What Will Classrooms Look Like in 2120?

What will a classroom look like in 2120? On October 25th, George Joeckel posted on LinkedIn about a recent McDonald’s commercial that spotlights the classroom of 2120. The purpose of the commercial has nothing to do with the future of education. It was about McDonald’s shift to breakfast all day, with a teacher of the future leading a history lesson, explaining the outlandish fact that, 105 years ago, people could only buy breakfast in the morning. You can check out the original commercial here.

In his article/critique, Joeckel pointed out the underwhelming vision of the classroom of the future in the commercial. He challenged readers to watch it and note some of the issues with the video. Consider the following facts.

  • There is still an old-school whiteboard in the front of the classroom.
  • Students are still sitting in desks in straight rows, with the teacher lecturing from the front of the room. Granted, they do have some sort of embedded screen in their 1880s desks, but the scene is otherwise the same as what we see today and we could have seen a hundred years ago. By the way, I worked on something similar for a science lab classroom in 1995.
  • The teacher is telling instead of showing and allowing students to experience it.
  • There is a short throw projector in the front of the room, but the background is black instead of white. Otherwise, it is pretty much what we have today.
  • The teacher is wearing traditional glasses. No progress on the healthcare front in 105 years?
  • There is an analog clock in the back of the room.
  • There are old-school classroom bulletin boards in the back of the room.

As explained by Joeckel, “Assuming that McDonalds didn’t say to its ad agency–Leo Burnett–‘Although we’re fighting for our lives against the rise of fast casual restaurants AND we’re paying you guys millions of dollars a year, make sure that we look like unimaginative, status-quo dolts by presenting the laziest version of the future you can slap together’–the visual design of this ‘classroom of the future’ is rife with fails.”

Casting a vision for the classroom of ten years from now is challenging enough. Trying to imagine something 105 years into the future is nearly impossible. Yet, I think we can be confident that it will look nothing like what we saw in the commercial. Personalized learning, learning analytics, research on the brain and learning, and virtual reality will all help reshape classrooms before that time. The idea of a learning community will be alive and well, but its look and feel will be different. If there are talking heads and traditional classrooms, I expect that they will be supplemented by immersive virtual reality tours, allowing students to not just hear about an idea, but to experience it with their senses. Place-based learning will be alive, but the classroom itself will be a chameleon, able to take learners to places around the world, more similar to the Star Trek holodeck than a contemporary classroom. Some learners will likely be in the same physical room while others will be participating remotely, but experiencing the same virtual reality.

In reality, much of what I just listed may well be thriving and dominating in less than fifty years, and I’m hesitant to share what I really expect to see in 105 years. That might just isolate me a bit too much from my readers. So, for now, I’ll stick with the conservative speculations.

Of course, trying to convey such concepts in a 2o or 30-second commercial that is really about McDonald’s all-day breakfast is a tall order, even for such a fast food behemoth. It would quickly take the attention of viewers away from the sales pitch and into an imaginative consideration of what learning and schooling might look like in 105 years. So, McDonad’s gets a pass from me for the underwhelming future classroom set. Nonetheless, it does give us a great opportunity to dream.

What do you think the classroom of 105 years from now will look like? Consider sharing your ideas in the comment section.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.