The top five educational trends to look out for in 2021

The top five educational trends to look out for in 2021

Despite being a year of global upheaval, 2020 brought about a number of major developments in digital solutions in education, such as the widespread switch to online schooling, the rise in the use of apps and hybrid learning. It’s likely that teaching will continue to...


Despite being a year of global upheaval, 2020 brought about a number of major developments in digital solutions in education, such as the widespread switch to online schooling, the rise in the use of apps and hybrid learning. It’s likely that teaching will continue to make use of digital technology for the foreseeable future. With this comes new challenges and developments.

So what are the projected trends in teaching for the new year? Read on to find out what’s in store for 2021 and beyond.

1. Nanolearning

The information age has brought with it a decline in attention spans and an increase in screen fatigue. Our brains are bombarded with distracting alerts and notifications day in day out. They respond to these signals with an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. As a result, we are physically unable to concentrate and process large amounts of information.

So how do we approach this problem in the classroom?

The answer may lie in nanolearning.

In a nutshell, nanolearning is a bite-sized learning solution. It involves providing students with information in smaller amounts, over a shorter period of time.

Learning in short bursts is proven to increase our ability to take in and retain information. By providing your students with small, “pellet” like bits of information, you are much more likely to increase their productivity, capture their attention and aid their ability to learn.

The four keys for effective nanolearning in the classroom are:

  1. Identify the students’ needs
  2. Set the learning objectives
  3. Choose your content e.g. videos, apps, podcasts
  4. Keep it short; recommended within 2-5 minutes

2. Virtual reality and augmented reality 

Ground-breaking virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology are coming to the classroom.  

Immersive VR experiences require a VR headset. This has a digital interface which projects images, creating a real or virtual world that users can see and interact with. It also includes gesture controls and easy-to-use teacher controls.

While some VR headsets are undoubtedly expensive, Google Cardboard and similar alternatives offer a more affordable VR experience – the user only needs to insert a smartphone into the viewer.

AR, on the other hand, can be accessed simply through a smartphone or tablet.

In a similar way, the technology projects images, sound and video using the device camera and is displayed via the screen. However, rather than immerse the viewer in another reality, it layers these images on top of what can be seen on the camera. As a simple example, Google search allows you to see different animals in your environment, so you could be looking at a panda sitting next to your desk! Try it yourself by searching for “panda” on your smart device.

Students engage with digital technologies like VR because it inspires them to think beyond the four walls of the classroom.

So how can you incorporate AR and VR into the classroom?

  1. Field trips – helpful for art, geography and history lessons, among others, VR can take students on a tour around the best galleries, museums and cities in the world, without leaving the classroom.
  2. Virtual careers – VR offers the opportunity for students to find out about a range of careers. It literally puts the student in another’s shoes, meaning they can gain first hand experience of what it’s like to do different jobs.
  3. High-tech training – highly influential for students who are thinking about pursuing a career in areas like the military or medicine, VR and AR can project real life training. For example, it can show students the anatomy of the body from the inside out.
  4. Language immersion – the best way to learn a language is total immersion. VR can immerse students in a foreign language, by virtually placing them in the middle of a virtual world, hearing only their target language.

3. Project-based learning

Project-based learning is a teaching method that actively engages the students in real-life projects. The idea is that students ‘learn by doing’, with teachers acting as the hands-on facilitator.

The objective is to have students investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question or issue. They will develop critical-thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication skills; all of which are highly sought after 21st century skills, valued by employers.

Some topics for projects to set your students include:

  • Finding solutions to a local environmental problem
  • Coming up with alternative energy sources
  • Analysing photography or photojournalism
  • Voicing opinions on a popular debate

So how does project-based learning work in the classroom? One idea for leading a class with this method is to:

  1. Put students in groups of 4 or 5
  2. Ask them to brainstorm some ideas for their project
  3. Have class feedback and choose the one they will focus on
  4. Then ask students to research their particular subject area together
  5. Next ask them to put together a presentation digitally so they can practise using design and technology
  6. Finally, ask students to present their project to the rest of the class and encourage feedback and discussion.

4. Experiential learning

Student disengagement is on the increase. Often, teachers find them on their mobile phones, zoning out or talking to friends. However, a new way to tackle this is gaining momentum: enter experiential learning.

Now common in schools worldwide, this learning approach involves immersing students in real-world situations. It offers first-hand experiences in which they need to practice planning, decision-making, teamwork and more.

Although this can be done out of the classroom, for example going to the zoo or visiting museums, in 2021 it is predicted to shift online.

So, what online experiential learning activities are there?

  1. Collaborative exercises – provide students with a problem or debate in teams and ask them to come up with ideas and solutions. This could be a philosophical debate or a mock business problem to get them thinking about a range of scenarios.
  2. Role-playing – get students to act out different scenarios. An imaginary situation can teach students how different actions and behaviours can affect outcomes.
  3. Field work – students are asked to go out and collect data. This could be done online through questionnaires and surveys, which can then be presented to the class.

5. Online schooling

Online learning is the most popular educational trend for 2021 – albeit one born out of necessity in 2020. Of course, with developments in edtech, this is now becoming possible on a large scale. Sped up by the pandemic, schools have been forced to experiment more with online learning.

So, why is online learning so popular? Not only is it flexible and cost-effective, it’s also accessible to a wider range of learners as it removes the concept of ‘location’. Therefore, it can be seen as breaking down barriers in education and opening up the door to a wider pool of students.

In 2019 Pearson partnered with Harrow School to enable the launch of their new online sixth form, Harrow School Online. Their aim is to open up their education to high-performing children from anywhere in the world, who would like to take their A-levels at a prestigious, high-quality British school.

Pearson is providing the technology that underpins the online school, which opened in September 2020. The new year is likely to see more online schools being created around the world – and more schools integrating online schooling into their bricks and mortar offering to extend and deepen their curriculum offering.

We’re looking forward to seeing what happens in 2021. What other trends do you think will appear in the new year?

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