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Education 2020: Five trends to be prepared for in the next year

  • Joanna
  • January 8, 2020

It’s that time of year again — the time when pundits and prognosticators line up to tell you what the “next big thing” will be over the coming 12 months.

Nobody knows the future, of course, but we’ve seen exponential momentum toward these five trends, and expect each of these areas of education to become major points of emphasis in the new year: 

Knowledge on Demand 

Want to know how to fix a broken blender? Need to learn a bit of Korean for an upcoming trip? Interested in learning the social customs of riding a New York subway? There’s an online tutorial for that.

Now, around the world, organizations are following individuals into the territory of “just-in-time learning,” which meets a person’s needs when those needs arise. In fact, JIT is increasingly taking over for old models of training. Those models front-loaded and annualized the process of learning, offering little flexibility in a world in which processes and practices need to move fast.

Now educators are jumping into the JIT game, embracing the idea that curriculum is a starting point for discovery. In 2020, we foresee a greater willingness for educators who are willing to say, “well, I don’t know – let’s take a look at what resources are available online.” And yes, those can be scary words given the totality of what is online, but JIT is increasingly they way we learn once we’re out of school, and that will be increasingly reflected in the way we’re learning in school.

Planning for the the unplannable 

When students couldn’t get to school becadue to Hurricane Irma in 2017, the Beaufort County School District’s effort to supply students with laptops and organize virtual meetings with teachers was described as “a scramble.”    

Today, with that experience as backdrop, Beaufort County school leaders know exactly what they’ll do if and when the wind and water returns.

But that South Carolina community is hardly unique in its likelihood of facing a disaster that could temporarily close schoolhouse doors. From wildfires to weather events to fears of terrorist acts, countless schools were closed for days and sometimes weeks at a time for a myriad of reasons in 2019. Yet while nearly every school now has plans for serving individual students who miss school due to illness, injury or behavioral challenges, few schools have plans in place to “keep the learning going” when an entire school shuts down.

We believe that will change in a major way in 2020 as school leaders and legislators alike increasingly recognize the need to keep ahead of challenges that could impact thousands of students at a time. 

Everybody graduates

When Grad Nation campaign announced a nationwide effort to boost on-time high school graduation rates to 90 percent by 2020, many people found the goal to be outlandish.

And yes, it’s true, we might not reach that goal this year, but at least 20 states now have graduation rates of at least 87 percent, with several just topping over the 90 percent mark. And with those successes as a backdrop, we believe many more districts will embrace an audacious new goal: Everybody graduates.

More than 1,000 individual high schools have reported a 100 percent graduation rate. By the end of this year, hitting that mark will be the stated goal of thousands upon thousands of additional schools.


Even at a time in which unemployment is at a 50-year low, those without high school diplomas are still struggling to find employment. And with a slew of economic data pointing toward the possibility of slowing GDP growth, and even recession, in 2019, it’s reasonable to be additionally concerned that, in the near future, a diploma alone won’t be enough to secure living-wage employment, either.

Not every student needs or wants to attend college, and vocational schools aren’t the perfect fit for every student, either. (And both of these options will become harder to access if and when an economic slowdown comes along.) It’s for these reasons, among others, that schools across the nation are increasingly offering students the opportunity to earn a diploma along with one or more career training certificates — a trend we anticipate will increase in the year to come, as school leaders grow increasingly concerned about the inevitable waning of economic tides and resolve to prepare their students accordingly. 

Social emotional assessment 

You’d have to be in a deep sleep to have missed the cavalcade of research demonstrating the power of social emotional learning. Increasingly, however, schools are recognizing that it’s hard — if not impossible — to know the impact of programs aimed at increasing social emotional skills if those skills aren’t measured before, during and after the learning process.

Research is increasingly demonstrating, however, that social emotional assessment doesn’t only offer a measurement of skills but also a valuable tool for intervention. For instance, research by Dr. Scott Solberg, a professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Applied Human Development at Boston University, offers the ability to identify students who are most likely to become acutely at risk of dropping out — up to three years before the attendance, behavior and coursework signs that have traditionally been used to indicate a student in need of help. 

In 2020, we foresee an increasing recognition that social emotional assessment and intervention programs aren’t just “want to have” but “must have” tools for every school in the nation. 



Graduation Alliance partners with school districts, workforce agencies and various other organizations to help create alternative paths for individuals who need flexibility and support to earn a diploma. To learn more about our services or contact us, simply click here