10 Education Curriculum Trends & Developments to Watch in 2018

As we enter 2018, you are sure to find plenty of top ten lists related to trends for us to watch in this new year, and you will get several of them right here on Etale. Only I’ve decided to break things down a bit more than I’ve done in past years. As such, here is my first list, ten curricular trends to watch. These are trends focused specifically upon new developments, expansions, innovations, and unfortunate curricular missteps that we are likely to see grow in 2018. Look for additional top ten lists to cover other education trends and developments.

As a reminder for readers or an introduction for those who are new to my blog, these are not just random musings. They are informed by my careful and ongoing work around futures in education. To get a sense of how I go about identifying trends, you can check out my MoonshotEdu podcast episode on the subject or this article on “How to Predict Educational Trends.” However, as you read, you will see that I sometimes use the word “hope.” When I do so, that signifies that I’m moving a bit away from prediction into a more “hopeful” editorial comment on the larger trend.

1. AR and VR Education Software Tied to Curricular Standards

In the last few years, we’ve seen plenty of new augmented and virtual reality hardware come to market, and new options will certainly continue in 2018. While many software developers are focusing upon the applications of AR and VR for next generation gaming (as well as simple enhancements to more traditional games), we can expect a number of existing companies and new startups to invest research and development into curricular products that make use of AR and VR. There are certainly some on the market, but 2018 will be a pivotal year in terms of the AR and VR education market. We can expect a rapid increase in options that are tied the stated needs of schools. Look for STEM and social studies as major areas. There is incredible promise for the startup willing to re-imagine math education with AR and VR, and I am hopeful to see some take on that challenge in 2018.

2. Citizenship and Digital Citizenship Curricula

Look for 2018 as a year of new curricula that is partly inspired by the current political climate, growing conversation around “fake news”, the ongoing search by educators (and parents) to better equip students for digital culture, as well as emerging research the influence of digital culture upon individuals. We will see a number of existing curricula refreshed by new tools, technologies and teaching strategies; as well as a number of new players in both the citizenship and digital citizenship curriculum space.

3. Cartoon-ish and Simplistic Game-Based Learning Tied to State Testing

In less than a decade, we’ve seen an entirely new industry emerge around educational game design, and we will see even more new startups entering that space in 2018. Unfortunately, some of these will be lured in by the demand of certain schools and districts who are narrowly focused upon increasing student performance on test scores. As such, we will see lots of 1980s-like educational game products striving for attention in 2018, touting their offering as high-tech, engaging, fun, and a good alternative to existing test preparation strategies in the classroom.

4. Increasingly Sophisticated Game-Based Curricula Across Disciplines

At the same time as we will see those low-level test-prep games sell out for a steady stream of willing and paying customers, we will also see some truly impressive, inspiring, and even incredible software and curricular products emerge in the educational game-based learning space. Some will come from longstanding and established players, but others will come from new and promising startups that are focused upon creating authentic, rich, engaging, and immersive game-based learning that ties to key curricular areas. These are not the educational game add-on options of the past, but products that can truly take a more central role in classroom learning experiences. We already have some of these on the market for both K-12, higher education, and corporate training, but 2018 will be a time for much growth in this area.

These are not all necessarily high-tech or digital games. Some will be board games, card games, role-playing and simulation curricula, alternate reality and more. Many will have a strong digital component, but it is the learning and game design that will drive these products, not the promise of something high-tech or digital.

My hope is that this breed of educational design with spark the imagination of educators, entrepreneurs, schools, parents, and students in 2018; launching a new era of educational game products and services.

5. Standards-based Grading Technologies

With the trend of schools in K-12 looking beyond the aging and dated letter grade system, we will see even more schools starting or making the shift toward standards-based and related assessment systems. As such, we will see new products emerging to help manage this shift. Most will come from new features and new products by existing vendors and providers, but I expect a few new and influential players to join the game in 2018 as well. Look for such announcements by the third quarter of 2018 at Edsurge, the world of education podcasts, and the major educational technology conferences.

6. Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning

We are slowly awakening in education to the arbitrary lines that we’ve drawn around learning in the classroom and beyond. Community-based programs, after-school programs, informal learning, self-directed projects, personal reading and experimentation, personal learning networks, in-school and out-of-school extracurricular activities/hobbies/sports are all rich places of learning. Many in the digital badge as well as the edges of the competency-based education movement have helped people imagine new possibilities when it comes to recognizing, celebrating, documenting, and sharing this broader spectrum of learning. As such, we can expect much growth in curricular innovations (and products promising to assist with these innovations) focused upon a more thoughtful and systemic blending of learning in the classroom and all the learning beyond that. We can expect this in K-12 and higher education, but we might see some of the greatest expansion in the workforce development, corporate training, and continuing education. This will be further bolstered by higher education institutions expanding the ways in which they review prospective students, and applications products and processes that take into account the larger “profile” and “story” of students.

7. Reductionist Data Analysis Driving Curricular Decisions

Big data and learning analytics are here to stay. There will be much expansion in this area during 2018. Unfortunately, much of it will be ill-informed, with largely or partially data-illiterate people trying to make sense of new data sources, dashboards, and incremental reports. There will be many rash decision and there will be too little time devoted to understanding the data and the people behind the data. Algorithmic tools in education will be celebrated even as they are creating new winners and losers, with many not taking the time to understand these important affordances and limitations, the biases that are coded into every algorithm. Those challenging these new innovations will sometimes be labeled as neo-luddites and holding up progress, but I am hopeful (but not certain) that we will also see some serious and important public discourse about these important considerations in 2018 as well.

8. Curricula Focused upon Non-Cognitive Skill Development

Educators today talk about growth and fixed mindset today in a way similar to how educators talked about and gravitated toward Gardner’s multiple intelligence in the 1990s and 2000s. Then we have the other research on grit, resilience, conscientiousness, and countless other strengths/traits/non-cognitive skills. Look for an explosion of products and curricula related to nurturing such traits in 2018. Some will be well-research and others will be less thoughtful products that companies and new entrepreneur’s hope to release so that they can capitalize on this growing demand and interest.

9. Experiential Education Curricula

Many learning organizations lack the resources and expertise to design robust and immersive experiential education for students, but recent experiments and developments in this area have the attention of educators and schools. It is hard to deny the benefits and off-the-charts levels of student interest and engagement associated with such learning experiences. While many such efforts are coming from partnerships with companies that offer experiential education products and services, or by home-grown strategies from skilled and committed one-off educators, people will be looking for resources in 2018 to make experiential education a greater part of what they do in an ongoing basis, and that creates a growing demand for curricular products and services.

10. Self-Directed Learning Management Tools

Student-centered and self-directed learning projects are growing in education as well, even along other schools that are blinded by an unfortunate obsession with raising test scores and narrow approaches to documenting progress toward meeting listed state or national standards. However, self-directed and student-centered projects are no easy task, especially for educators who are new to such a world. That is creating growing interest in and demand for products, apps, software, and services that can help. I expect a number of new startups entering this space, as well as some home-grown products that will be commercialized and popularized in 2018.

11. (a bonus item) New Definitions for Educational Quality

I add this as an 11th, because it is part 40% prediction and 60% desire, but we are on the verge of something very important in education. I see hints of an awakening about our narrow approaches to defining what constitutes a quality school or a quality education. Our reductionist use of test scores and focus upon a narrow and largely unhelpful set of measures cannot last too much longer. Education is both science and art. It is informed by beliefs, values, and philosophies. There is no way around these unless one philosophy “wins” and “dominates” and that would be a disaster for the modern education ecosystem, but especially for diverse learners. I expected this reality to capture more attention in the public and school-based curricular dialogue of 2018, and I am hopeful that this will lead us to have some competing approaches to measuring and defining educational quality.

Conclusion

This is far from an exhaustive list, but I have every confidence that each of these are curricular areas that will see significant growth in 2018. If you notice others, please consider sharing your thoughts in a comment. Please share this list with others to help spark important exploration and conversation.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, 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, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.