Four Emerging Trends in Learning

ForbesSeptember 5, 2019

Imagine going to school in a museum and studying real artifacts. Imagine a sustained relationship with an advisor who helps you figure out what you’re good at and care about, and where you can make a difference. Imagine high school students designing practical solutions to community problems. 

Visit an innovative new school like Grand Rapids Public Museum School and you’ll see evidence of emerging trends, including immersive and experiential learning, strong guidance, a focus on success skills and becoming a contributing citizen. 

My last post reviewed four “mega trends” that are reshaping global education. This post considers four emerging trends tied to each of those: a focus on contribution, immersive learning, a focus on success skills, and thoughtful guidance.  

Category Mega Trends Emerging Trends
Aims New goals (what) Contribution (why)
Strategies  Active learning Immersive learning
Measures  Competency Success skills 
Supports Integrated services Thoughtful guidance 

1. Contribution: “Everyone deserves an education that is about their own development as a human being,” said Peter Senge. “The purpose of education is for me to become me in the context of the society in which I live, so I can truly contribute to my society.” 

Investor-turned-advocate Ted Dintersmith said, “School should be about finding out what you’re good at — preparing for lives of purpose, lives of contribution.”

After decades of a narrow focus on standardized tests, education that is driven by a sense of purpose and making the world a better place is catching on. A growing number of schools and programs now help students develop the design-thinking and entrepreneurial mindset that young people need to dive into complex problems and make a difference in their community. 

At the 20-year-old purpose-built Olin College, “doing good for humanity” is a founding precept. A growing number of engineering schools incorporate entrepreneurial mindset (spotting opportunity and delivering value) and doing good in the world

Arizona State University professor Sasha Barab said, “When one treats impacting the world as the goal, then the criteria for success becomes whether the individual can, and chooses to, leverage the to-be-learned content in ways that are relevant to goals that they view as important.”

2. Immersive Learning: Powerful learning experiences are often immersive. A growing number of K-12 schools are leveraging the power of place to explore the ecological, cultural and economic aspects of a community. Teton Science School in Wyoming is a leader in place-based education and launched the Place Network to help rural schools boost student engagement, academic outcomes and local impact by using the community as classroom. 

Virtual reality (VR) is bringing the power of place to classrooms. Google Expeditions enables students to explore the world with an inexpensive viewer. VR is becoming widely used in job training where simulation is beneficial as well.

Mobile technology has made it easier to extend project-based learning from the classroom to the community. Smartphones with GPS, cameras and sensors allow learners to document community investigations. Augmented reality (AR) applications will soon allow learners to immerse themselves not only in local environments, but in the associated data sets. Imagine a neighborhood survey (like those conducted at NuVu Studio) that one day considers economic data and another day environmental data. With AR, students can experience such findings in a more personal and memorable way. 

Increasing focus on work-based learning is another example of immersive learning. The Imblaze app from Big Picture Learning helps schools manage internships, and enables teachers to monitor their students’ location and progress.  

3. Success Skills: Many new outcome frameworks (the first global mega trend cited) prioritize agency and collaboration — that is, the ability to manage yourself and your relationships. The emerging trend measures these important dispositions critical to the future of work, where students may find themselves regularly working autonomously in addition to collaborating with remote colleagues. 

Survey instruments are becoming widely used measures of school culture and climate. While they provide useful data points, they don’t chart individual students’ growth on important dimensions. What’s promising is a new generation of metrics embedded in powerful learning experiences.  

Valor Collegiate Academies are top-performing Tennessee schools, but they are most well-known for Compass, a social and emotional learning program that has been adopted by more than 100 schools and leading school networks. Badges are organized around the Compass “habits,” with a developmental progression from 5th to 12th grade. Badges are based on different experiences, with students expected to demonstrate that they have met the criteria to earn a badge.

The 200 project-based schools in the New Tech Network assess agency and collaboration in every project.  

4. Guidance: The employment landscape is being transformed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and there’s been an explosion of associated secondary and postsecondary learning options. Helping learners make good decisions about what to learn and how to learn it is becoming more important every day. Widely used information systems provide generic advice, but not personalized and localized guidance. Smart services that combine informed advisers and comprehensive information systems are just beginning to appear. 

EL Education offers a character framework that helps young people develop purpose, agency and belonging so that they can contribute to a better world. Schools in the EL network all start with Crew, a daily advisory period where learners check in with advisers, build culture, develop success skills, and receive thoughtful guidance on next steps in learning.  

The World of Work, developed with the Cajon Valley Union School District, is a systematic K-8 introduction to career options and an exploration of personal values, strengths and interests. 

American Student Assistance creates innovative products and partnerships that deliver high-impact material to young people in Massachusetts and beyond.

Dallas County Promise enables tuition-free college pathways in partnership with regional universities aligned to the needs of the North Texas workforce. With Commit Partnership, they support schools with the best regional data system in the country. 

Building on the four mega trends, these emerging trends are making learning more engaging, more purposeful and more effective for the long term.

This article was written by Tom Vander Ark from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to