The Future of Teaching

As we try to predict what learning and schools will look like in the future, we must consider how we can better prepare teachers for facilitating this type of education.  Although there are many important purposes of schooling, two of the most important are preparing citizens who can contribute to society and developing workers who can contribute to the economy.  

A civic education will continue to be important especially as digital media provides new means of educating and persuading the general public. However, making a prognosis about possible careers in the 21st century economy is difficult at best because even of the most important jobs in the world today did not exist 10-20 years ago.  In such uncertain times, how can we design an education system that prepares students for the 21st century?  

As education technology advances, as pointed out by A Roadmap for Educational Technology (Woolf, 2010) and discussed by Keri Valentine in More on the Future of Teaching with Technology by Keri Valentine, there will be significant changes in the 21st century classroom. Some of the most noteworthy changes include:

  • Future systems will make informed recommendations; if a student shows weakness in a skill, it will suggest remediating tools; if she shows an interest in X, and many people who like X also find Y interesting, then it will suggest Y (p. 19)  
  • Systems will ultimately facilitate communities of learning. (p. 20)
  • Systems will also be self-improving, i.e., policies about when and how to provide advice will change as the system works with large numbers of students and learns which students profit from which advice (p. 20)  
  • Learning communities will be distributed across space, time, and contexts, and will not be defined by dichotomies (p. 24)
  • Rich interfaces will support lifelong learning and ubiquitous experiences (p. 27 – 28)

Technology will clearly play a powerful role in student learning. In fact some predict that eventually technology will become so  advanced, it will essentially replace teachers.  Two areas of learning computers can  effectively replaces teachers are

(1) Delivering factual knowledge (e.g. who/where/when of the Civil War)

(2) Explaining neatly organized systems & processes (e.g. how to replace my cabin air filter, parts of a cell, photosynthesis, etc). 

In other areas, technology can help facilitate learning (e.g. an online discussion board) but may require a teacher to organize the learning. As technology continues to change education it is transforming the economy at an even more rapid pace.   More work that used to be done by humans is done by machines and computers.

Therefore, in order for schools to continue to have relevance, they must create learning experiences for students that cannot be replicated by a computer. If a skill or set of knowledge can be taught via a computer, then what a student is learning is preparing him or her for a job that is likely to be replaced by a computer.  

To develop skills and dispositions for the 21st century, a teacher will need to take on more unique roles such as:

  • Creating unique, authentic problems that excite students and blend community needs, learning standards and student interests.

  • Challenging students’ way of thinking and helping them develop a greater capacity for empathy and perspective taking.

  • Providing encouragement and cultivating intrinsic motivation when facing challenges in learning

Here is a more tempered view of the potential of technology to revolutionize education and why teachers are still important:

There are many exciting advancements occurring in education technology. Tim Bush, education marketing manager at Microsoft, says the cloud and video gaming will play key roles in changing how students learn. Matt Britland, a technology coordinator and consultant, also says the cloud has great potential for changing education along with socially connected learning. I believe these tools will be helpful.

However, the most important change that can and must occur due to the growing power of technology has nothing to do with computers. The culture in schools must change. Teacher training and professional development must change.

 A new culture or learning and teaching must be formed in which teachers’ primary role is to create authentic & relevant challenges and help cultivate resiliency, new ways of thinking and intrinsic motivation in students which inspires the lifelong learning necessary to succeed in the 21st century.

[NOTE: This post was inspired by a discussion in Prof. Burbules’ course on Education and Technological Reform. The coursework is part of the New Learning program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign]

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