2020 Classrooms

Will we still need classrooms by 2020? If so, what kind of learning environments will they be? Or will students learn on the move, in their workplaces, at home, and through the multiple connections facilitated by new communication technology? This is a difficult question to answer, because school and education, although not synonymous, are deeply ingrained in our culture and have become a key component of our social, political and economic thinking. Implicit in the question are a number of issues, including the relationship between teaching and curriculum, and nature of state funded education and the role of teachers. Also under the spotlight are the demands of society, work, family and community, and how these are balanced against the needs of individual learners.

I recently used Twitter to crowdsource a number of responses to what would be obsolete in education in 2020. The discussion can be found under the hashtag #learning2020. In this post I would like to present some of the tweets, and provide a critical commentary around them, in the hope that it will provide a useful contribution to the discourse surrounding the purpose of education and the future of learning.

The design and configuration of classrooms was a particular concern for several people. Melissa Brown Boyle, an elementary school teacher in the USA, predicted that school classrooms of the future will have "fewer individual student desks and more tables or open floor space conducive to discussion and movement". She also believes in moving learning beyond traditional settings: "open discussion space must be global not just local, virtual links are just as real as graffiti on desks.” She has a point, because often, classrooms are cluttered with furniture, and provide less space for creative activities to be organised. These are sentiments echoed by another teacher, Vanessa Camilleri, who calls for more creative options through flexibility - the global classroom is already there for the making. So, do we need to redesign classrooms to make them more conducive to personalised and creative forms of learning? Evelyn MacElhinney is even more radical. She envisages 'hologram rooms' where students can 'learn in the scenario' and she advocates doing away with tables and chairs completely in schools of the future.

What about the way education is currently conducted? What about the closed nature of the classroom? Mr Colley, a teacher in the UK wants to see closed door classrooms become a thing of the past. He also predicts that teachers will very soon need to determine the differences between cheating and collaboration. Martin Homola, a PhD student in Slovakia, made the prediction that education behind closed doors will be obsolete by 2020. He suggests that 'online, open channels' will be the building blocks of future education. By this, I assume he means that open content, open source and open learning will come to the fore, and schools will be less protective over their content and classroom methods. Theo Kuechel agrees, and hopes to see 'more CC' and less 'C' on learning content in the future.

Sonia Cooper, also a teacher, wanted to see learning environments where each child had one device that 'did everything' including connecting to each other, the teacher, and content for learning. The scots had a lot to say about future learning: Kenny Pieper, an English teacher in Scotland, saw a future where the classroom was replete with iPads, Kindles and other personal tools for learning. Others such as Fraser Speirs, a head of computing, at a school in Scotland, also called for 1-1 technology provision, but added wisely that children should be presented with challenge-based learning. Yet Ian Stuart, a Deputy Head teacher in Scotland, warned that perhaps the "idea of 1-1 tablets in 2020 is like man in 1900 thinking we'd have really fast steam engines by 2000". He's right of course. When gazing into the future, we should certainly not constrain our thinking to current mindsets and conceptions of technology. Instead, we should try to be like the children in our classes - to let our imagination run riot, because from this can come the creative solutions for the problems of the future. What is your vision for 2020 learning?

Previous posts in this series on 2020 Learning include 2020 Learners and 2020 Vision.

Image source by Shuichiro

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2020 Classrooms by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Emma said…
Have you also seen the series - think it's in the Guardian (though can't find it on their website) with children saying what they think they'd like in classrooms in the future. Had a great range of things they'd like - some nicely hi-tech, some less so (seem to remember a soft carpet being one of them!)
Calum Thomson said…
I think that there's a fairly simple answer to any question of how classrooms should/will look in the future and that is they'll reflect the best bits of the world the students live in. This may, and in my mind should, be defined by technology, geographical location or societal influence. If they're watching short, easily digestible pieces of video on the iPad with their friends on the bus, we as teachers should be looking to engage them this way and guiding them through their learning using this. If they're watching live Twitter feeds constantly projected onto the inside of their glasses, we should be looking at how we can best make use of this.

What's more we should be looking to keep this as organic as possible. If one student comes in and disrupts a class, annoying other students, with a new form of video game then maybe they need to be told to put it away. However of it disrupts the class because the students are interested we should be taking notice, getting involved and working out how it can be used in the learning process. This process of learning through the students own interests and learning the different ways that can learn through new devices means they develop skills which will aid them in lifelong learning.

Martin Homola said…
What I meant by 'open channels' are communication channels which are open to general public. Today most classes are isolated from the rest of the world and confined in their classroom.

Blogs and other channels when applied in education have been proven to enable this powerful connection with the rest of the world. Students get useful feedback from outside the class. Younger students learn to communicate and express themselves like this. In higher education, they can start building early links with their future professional community of choice.

On the other hand, there are certain risks associated with open channels and many teachers are still afraid of this. I think we have to work out ways how to use open channels safely in order to break this fears in order to enjoy the benefits as much as possible.
mvallance1234 said…
You can see some of my Japanese students' images for our university in 2020 at

A colleague and I use a Futures Studies approach to develop images and scenarios with our undergrads. We have a couple of academic papers:

(1) Vallance, M. & Wright, D.L. (2010). Japanese Students’ Digitally Enabled Futures Images: A Synergistic Approach to Developing Academic Competencies. In S. Mukerji & P. Tripathi (Eds.). Cases on Technological Adaptability and Transnational Learning: Issues and Challenges. IGI Global: Hershey, USA. DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-779-4.ch009 Available online. Abstract in Japanese.

(2) Vallance, M. & Wright, D.L. (2010). The Futures Studies Toolbox and iPod Touch: Digitally Enabled Futures Images for the Japanese University 2020 Project. The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 5. pp. 261-274. Common Ground Publishing: USA. Available online.
- Presented at the Interdisciplinary Social Sciences conference. Cambridge University, UK. Presentation on Slideshare

Links at http://web.mac.com/mvallance/DRVALLANCE/Publications.html

The toughest obstacle for our visions though is the WEIGHT of the present: tradition, conservatism, being risk-averse, fear of change. These 'weights' are mostly exhibited by the administrators who are becoming more powerful in an increasingly corporate education. Mainstream education in Japan for instance is not going to change that much. We still have chalkboards in High Schools, and students do not sit in groups but alone at single desks, staring at the 'knower of all information' (the sage on the stage) at the front. We have the technology here but the pedagogy and the environment is changing very little. The kids want to change, the teachers - many, not all - want change, the parents simply want change - but bureaucrats rule.I am less optimistic now than when I first started using technology in my classes in 1993 (Hypercard, etc.) but thankfully my undergrads have great visions and hopes. They keep me focussed. As EMMA says above, let's keep asking what the children want. They are our vision for 2020.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for the heads up on that one Emma. Will check it out :-)
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Calum - like the bit about the disruptive element. Disruption can be desirable or not welcome, depending on the context. Teachers will need to wise up to new technologies and their impact upon learning, motivation, attention and class cohesion.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for clarifying your original Tweet Martin. It makes even more sense now, in the context of the commentary I gave in the blogpost. Teachers and classrooms need to be open in every sense to meet the needs of the 21st century learner.
Steve Wheeler said…
Mike, you are of course correct. Pedagogy is changing very little in most areas, although the technology (and more importantly, the learners) are demanding that it does change. How will the future pan out - comments from all are welcomed here.
catbins said…
i so agree with the comment about the differences between collaboration and cheating. We had an instance last year where 3 students got together to do an online exam, talking to each other and discussing the potential answers. Collectively they did better than the usual 'high achievers'. My personal outlook is that knowledge is socailly constructed and these 3 students were proof of point - however the tutors all got worried about it and viewed it as cheating.
I suppose it comes down to personal perspective and how important student learning is vs keeping within the 'rules' laid down by academic bureaucracy

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