Brave New World

Educaiton in 2025

What will education look like in 2025?

Katherine Prince

U.S. education is currently facing disruption. The digital revolution and the accompanying cultural and social changes are challenging education’s fundamental structure. Along with other knowledge-based industries such as journalism and publishing, education is going through a period where our relationships with traditional institutions are changing dramatically and, in some cases, ending.

What will K-12 education look like by 2025? The system as we know it today might no longer dominate the education landscape. Instead, it might be one part of a distributed learning ecosystem across which learners move freely according to their needs, interests, and goals.

School leaders play an essential role in ensuring that the future holds potential for all students, not just those whose families have the time, money, and resources to customize or supplement their education. You can accomplish this by focusing on three areas: reinventing learning environments, developing new ways to support learning, and putting learning into new contexts.

As you consider these areas of opportunity, I invite you to suspend your assumptions about how education can and must work. A second invitation is to consider how you could be an agent of change in creating the future of learning. If you could design the ideal learning environment of 2025, what might it look like? What roles might today’s schools and districts play?

Reinventing Learning Environments

Trends point toward a future in which “school” takes many more forms than it does today. Already, learning experiences are cropping up in many places and via many platforms. These include place-based schools, schools located in nontraditional settings such as museums, informal learning settings such as maker spaces, and online apprenticeship platforms, just to name a few.

Learning also is expanding beyond traditional constraints. It will no longer be defined by time and place unless a learner wants it to be defined that way. As we move toward competency education, we are seeing a shift from seat time to mastery. By 2025, many learners could customize their learning journeys, creating individualized learning playlists reflecting their particular needs, interests, and goals.

A playlist could center on a neighborhood public school. It also could include, or be entirely comprised of, a wide variety of digital and other place-based learning experiences. Learning playlists have begun to appear on some online platforms as well as in some schools. There is the potential for learners and their families to self-organize all or parts of their learning journeys or to pick and choose how and when they interact with traditional educational settings. It also is possible to establish clear shared learning outcomes and to enable many ways of achieving them.

Questions to consider:

How might your district facilitate an expanded range of learning opportunities for students?

How might your district begin brokering learning resources and experiences across traditional boundaries—both in terms of what you offer out and what you bring in?

What supports might administrators need in managing more networked combinations of learning resources and experiences?

New Ways to Support Learning

By 2025, personalization of learning could become the norm, with learning approaches and supports tailored to each learner. New ways of using data to inform learning, new educator roles, and new ways of connecting students with the right resources and supports are emerging.

Increasingly sophisticated learning analytics are helping to make personalized learning possible. These analytics provide rich data about learners’ academic performance as well as their social and emotional conditions. Such data could help educators tailor instruction real-time, target the best supports and interventions, and guide learners toward useful learning experiences. At the same time, research into how the mind works and how environmental factors affect learning promises to reveal new insights into how best to motivate and support learners.

As learning diversifies and new forms of support emerge, educator roles are changing. The educators of 2025 could work in more specialized roles than is typical today. Already, some new roles are emerging to fit new approaches. Some organizations are advocating for hybrid roles for teachers. Future educators could support learners in both customizing and carrying out their learning journeys. Some educator roles might resemble today’s teaching role. Others might focus on managing data about learning, producing and curating learning resources, or helping learners move across learning environments.

Beyond such roles, trends suggest that a wide variety of networks, platforms, and content resources could help learners and educators connect and learn. For the expanding learning ecosystem to be vibrant for all learners, education leaders will need to consider new ways of providing guidance and of meeting learners’ nonacademic needs.

Questions to consider:

How might you increase your district’s capacity to use data about learners and learning to guide choices and inform instruction?

How might your district create new educator roles that support personalized learning for all students?

As the learning ecosystem expands, what new services will learners need, and how might your district provide or partner to provide them?

New Learning Contexts

Planning for this future will take a dramatic re-examination of the ways in which learning relates to community and employment expectations. At the same time, the world of work is changing so rapidly that students will need new skills in navigating its demands.

As education becomes more networked with other services, the potential exists for whole communities to become owners of learning. What we today consider to be informal and community-based learning experiences could become integral parts of the learning system. Some city-wide learning networks and after-school programs with close ties to districts are beginning to broaden views of their learning landscapes.

If today’s do-it-yourself, innovation-oriented culture continues to spread while government funding and other resources decline, a new wave of social innovation could help address resource constraints and other challenges. Direct and indirect contributions to learning could diversify as education leaders cross boundaries to find ways of meeting learners’ needs that traditional approaches cannot address.

The concept of credentials is changing, too. Signals such as the uptick of badging, credit for prior experience in competency-based higher education programs, and platforms for self-certifying learning point toward an increasing emphasis on supporting learners in demonstrating what they know and are able to do. By 2025, high-quality performance-based assessments could provide useful feedback about learning. New forms of credentials, certificates, and reputation markers could reflect the many ways in which people demonstrate mastery.

Lastly, the world of work is evolving. Skilled labor is increasingly organized through ad hoc and often global employment networks. People expect to have an increasing number and variety of careers, and automation is displacing whole professions.

These changes are likely to make continuous career readiness a necessity for many people. Skills such as personal brand management, networking, problem-solving, experimentation, continuous learning, and the ability to embrace change are projected to become hallmarks of success in the emerging economy.

Questions to consider:

How might your district help learners move seamlessly among school- and community-based learning experiences?

Where might new kinds of partnerships lead to new solutions?

What might it mean to be college and career ready as work and organizations change?

Leading the Future

With such changes on the horizon, education leaders have a tremendous opportunity to create breakthrough changes that will improve the lives of their students. Leaders have the opportunity—and also, I believe, the responsibility—to redesign the whole system, transforming the current education system and its many intersecting parts into a new design that matches the emerging participatory economy.

Making the most of this opportunity will take compelling visions and courageous leadership. Even as education expands in ways that could change how today’s schools and districts contribute, those institutions have a vital role to play in stewarding the expansion. In particular, districts have an opportunity to take the lead in helping students find and manage the right combinations of learning experiences. Some of these will be offered directly by the district. Some will be offered by other learning providers or be designed by students.

Districts also could explore new kinds of collaborations that support learners’ overall health and ability to learn and that bring new resources to their communities. Districts could share excellent teachers, specialty classes, or other assets with learners far beyond their boundaries.

Regardless of whether these possibilities emerge as the right ways forward for you, education leaders must help students and their families connect education as we know it today to the best of future possibilities. Whatever your ideal future of learning, responding to change with creativity rather than fear will be critical to preparing all learners for an uncertain future.

KnowledgeWorks is an Ohio-based nonprofit social enterprise that works to foster personalized learning that enables every student to thrive in college, career, and civic life. KnowledgeWorks’ forecasts on the future of learning can be found online at

Katherine Prince ( is senior director of strategic foresight of KnowledgeWorks, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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