The Future of Education, Now

The story goes something like this: For the most part, we still educate people in a construct created for the industrial era. Young people are taught in batches, organized by age, not aptitude or interest, and measured on academic performance. The intense and burdensome focus on standardization and assessment ultimately standardizes students and teaches creativity out of them. The same effect is often felt on the teachers. Contrary to the collaborative and divergent-thinking skills demanded by today’s economy and society, students are told: “There is one answer. It’s at the back of the book. Don’t look. That’s called cheating.” As importantly, teaching methods and models fail to spark the imagination and hold the attention of today’s digital natives who are learning, playing and creating with technology around the clock yet are told to leave it behind at the school gates. The divide between what education should be – engaging, flourishing, relevant – and what it is today, is startling. The implications are ever greater.

It’s not just that education systems are failing to energize kids. Just as importantly, they are not preparing them for the jobs or the challenges of the future. It used to be that an education lasted you a lifetime. Today, you need to be educated for a world in which the jobs you will occupy have yet to be created, the technology you will use has yet to be invented and problems you need to solve have yet to be understood.

Some suggest we are moving from an information society to a creative society in which the value of your job – and the sustainability of the planet – will be measured in your ability to be a creative thinker. See the widely referenced IBM survey that says creativity is now considered by chief executives globally as the number one quality that leaders need to possess. Another report by UNESCO concluded that almost 60 percent of jobs in the future will depend on the capacity to be creative. Increasingly, the development community is looking to designers and others in the creative industries to try their hands in the field as their way of thinking offers promise to solving some of the world’s most intractable problems.

Young people are taught in batches, organized by age, not aptitude or interest, and measured on academic performance only.

While the education sector may be the last frontier not yet disrupted by technology and globalization, a sense of what lies ahead is starting to emerge.

Here is some of what you can expect:

Learning, not education

In a world in which information has never been more accessible, and the pace of technological change has never been greater, the emphasis is much more on how to create lifelong learners who can self-direct and curate personalized learning. The purpose of education will be to teach you how to think not what to think. Countries that figure out how to lay the foundations for this will be the most competitive. The curious will win.

Anytime, anywhere

Learning will be ‘blended’ – gained in and out of school and from formal and informal sources. 24/7. This has the potential to change the role of teachers to free them up to facilitate learning based on content from better experts and more engaging sources.

Design as a process for learning

If fostering a generation of creative thinkers is a priority, then we need to know how to teach it. Long seen through an arts and culture lens, there is now growing recognition that design processes – especially design thinking – are most effective in nurturing the creative and divergent thinking skills needed to thrive in today’s, and tomorrow’s, world. Empathy. Ideation. Intuition. Prototype. Fail often to succeed sooner.

Digital end to end and open

The efficiencies delivered by digital make perfect sense. Watch lectures at home. Come to class to collaborate and problem-solve. But, beware of seeing the technological possibility as the triumph of distance learning or of using technology to teach. The power of digital learning is in how it enables dramatically different and more effective ways of learning. The extent to which is transforms your ability to imagine, design, create, experiment and explore.

Relevant and exciting content

Many predict the end of paper textbooks within five years. The potential of the replacement is phenomenal. Move over Pearson and Scholastic. Welcome to a world in which educational content is rich, exciting and based in the real world. This opens up a whole new avenue for outsiders with valuable resources and knowledge, as well as mentoring capacity, to enter the world of learning. A world in which teachers help support individual learning journeys across much more interesting, and relevant, material and experiences.


As Pat Kane says in Play Ethic, “Play will be to the 21st century what work was to the last 300 years of industrial society – our dominant way of knowing, doing and creating value.” Look closely at game mechanics and see a world of highly effective learning pathways, personalized journeys, social learning and feedback. The ability of games to let users master information – playing again and again until they get it – turns the notion of sixty-minute classes and testing on its head. If kids don’t learn the way we teach, let’s teach the way they learn.

Reimagining credit

Reinventing education is not only about re-examining the purpose of education. It is also about rethinking how we demonstrate it. Enter the world of digital CVs, badges and e-portfolios – exciting platforms on which to showcase your diverse achievements and creativity, feedback from your peers, colleagues and mentors, and self-directed learning journeys. These are credentials that matter.

Individual examples of innovation and transformation in the sector paint an exciting picture of the future. High Tech High in California or the School of One in New York City are generating attention for their digital and personalized learning approaches. Quest to Learn, founded by the Institute of Play’s Katie Salen, puts game-design and design thinking at the heart of the pedagogy. Emily Pilloton and Project H Design are transforming a poor, rural North Carolina school district into one based on design and technology. Design thinking and design challenges as processes for learning are popping up in every corner – Stanford’s K-12 Lab, the MIT Global Challenge, Open IDEO, the Henry Ford Learning Institute, the global Design for Change challenge started in India and is growing in countries day by day. And, of course, there is the Khan Academy that, at the time of this writing, had delivered a mere 124,907,222 lessons through its free, informal learning platform.

For all the vision and activity, one gets the sense it is still early days. What happens when 3D printing becomes commonplace in schools? Voice recognition? Gesture? Mobile learning? What happens when the technology truly allows for ‘deeper learning’ and assessment? An education leader described it like this: “The majority of schools are still working like a Victrola. You wind them up and they sort of work. New entrants like charter schools are like good analogue records – on the leading edge of change. But no one has yet to invent the iPod of learning. Imagine what’s going to happen when they do.”

A lot of things about the coming reinvention are exciting. The potential for developing countries to leapfrog what are now failing education systems in the West for more innovative approaches that promise a young generation access to relevant skills and learning is one that is extremely exciting. The opportunity for business and other untapped power-houses of expertise to be unlocked in order to contribute to a world of open, lifelong learning is another. Like a lot of people, I am also moved by the ways ‘reinvented education’ creates a new playing field on which the previously labeled ‘non-academics’ can thrive. And, finally – as with so much of the disruption around us – the likelihood that education will be reinvented by people who are not from the sector is high and will be something to watch.

A brilliant mind recently said to me that he thought education would be reinvented by the “mavericks, mixtures and margins.” That “innovations in education that engage young people and have the most profound impact will not occur because someone told teachers what to do and how to do it. They won’t come by tinkering with the curriculum or seeking the perfect balance of assessment. The most important changes in learning this decade will come about because someone thought that things weren’t what they could be and that something new was worth a try.”

It’s time to stop talking about the future of learning. Let’s be the future of learning. Let’s create an education that inspires.

the author

Julia Moffett

Julia Moffett has held numerous strategy roles in government, philanthropy and development organizations. She currently develops strategies for a wide range of companies, foundations and NGOs. Julia is based in London, UK.