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.


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.

Look for more top ten lists in the near future. One option is to sign up for the Etale Newsletter at Etale.org so that you don’t miss new articles.

Most People in Education are Just Looking for Faster Horses, But the Automobile is Coming

Note: If you like what you read, you can go here for the MoonshotEdu podcast episode that addresses this topic.

Remember the famous quote often attributed to Henry Ford (although we don’t know if he actually said it), “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Most people in education are looking for faster horses. It is too challenging, troubling, or beyond people’s sense of what is possible to really imagine a completely different way in which education happens in the world. That doesn’t mean, however, that the educational equivalent of the automobile is not on its way. I am confident that it is very much on its way. It might even arrive earlier than even the futurists expect. Consider the following prediction.

According to this article in the Business Insider, the futurist Thomas Frey predicts that the largest Internet company in 2030 will be an online school. Yet, when you look more closely at his prediction, it is not that the largest company will be an online school, but that it will be an education-based company. I am not an economist and lack the business acumen to agree or disagree with his assessment of “the largest.” I will, however, comment on the more general prediction that there will be a single, massive Internet-based education company in 2030 that is a leading voice and holds a dominant position in the education space.

This is more than possible. He is probably right. For Frey, this relates to the growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning, two trends that are clearly going to play increasingly larger roles in education this year and well into the future. Frey paints a picture of a future where robots take adaptive, individualized, and personalized learning to a new level; taking over the facilitation of massive open online courses and delivering better learning outcome results than teachers of the human sort. These robots will master the science behind the age-old principle of good teaching, “know your learners.” By mining rich and ongoing data about each learner, these robot teachers will be able to adjust the time, pace, pathway, and experience of learning to optimize outcomes, allowing students to master concepts and content in a fraction of the time that it takes today. That is how Frey sees it. These robots might not replace most teachers, but such a vision suggests that they will, at minimum, teach alongside and supplement what teachers do.

I love this prediction. It is informed, provocative, rooted in changes that are already well underway in several sectors, and it serves as a great discussion starter and source of reflection for those of us in education. It forces us to go beyond the faster horse mentality. Every technological element that Frey describes already exists and there are multiple education (or non-education) companies investing in educational applications of them. Some of these technologies are already deeply embedded in various educational systems and applications. Yet, even Frey tempers his prediction by noting that these will likely just be supplements to human teachers.

We are largely just looking for better horses in most education reform and quality improvements. We talk about how to improve retention rates in school instead of diving right into how we can re-imagine education where concepts like retention rates become irrelevant. We talk about how to get as many people as possible to earn a college degree instead of talking seriously about how we can create an model where we have the most informed and educated population in the history of the world. We talk about GPA as a good predictor of school performance thus focusing upon how to increase GPA instead of asking whether the entire grading system itself is helping or hindering what we do in education.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking faster horses in education, but that will eventually reach a limit. Horses can only go so fast. Switching from faster horses to faster humans for a second, it is certainly true that we have succeeded in creating a generation of faster humans. The 4-minute-mile barrier was broken, but there is going to be a limit when we are talking about human legs and anatomy, at least until we change the rules of the race, allow new technologies, or something else more drastic than most people might be thinking. Humans can go much faster than a 4-minute-mile. Just put them in a jet-propelled car that goes over 700 miles per hour.

There are limits to the current models of education. Tackling some of the priorities that people seem to have about learning and education in the 21st and 22nd centuries calls for automobile-level changes. We might not like Frey’s predictions. We might have moral concerns. We might want to fight for our fondness of the current system. We might want to protect our own jobs and how we do them. Yet, there are plenty of people in the world who don’t have those inhibitions and they will be working to move from faster horses to educational automobiles. I have no reason to doubt that more people will eventually embrace the innovations that come from the efforts of such people.

Frey might not have it right in terms of the specifics. Yet, I suspect that he does have it right on at least a few.

  • Many education transformations will happen in organizations not bound by current educational policies. That means companies like MOOC-providers who don’t have to worry about the regulations and restrictions of K-12 and higher education institutions. This can just. I just don’t know if it will.
  • Many education transformations will happen in organizations not dominated by faster horse people. Again, that probably means different types of organizations than what we typically think of as schools. This too can change. I just don’t know if it will.
  • Technologies attached to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and new forms of adaptive learning will play a key role in these educational transformations.

Note: If you like what you read, you can go here for the MoonshotEdu podcast episode that addresses this topic.

How Preferred and Trusted Digital Platforms Will Reshape Education

Anyone denying the shift toward preferred and trusted digital platforms might want to look at the numbers as seen here, and we are wise to consider the fact that this has implications for education as well.

Digital platforms are here and they are reshaping market share across industries. They are reshaping personal habits. They are reshaping how families and communities function. This is not new. We’ve been living in and experiencing these changes for decades, but the statistics above give us a glimpse into what can happen in education as well.

I realize this provokes mixed reactions. Some might not like it. Others might not want it to happen. Still others might be deeply concerned about it. Even others remain skeptics. I’ve experienced all of those at one point our another. However, we are in denial in if we think this shift is not reshaping education as well.

Others will look at the statistics above and point out that, while Amazon grew in shares, it is not the most profitable. In fact, it didn’t even turn a profit until 2016. Yet, I will point out that it did impact both market share and profit for some of the others in the chart as well as countless others. It actually generated more profit for storefronts who found a powerful platform in Amazon. It established its market influence. In addition, regardless of profits at the moment, it is reshaping the modern retail marketplace in ways that are noteworthy.

This trusted platform / storefront element is one of the more profitable parts of the Amazon enterprise. I wrote about this recently in an article entitled, “A Likely Storefront Future of Continuing Education.” I tried to stay modest in my speculations in the article, but the truth of the matter is that an Amazon approach to education at large is likely to emerge. We are not sure who or which organizations will take the lead, but it can and likely will happen. It may be underway and I just haven’t noticed the emerging dominance of certain platforms.

By the way, this doesn’t mean the end of face-to-face education anymore than Amazon’s success meant the need of all face-to-face storefronts, but it will have an impact, one that is potentially larger but certainly different from what most people expect. This is not a doomsday article for traditional education. It is a recognition that education and learning as we know it will be transformed by the trusted and extended services platform model.

This is about building a preferred and trusted platform. I stopped by a Best Buy recently in search of a last-minute addition to Christmas presents. When I asked about a niche product, you can probably guess what the person told me at the store. We don’t have that in this store, but you can go to our website and order it. The people at the store are constantly reinforcing that the place to really get what you want is online, and it was a fragmented customer experience. You are just taking your chances if you go to the store. My wife had a related experience when she went online to order something from Walmart that she could pick up in the store. When she arrived, they didn’t have it, even though the website indicated that all she had to do was go to the store to pick it up.

Amazon went a different direction. Order it from us (or one of our partners) and we will tell you when it will arrive. Before you order it, check out our community of customer reviews, compare prices across our products and those of other vendors who we welcome in our storefront, choose when and how you want it shipped…

Some K-12 and higher education leaders might look at that last number in the opening image and note that the answer is that we need to add an online element. Yet, while that might be important, this is not just about going online. Each of the companies in the list are online. It is just that Amazon, an almost entirely online storefront, had a 1910% growth while all but Walmart saw significant declines, and Amazon made itself a one-stop shop and destination point that extends from consumer goods to entertainment, photo storage to books in every modern format, cloud servers and storage to tracking digital subscriptions. There is something more significant at play here, and that something has enormous implications for education also. It is about the trusted and one-stop platform. People seem to like and want that.

In education, consider the examples of Coursera and Edx as MOOC providers. Both of these went the route of partnering with large, flagship, or elite institutions. You don’t find many small or niche higher education institutions even welcomed on their platform. Contrast that with Amazon who partners with even the smallest niche boutiques who can meet their standards, follow their policies, and deliver quality products on time. Notice the community built around Amazon that extends across providers and services, anticipating questions and needs, and then expanding the platform to address them.

The future is unclear but the impact is apparent to anyone who will take the took to study the trends. Some of the MOOC providers might pivot and try this. LinkedIn seems to be trying to do it. Blackboard is trying to do it through a B2B strategy as a provider of ever-expanding services for educational institutions, but it still does not prove to be a true and easy-to-work-with partner for many vendors (at least not from several direct personal experiences on that front). Plenty of others opted for more niche approaches that will likely be sustaining over the upcoming years. Those who are growing online are often doing so with incredibly narrow ways of thinking about education or training. Yet, I’m still waiting for those two or three preferred and trusted platforms to emerge. Perhaps they are already here and will show themselves as such. Maybe they will be an expanded aspects of an existing and widely trusted and used social platform. They could come from new startups. There is even a chance that they will come from the non-profit education space through a single leader or a strong consortium (but I’m skeptical at the moment). This might take a few years. This might take a decade or more. Regardless, it will happen.

A Likely Storefront Future for Continuing Education

Perhaps you’ve seen the image being shared across social media that says the following:

Uber – The world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles.

Facebook – The world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.

Alibaba – The most valuable retailer, has no inventory.

Airbnb – The world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.

Is this possible in education as well? We already have Coursera, EdX, P2PU, Udemy, and countless other collections of courses and learning experiences across learning organizations. We’ve also had people like David Schejbal of the University of Wisconsin Extension talking and writing about a storefront of higher education courses or experiences across organizations. Yet, all of these have limitations that likely keep them from gaining the sort of widespread traction that we see with the examples like Uber and Alibaba. Consider the following three.


Learning experiences are easily fragmented. For those who are seeking a full degree or more cohesive course of study, the current educational equivalents of a shared storefront tend to fall short. Universities, for example, often have their own nuances and ways of organizing learning. Getting a degree in computer science at one school is not necessarily the same as earning it at another place. How content and objectives are broken up varies from school to school. There are philosophical differences. There are differences based on the typical student. There are differences based upon signature emphases.

These are not problems if you are using Alibaba or Amazon, but they are issues when it comes to learning experiences. It is fine for a hobbyist. It even works for the minority of people who have become skilled at curating and designing their own learning experiences through disparate sources, not unlike that junkyard sculptor who can take seemingly unrelated pieces and turn them into a true piece of art. Yet, for better or worse, most learners are looking for something that is more cohesive and prepackaged. I spend quite a bit of time promoting the importance of equipping people to have that mindset and propensity for self-organizing, curating and self-directing; but a candid view of the education landscape today shows that most people are looking for some help curating and coordinating their learning experiences, even if they want a good measure of autonomy as well.

Lack of Clarity About What Works

When it comes to education, the idea of “what works” is a challenging one. That is because audience and context play such important roles. What works with struggling learners in one context might flop with advanced learners in another context. What works with one age group in a rural Midwest context might not work with a group of recent immigrants living on the Texas border. Yet, we do have some good research in education about what tends to work better than other things. Based upon philosophy and this sort of “what works” research, some schools and platforms establish guidelines, expectations, policies and the like to keep up a certain standard based on the body of research identified. This can inhibit innovation, result in methods that don’t work for some people, but it can also build some consistency and cohesiveness. Yet, the discourse and focus on these matters in the current education storefronts (even within a program at a single school) is in its infancy.

By pointing this out, please note that I am not lobbying for a long list of state or federal policies related to the matter, nor do I see wisdom in a massive consortium that becomes a restrictive regulatory unit. That could too easily turn into misguided regulations that restrict access and opportunity, or that unexpectedly and unnecessarily harms diverse learners. I’m just noting that our discourse needs to deepen if someone is going to successfully apply the Uber, Facebook or Airbnb model to education.

Going Too Many Directions

This third limitation is the one that will eventually turn into a lever and lead to thriving examples of the storefront model in education. Right now many of these storefront-esque education efforts are too broad. This is more successful when a group focuses upon a given area of education, one where there is already a generally agreed upon pedagogy and where the differences from one school to the next are minimal. This is happening. Universities are partnering for courses that can be used toward a shared program. Some state-wide and broader efforts have already created storefronts of courses that can be used across programs. There are built-in articulation agreements that allow for this to happen. As such, at least on a conceptual level, we have everything that we need to make this happen.

Now all we need is a coalition of the willing.  There are accreditation and regulatory issues to work out. There are financial models to be worked out among participating educational providers. Yet, people are working on this and they will continue to do so.

There are countless pitfalls as different people seek to create this sort of future, and some of them are unrecognizable or nearly unavoidable. There will be new winners and new losers. There will be problems of access and opportunity resolved by this while creating new ones. Nonetheless, I continue to see at least a few possible futures where this can further democratize education.