipped” classrooms gain traction, especially in low-income, largely minority districts. Both of these innovative twists on traditional classroom teaching, however, will reinforce the age-graded school, not destroy it.

What will shove forward greater use of online learning, however, is the implementation of adaptive testing through Common Core standards as two state consortia bring to the table their new online tests.

None of these incremental changes herald the disappearance of K-12 age-graded public schools or the dominant patterns of teacher-centered instruction. What these gradual changes will translate into is an array of options for teaching and learning available to both teachers and students.


Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

24 responses to “Predictions about Technology in K-12 and Higher Education for 2024

  1. It is intensely frustrating for those of us who care about the quality of classroom practice, that the “hard-core advocates of more-technology-the-better” not only continue to bang the same, tired old drum, but people still listen. Even here in the UK, where central government took some serious steps to curb this wasteful activity some time ago, I constantly still see the same rhetoric about technology and “educational transformation” not just being peddled… but actually believed.

  2. I think the central point of your commentary is left implicit: there are many roles which technology can play in and around the work of teaching and learning, and school. You correctly point out that ed tech is having success in automating administrative functions, teacher work, communication, breaking the monopoly of the textbook, information retrieval, creative tools, and assessment. But note that the key drivers for many of these successes is improved cost-efficiency, time efficiency, and access. As worthwhile as these roles are, they are mostly peripheral to the core tasks of teaching and learning. I argue that the reason ed tech will continue to have only marginal impact on school learning is that there are only a handful of ed tech applications which take on the hard tasks of improving teaching and learning, at scale. With 35+ years in the ed tech field, starting as a teacher and then with much of it in the private sector, I am frustrated by the lack of vision among developers (both open source and commercial) when it comes to using what we know about how to improve teaching and learning, to address the big challenges. What we see instead are hundreds of small-scale apps with clever interfaces, often times showing less understanding of the research than was the case with the best of the products of a generation ago. Until ed tech has the courage and the vision to take on the big, meaningful challenges of teaching and learning, we will continue to see significant gains in cost-efficiency, but barely measurable gains in cost-effectiveness.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the comment, Rob. Your critique of apps plus your last sentence making the distinction between efficiency and effectiveness are both forceful and telling.

  3. I really enjoyed your writing and perspectives.

    It seems that with technology in the classroom, just as with the open school designs, changes are derived from how the teachers/students use it, not the other way around. Design and use don’t drive pedagogy.

    I believe that the only way we will ever end age grading or change from traditional styles of education will be if we can change the way people mentally approach schooling. Once the mindset shifts, then technology (and online education) will be able to function as the game changer that it has potential to be.

    What do you think it will take to change our ideas as a community, as a nation, of age-graded traditional schools?

    • larrycuban

      Yes, the social beliefs of most Americans about what a “real school” is would have to shift. That kind of major shift occurs infrequently (recall mid-19th century reformers sold the idea of tax-supported public schools to white male property-holders who were used to private academies and no public schools; slowly they changed their social and political beliefs). Also public schools usually respond to larger social,economic, and political changes occurring in the larger society (e.g.,global competition for economic markets, wars).

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Thanks, Larry for the great topic! To judge the effectiveness of technology in education at this point in time, or even 10 years from now, reminds me of the naysayers who couldn’t imagine the need for a computer in every home?! lol Technology will revolutionize education and it can’t come soon enough, but it will be a long change process. Thurn hardly said “goodbye” to MOOCs. I’m currently learning web development from the founder of for FREE through Thurn’s MOOCs!! Thurn only said it is not a profit generator. Hopefully he will see the light and just sell advertising with it! Regardless, it’s out there and it will only continue to grow. My daughter learns just as much math, if not more (and definitely more efficiently) from Kahn Academy than she does from her teacher in the classroom. You’re right there will be an increasingly wide array of options and the current educational model will eventually go by the wayside – but not overnight.

    And to Rob’s point, I’m not sure it is necessarily a lack of vision of developers but more a lack of demand in the marketplace. It’s unfortunate that educators are not demanding more but that will change over time as educators become more comfortable with technology. We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface. I actually had to sign a petition to have computer science included in the requirements for graduation from high school in my state! And I’m in a progressive state! Technology is already “teaching” society at large, the schools and applications are just way behind the curve. But it is inevitable. We can’t continue to pump kids full of speed in order to keep them “engaged” in an outdated educational model.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for your comments, Monica. For what it is worth, I wrote in Oversold and Underused: Computers in Classrooms, over a decade ago, that there were two explanations for the limited student use of devices in classrooms. The first explanation was the one you called the “long change process;” I called it the “slow revolution.” My analysis rejected that explanation for the second one in which I laid out the structural factors and societal beliefs that kept the age-graded school in place. So I guess we differ.

      Differences or not, I found your examples of policymakers dragging their feet instructive.

  5. Thank you once again Larry for another year of insightfulness and critical analysis. Will be referring to your latest post when presenting at the 21stCentury Learning Conference here in Hong Kong this coming weekend on supporting schools and educators to set meaningful digital approaches. While I remain concerned at the amount of industrial drag that limits what we could be achieving through digital technologies in support of education in what I would term the Digital Age, I continue to agree with the importance of quality and empowered teachers as integral to improved outcomes. I look forward to the day we broaden our understanding beyond blaming this or that stakeholder when education is about what all of us (not just “ed tech”) are willing to do to create an honest future. New Year best wishes. John

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  7. Garth

    I have been teaching for 30 year along with a few other jobs scattered through there. Teaching is by far the most glacially changing profession I have worked in. I teach math. The math I did in high school in the ’60s is almost identical that is presented in the latest textbooks. For some reason things like Wolframalpha are totally ignored in the sense that they should completely change the math material and methods used. It is a bit pessimistic but i am willing to bet in 10 years math teachers will still be FOILing binomials by hand and using algorithms discovered in the 1700’s to find roots of polynomials. We will be surrounded by technology but we will still insist that this ancient methodology is a “needed skill” for modern math. In high school I learned how to find square roots by hand but the calculator sort of blew that one away. Why can’t technology blow away a whole bunch of other antique leftovers? Glacial.

    • larrycuban

      Garth, thanks for your comment on the glacial changes in math content and instruction in spite of rapid advances in available software that would alter both content and methods. What would be your reasons for this “most glacially changing profession?” The people who teach math? Expert reformers who fail generation after generation to implement changes in math curriculum and ways of teaching? The structure of schooling? Societal expectations of what students must know and do in math before leaving school? After 30 years, you must have some hunches on why change is so glacial.

      • Garth

        I think it goes back to the “we teach how we learned” syndrome. Until teacher education methods catch-up and overcome this syndrome we are doomed to re-live history. For a couple of years I taught Math Methods for prospective teachers. This was pre-Wolframalpha but in the TI-83 era. The course could still have been sliderule based and not made a difference. Those teachers that want to bring courses into the 21st Century are fighting a very large, very entrenched group of traditionalists (at least in the math ed field). There is also the issue of what are “required” skills for the 21 Century. Handwriting used to be critical. That is pretty much a goner. Spelling died with spell check. Finding square roots by hand is toast. Where does factoring polynomials stand? How about trig identities? There are tools out there that could delete about 70% of the Algebra/PreCalc high school syllabus but throwing out the baby with the bath water is a danger.

        The reasons for glacial change are multiple: teachers that are in their comfort zone and are not going to leave it, publishers that are not going to make changes because they are making a lot of money on status quo, and school boards that are going to buy textbooks like they had in school “’cause it worked fine for me”. I think the era of the digital textbook might bring some change on a local scale. A teacher that has a good idea can quickly add or delete to the textbook and post it on the internet. I am a flaming radical, I show my students Wolframalpha on day one of class. Of course that maybe the reason I no longer teach math. I now teach computer science where anything is fair game and the syllabus can change in a month. In a CS course there is almost nothing relevant from 10 years ago. In 10 years I will have an implant that will do all my trivial math, and the 10 year improved Google Glass will project a 3-D image of a cell with that will allow me to drill down to chemical interactions that are going on in the mitochondria. I hope math can keep up.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks, Garth, for the list of reasons that you think account for the “glacial” pace of change in math ed. It is a long list and intimidating to those math educators that seek the kind of changes you might support. From my experience, however, traditionalists, as you call them,are seldom found in university schools of education.

  8. Garth

    After talking to another math teacher here is addition to the cause for glacial movement – standardized tests. In math the standardized tests are based in that 100 year old math. Since these test scores reflect on the quality of the school and its teachers it is important to generate good scores which means teaching to the test is unavoidable.

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights into the future of education. It’s been pretty exciting to see the effort and advances made in recent years to embrace the use of technology to better facilitate learning. I work for a summer technology program that attracts many K-12 students where we utilize blended learning. There is already a great deal of progress being made to enhance learning in many institutions across the world. I wonder how this particularly will impact social growth and development.. 🙂

  10. Reblogged this on From experience to meaning… and commented:
    Predictions are always a bit of ‘madame soleil’, still this blog post by Larry Cuban isn’t far fetched at all, ‘en contraire’. Do read also the comments as they add a lot to already a very relevant post.

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  13. Larry. Thanks for this sanguine assessment (and for calling out the snake oil salespeople who pervade education in the UK as well as in the US). One issue on which I’d value your comments is the future role of Open Access learning materials and text books. You point out that “Start-up companies are making digital texts available for under $20 as opposed to $80-100 prices”. What do you make of the kinds of initiatives reported by Creative Commons, such as this: ? Do you see these as part of the general process of price-reduction through digital, or as something more fundamental? Seb Schmoller

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for your comment. I did not know of the Durbin bill nor did I know about SPARC and pilot programs at various universities. Thanks for letting me know about both. I do see this effort to make copyrighted material (I do wonder about this) available to professors,teachers, and students at sharply reduced prices as part of the digitizing of texts that is underway both here and abroad. Publishers and authors of textbooks may see this as a fundamental change in the textbook industry insofar as pricing and royalties, perhaps like the music industry. Not sure. Is it a fundamental change in teaching? Learning? Hardly.

  14. Pingback: Grilled Realism with a Connectivism Reduction Aioli | [blog title in parenthesis]

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