2024 Predictions for the Educational Landscape

Empowerment, Enrichment, and Evidence-Based Tools

By Laura Fischer, Vice President of Learning Design & Content Development

Different Year, Similar Challenges

2023 was a rollercoaster for educators with its share of ups and downs. Fasten your seatbelts, everyone, because 2024 promises to be another wild ride. It’s a critical year for evaluating the strengths of digital tools in the classroom, embracing the role of literacy education as a matter of social justice, and more.

Here are my thoughts on what we’re in for this year.

How Digital Tools are Personalizing Learning

The tech landscape has evolved a lot in the past 10 years. At first, it was “Wow! Look at all the bells and whistles!” However, the focus has evolved to providers asking how we can use digital capabilities to improve the learning experience — not just because it’s available or new but because it delivers real value.

One area representing a big opportunity is individualized feedback‚ specifically, how we can use feedback to bridge learning gaps. Digital learning products can capitalize on teachable moments, whether that means correcting a student’s misconception based on an incorrect response or looking for patterns in student inputs. We have the opportunity to move the needle even further in how we approach formative assessments in a digital environment. Now, teachers and students can get real-time, meaningful feedback they can reflect on and use as a learning opportunity.

So, what can digital improve on? We need to be asking, “What does digital do better?” As an example, look at e-readers. We have the opportunity to take the experience of reading a book and make it interactive, providing tools for students at the point of use to find vocabulary help, for example. We can take that a step further with a student’s reading experience, asking scaffolded questions in the text to personalize their actual reading experience on the page. That’s a layer of personalization digital offers that a printed book can’t.

We need to capitalize on layers of digital functionalities that don’t exist and find ways to make ‘it’ — whatever ‘it’ is — better. And if digital can’t improve an experience in one use or another, maybe that’s not the place for a digital tool.

Educational Programs Must Bridge the Divide in the Teacher Skills Gap

It’s hard for universities and other teacher training programs to keep pace with the change we sometimes see in education. But there’s a level of self-advocacy among students. Over the past few years, I've seen a groundswell of teachers taking ownership of finding answers, collaborating with peers, and doing their own research to address self-identified opportunities in their training.

Maybe there’s room in teacher training programs to allow cohorts of students to explore the answers they think are relevant to their needs. We have a framework for learning. We’re a learning community. Let’s pose our own questions and find answers to them, like an inquiry-based model. “What do we need to learn? How can we use the university and its tools, support systems, and resources to help us get what we need?”

Universities providing the time and space for those conversations would be valuable, in addition to taking action to ensure that program expectations align with research developments in the field.

Building a Stronger Foundation for Literacy Instruction

We’ve seen more mandates requiring curricular materials and literacy instruction to be grounded in evidence and offer assurances that they’ve been proven by research to improve student outcomes. Veteran teachers may be able to rely less on curricular solutions. But, newer teachers — or those who feel they didn’t get what they needed — can be confident about the curricular materials their district purchases.

Now, in many places, these materials must align with the Science of Reading (SoR). It’s not optional, so there’s a safety net there. If you must rely on solutions your district provides and you’re not comfortable with the training you’ve had, we’re moving toward a place where teachers count on the fact that those programs have already been vetted as evidence-based. Curriculum development professionals are working really hard to ensure any decisions we make in product development are grounded in sound evidence.

Empowering Teachers to Own the Science of Reading

The Science of Reading pendulum swung hard, but let’s not overshoot and confine ourselves to a one-size-fits-all straightjacket. Don’t get me wrong — it’s critical for teachers to align their teaching with the Science of Reading. But, we must empower teachers to put their own spin on a science of literacy-based instructional approach. Their skill sets deserve that freedom.

Yes, following a scope and sequence is necessary. Yes, we need a systematic approach. But teachers can build on the structure and foundation early learners need with engaging activities and the warmth they bring to the classroom. That’s the magic, and we can’t allow it to get lost.

Another consideration: While fostering a love of reading in early literacy is noble, we can’t sugarcoat it. Reading is also a critical tool, not just for personal enjoyment but for achieving equity in every facet of life. We don’t romanticize developing a “love of math” the same way we do reading, do we? If kids embrace it, wonderful! But ultimately, we need them equipped to wield the tool of literacy effectively.

It's our responsibility as teachers. It’s a matter of justice. Fostering highly literate critical thinkers demands it. Separating the “love of reading” from building skilled, proficient, literate citizens is crucial. Reading isn’t always sunshine and rainbows; it’s navigating the world meaningfully by acquiring the power to shape it. Let’s empower our students to do just that.

Digital Tools Amplify Student Self-Reflection

We always focus on instilling skills, but there are benefits to stepping back and allowing students to reflect on their performance in meaningful ways within digital tools. Pausing in a learning cycle and asking, “How are you feeling about this material? What’s challenging for you? What would you like to get out of this experience?” and taking time to encourage the development of these metacognitive skills helps students become agents in their own learning. A teacher can do that in a non-digital way, but we need to explore how digital tools can provide the space for students to explore themselves as learners.

What Keeps Me up at Night When I Think About Our Educational System

We still have a lot of inequity in our school systems nationwide. Visit a fourth-grade classroom in one area of the country and another fourth-grade classroom in another area. You’ll see disparate learning environments and expectations for those learners. We need to think about how we can create a more equitable environment for students, regardless of where they live, because some learners still lack access to what they need to succeed.

While 2024 promises challenges, I’m optimistic that it also brings significant opportunities for growth and empowers us to shape the future of education. By embracing technology wisely, nurturing educators, and prioritizing evidence-based practices, we can build a system that fosters inspired, self-aware learners equipped to succeed in a diverse and ever-changing world.

About the Author

Laura Fischer is the Vice President of Learning Design & Content Development at Learning A-Z. With over 20 years of experience in educational publishing, edtech, and classroom teaching, Laura leads the strategic vision, instructional design, and execution for content across Learning A-Z’s products. Driven by research and pedagogical best practices, she strives to ensure learning experiences that support all students where they are, in ways that are meaningful to them, to improve learning outcomes.

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