7 Shifts To Create A Classroom Of The Future

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Tomorrow’s Learning Today: 7 Shifts To Create A Classroom Of The Future

by Terry Heick

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Let’s take a look at the nebulous idea of the “classroom of the future.” This is all subjective, but it’s worth talking about. So let’s talk.

Below are some ideas that are truly transformational–not that they haven’t been said before. It’s not this article that’s transformational, but the ideas themselves. These ideas aren’t just buzzwords or trendy edu-jargon but the kind of substance with the potential for lasting change.

And the best part? This is stuff that’s available not tomorrow with ten grand in classroom funding and 12 hours of summer PD, but today. Utopian visions of learning are tempting, if for no other reason than they absolve us of accountability to create it right now, leading to nebulous romanticizing about how powerful learning could be if we just did more of X and Y.

But therein lies the rub: Tomorrow’s learning is already available, and below are 7 of the most compelling and powerful trends, concepts, and resources that represent its promise.

The Challenge of Implementation

It’s challenging enough to manage a traditional learning environment where the curriculum is handed to you, and meetings are set, and you’re simply there to manage; adding more ingredients to the mix seems like asking for trouble. But the truth is, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to educate children in the face of such radical technological and pedagogical progression.

The good news is, many of the elements of a progressive learning environment—e.g., digital literacy, connectivism, and play—conveniently, and not coincidentally, work together. And better yet, collectively they can reduce the burden on those managing the learning because they place the learner at the center.

While it’s possible to tack these ideas on to a traditional classroom, and then sit back and wait for the clouds to part and the sun to shine brilliantly, you’ll likely be waiting a while. These aren’t single tools to “try,” but news ways to think about how learners access media, how educators define success, and what the roles of immense digital communities should be in popularizing new learning models.

None of it is really complicated—it just requires new thinking.

Tomorrow’s Learning Today: 7 Shifts Of Future Learning

1. Digital & Research Literacy

It’s not so much that physical is “out” and digital is “in,” but that the sheer scale and accessibility of digital resources, connections, and spaces are overwhelming; if in no other place other than the mindscape of the student, when it comes to reading, writing, communicating, saving, creating, and sharing, digital is everything.

Even “school” ideas like literacy are all different now. Digital literacy is a trend that involves the consumption, comprehension, and curation of digital media. This is directly tied to research literacy, as both digital and digitized data sources serve as primary research resources.

2. Shift From Standards To Habits

We’ve talked about this one quite a bit–most recently in Changing What We Teach, for example. This is among the biggest and most powerful ideas in “future learning,” and should be central to any meaningful discussion therein. What are students learning, why are they learning it, and what are they doing with what they know? In short, the shift from purely academic standards to critical thinking habits supports personalized, 21st century learning through a preceding shift from institution to learner.

3. Game-Based Learning & Gamification

Game-Based Learning aggregates the power of learning simulations, social gaming, emotional immersion, and digital literacy to produce a net effect of transparency and participation on the learner.

4. Connectivism

Through social media, mobile learning, blended learning, eLearning, and other inherently connected learning experiences, it is possible to leverage the potential of interdependence and crowds. This occurs simply through crowdsourced knowledge (e.g., Quora, Wikipedia, learnist), visually through curation (e.g., scoopit, pinterest, MentorMob), and long-term through digital communities (e.g., twitter, Google+, facebook).

5. Transparency

A natural consequence of digital and social media, transparency is the opposite of closed, traditional schooling, where the walls of the classroom are tick and the local teachers and policies govern, judge, and process everything.

6. Place 

Spaces and places matter. What are they learning, and why? Add to that, where are they taking that knowledge to use?

Place-Based Education complements digital platforms that tend towards globalization. While it is tempting for learners to constantly connect with exotic ideas in equally exotic locations, authentic learning experiences allow learners to self-direct personal change in pursuit of social change–and that starts small, at home and surrounding intimate communities.

7. Self-Directed Learning & Play

Self-Directed Learning is almost certainly at the core of the future of learning. To not allow learners to “play” with information, platforms, and ideas is to ignore the access, tools, and patterns of 21st century life.

Written By

Founder and Director at TeachThought, author, and former classroom teacher interested in how and why people learn.


  • I have been thinking a lot about children who the teacher perceives as noncompliant because they won’t pick up a pencil and fill in the worksheet. Maybe the problem isn’t the child but our approach….from compliance to play comes to mind….

  • The jargon and the technology changes but the principles of effective teaching have remained the same for generations. Technology enhances the efficiencies of an efficient system. Technology also enhances the inefficiencies of an inefficient system. Technology provides valuable tools but no amount of technology can overcome a dysfunctional and inefficient system.

    • The dysfunction and inefficiency of an educational system stem mainly from its underlying philosophies about human learning (I question the wisdom of blindly trusting a scientific epistemology). The simple concept of self-directed learning brings into question the very need of an educational “System”, let alone its inefficiencies :-)

  • My favorite: From Standards to Habits. Now that’s a transformation, one that benefits learners and teachers — and futures because the “habits” developed lend themselves to all situations. Thanks for sharing the graphic and other information to ponder.

  • Great Article !!
    New technology continues to emerge and influence the classroom learning environment. Students now have immediate and unlimited access to digital content, resources, and databases. To capitalize on the wealth of available Internet resources, many educators are joining the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative, which encourages students to use their own personal electronic devices (smart phones, tablets) during class time to augment and support learning.

    For example, I let my students search for definitions and websites that enhance the course topic being discussed. Or students (as a class or in small groups) use online resources to solve a posted scenario. In my school, Geography teacher posts a youtube video of The Seven Wonders of the world and asking students to research a para about each of them during vacations. This can happen on an application named “Flinnt”. It helps my school to communicate & share information with parents & students effectively.

    When used responsibly, mobile Internet-capable devices can provide opportunities for enquiry, evidence-based reasoning, and collaborative learning. However, welcoming such devices in the classroom or outside classroom involves educating students about the responsible use of the information retrieved from the Internet. It helps to interest & engage the students & parents also keep the track for the same.

  • I, particularly, agree with the information provided on digital and research literacy. As educators, we consume digital literacy resources every day. We began our research with online databases or resources. What more for the 21st century students in our classrooms!

  • Education has undergone massive changes and the transformation you have discussed are simply superb. I enjoyed reading and love the points you have made. Nice post

    Ragavi Roy

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