Ed-Tech Policy Opinion

10 Disruptions That Will Revolutionize Education

By Peter W. Cookson Jr. — October 10, 2017 4 min read
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The idea that machines are smarter than humans has inspired a library of science-fiction stories and movies. What often happens when intelligent machines and ordinary humans cross cognitive swords? Humans lose. We weaker and dumber creatures are no match for machines that are out-thinking us at every turn, taking away our jobs, and planning to establish a dictatorship of computers.

As much fun as these dire scenarios are to imagine, they are false. In fact, the development of advanced artificial intelligence, or superintelligence, opens up doors to discoveries never before imagined. While opinions vary about the speed with which superintelligence will develop, there is little doubt that within the next decade, the cognitive landscape will be very different than it is today.

The “thinking machines” predicted by computer scientist Alan Turing in the 1950s are already part of the education landscape. Adaptive learning enhanced by AI, virtual reality, and e-learning gives students experiences their parents never had. Today’s students may be technologically savvy, but moving from distraction to deep learning is one of our most pressing education challenges.


Nobody has a crystal ball, but everyone can see that the world is changing at warp speed. Through my research of blended learning and equity in education, I have heard many educators say that it’s time to seize the future. Here is my take on the 10 disruptions that will revolutionize education in the coming years:

1. Digital learners will rebel against intellectual conformity.

Digital natives live in two worlds—the physical one and the lightning-fast virtual one of the internet. They are interactive and hands-on learners; they tend to be more interested in solutions than reflection. Many are less linear in their thinking, multitask easily, and often have short attention spans. Much of schooling is constructed around conformity and standardization, but digital natives will force educators to break out of that box.

2. Learning avatars will become commonplace.

Avatars—virtual images representing humans—can serve as an online proxy for in-person narrators, experts, and mentors. Because of advanced software, avatars can adapt to the personalized learning needs of students. Take, for instance, a student who is struggling with basic math principles: An avatar can be customized to reinforce specific skills in a way that empowers a student without publicly calling them out.

3. Participatory-learning hubs will replace isolated classrooms.

A school that fully embraces 21st-century intelligence will serve in a connected, global network of learning institutions. Teachers and students will spend less time sitting in their seats and more time networking with an international web of co-learners. Students from around the world will work together to solve problems using the power of collective intelligence.

4. Inquiry skills will drive learning.

There is little doubt that within the next decade, the cognitive landscape will be very different than it is today."

In an age when knowledge is growing exponentially through scientific and technological breakthroughs, big ideas will dominate the education landscape. Teachers will need new pedagogies and curricula for their students that emphasize problem-solving, higher-order skills, access to machine intelligence, teamwork, and lifelong learning.

5. Capacities will matter more than grades.

Conventional grading is already becoming outdated. What a student can do rather than what she or he can remember will be the new standard of achievement in the age of the creative economy.

6. Teachers will become inventors.

In the near future, hopefully, all educators will have internalized the importance of social-emotional learning. Teachers will be empowered to create learning environments that are focused on the relationship between cognition, emotional well-being, and inventive thinking.

7. School leaders will give up their desks.

The next generation of school leaders will be less wedded to traditional practices. Students will need autonomy and freedom to customize their own education, so top-down leadership will be replaced by student agency in a culture of mutual respect.

8. Students and families will become co-learners and co-creators.

Participatory education means little if students and families are pushed to the side. Families will no longer be shut out of the learning process. They will be seen as full partners in their children’s education.

9. Formal credentials will no longer be the Holy Grail.

For decades, graduating from college has been considered the goal for which nearly all students should strive. But in the coming era, competencies will matter more than formal credentials. While college will remain important, there should be the option for professional portfolios demonstrating not only what students have learned but what they will learn. Employers will increasingly seek job applicants that can think for themselves, are intrinsically motivated and team-oriented, and exhibit resilience and determination.

10. Policymakers will form communities of continuous improvement.

Policymakers will become the vanguard of education transformation. Stuffy panels and unread reports will be replaced by innovative think tanks where, along with the input of communities, new ideas will be developed, tested, and implemented.

If education stays stuck in the past, generations of students will be miseducated. They won’t be equipped to thrive in a world of new ideas and technologies. The current task of educators should be to embrace these changes with an open mind and consider how new disruptions can aid, rather than hinder, learning for all students.

A version of this article appeared in the October 11, 2017 edition of Education Week as 10 Disruptions That Will Jump-Start The Next Education Revolution


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