Here are three big stories concerning education and learning that you’ll be hearing about in the year ahead—and some pointers on how to think about them.


Computers have been present in classrooms for a number of years now, of course, and in 2013 excitement about their potential to transform education will keep running high. Bulky desktop models will continue to give way to mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and even cell phones, and more schools will be experimenting with “BYOD”—telling students to “bring your own devices” to school. Innovative teachers and administrators will find ever more ways to integrate technology into instruction—from simulating science experiments on the screen, to turning boring math and vocabulary drills into enjoyable games, to promoting online collaboration among students on history and language-arts projects.

At the same time, the runaway enthusiasm about edtech will begin to be tempered, I predict, by a more realistic sense of what computers can do for students, and what they can’t. Young people will still need to interact with classmates and teachers face to face. They will still need physical activity and hands-on experience with physical objects, whether in the art room or the science lab. And given all the time that kids spend staring at screens in school and out, they will still need plenty of time to be un-networked and unplugged.


Forty-five states have now adopted the Common Core State Standards, a set of academic expectations for what students in each grade should be learning in their math and English classes. The Common Core initiative has been controversial from the start, and it is sure to remain so as the messy business of implementing the standards in real classrooms proceeds during 2013. Part of the reason the standards have occasioned so much debate is that the content that’s taught in American classrooms has historically been left up to local control.

But consider these three reasons why nationwide guidelines are a good idea: 1) Americans need to be able to move around. Millions of children change schools each year, and a consistent set of expectations will help ensure that they won’t fall behind or become confused or bored because of

[RELATED: 2012 Ed Tech Trends Insights from Insiders]

the move. 2) Americans need to be able to talk to one another. We’re a rich and varied country, and we’re sure to stay that way in 2013 and beyond. But having a “common core” of knowledge that we all share will ease communication and break down barriers. 3) Americans need to compete with the rest of the world. School systems in countries regularly outscore the U.S. on international tests, such as those in Singapore and Finland, have national curricula that build knowledge over time in a logical and systematic fashion. In order to compete in the global economy, American schools need the same.


More than ever before, 2013 will bring a recognition that learning can happen anytime, anywhere—not just in a classroom and not just during the school day. This coming year, we’ll see a greater focus on the “informal education” that happens in places like science museums and nature centers. We’ll continue to explore, for ourselves and with our children, the wealth of information and ideas available on the web (while finding ways to avoid its abundant falsehoods and nonsense).

And if you thought you heard a lot about MOOCs in 2012, just you wait. MOOC stands for “massively open online course,” and more and more universities across the country will join Stanford, Harvard, MIT and other leading institutions of higher learning in offering such courses to anyone with an Internet connection. More and more individuals will enroll, sampling classes on subjects from artificial intelligence to contemporary poetry, and collectively as a society we’ll have to continue to grapple with the radical democratization of education that these developments entail. How do we deal with cheating and plagiarism in online classes? Should colleges award credit to students who learn from online courses and can demonstrate their skills? How do we wrap our heads around an educational universe in which a degree from Harvard costs upwards of $100,000, but some of its most popular classes can be had for free?

Predictions are always dicey, of course. But no matter what 2013 may bring, one thing is certain: education’s reputation as a sleepy, slow-to-change sector of society is gone. Keep your eyes on education and learning over the coming year, because a lot of exciting and disruptive change is on its way.

Here Comes 2013: The Big Themes in Learning 4 January,2013Annie Murphy Paul

  • KJ

    I agree with the article, the U.S. has been outstripped by European education for decades. Part of the reason is the academic rigor and pace with which they follow. And for some, testing only comes once a year, for each subject. Students are graded by a panel of teachers orally, along with written examinations. If a student fails any subject, they must repeat the whole year. Will CCV address the issue of passing students who don’t earn it? Doesn’t the educational community need not only address academic rigor but also enforce and maintain grading scores? I think you get my drift.

  • Jenny

    Another reason that students in the US are behind their European and Asian counterparts is that, according to data from UNICEF, “The US now has the second
    highest level of poverty among all “economically advanced” countries, 23.1%:
    Nearly one in four children lives in poverty.” The effects of living in poverty (lack of access to medical care, lack of nutrition, lack of books in the home, the stress of living in homelessness or moving repeatedly to avoid being homeless) eat away at a child’s ability to learn.

    • Willis M

      When “No Child Left behind” was introduced, my wife – a teacher –
      predicted that this federal program would be the ruin of education. She
      finally left the field in frustration of teaching students to take a
      test rather than to think. She also predicted that when it came time to
      hold students back and not graduate seniors, NCLB would capitulate – and
      that is exactly what happened. And finally – European countries are
      very small compared to the US and its much easier to achieve cultural
      cohesiveness and enforce a rigorous system.

    • Renoruona

      That shows you with all this technology the USA is lagging in everything else, jobs focus on a better life etc. People need to quit hiding behind tech and be more personable for a better world ahead.

  • Joe B

    I remember in high school over a decade ago in California, the teacher always had to start class pointing to the Core Standards poster and read out loud which standard was implemented in the days lesson. It was an eye rolling moment because we knew it was all a performance for when the teacher was being graded. The language used was such that you can apply at least one of them to any normal assignment. It probably made the principal feel good but it didn’t change squat in our lessons.

    • Helen A

      mmm..yeah your teacher wasn’t doing it right. When this is done well and students know what their learning (not just what is says on the board) and what everyone is accountable for learning that effects outcomes greatly. There was a class that implemented it well somewhere, but you and your teacher got stuck in between some bureaucrat and bad professional development.

    • Renoruona

      I got a much better High school education in the 1970s than they do today. I even went back to college in my 40s 2001-2005 to get an associates degree in computers. I never turned on the computer until 2001 at 40 yrs old and can hold my own with most youngsters. Don’t do the texting bad language skills and impersonal. I talk with true friends daily. Parents need to do a better job and make kids turn off all the texting during the school day as it is affecting their grades and study habits negatively. Now folks you don’t have to know what your kid is doing every minute. Show some trust in them, teach values and responsibilities.

  • bob

    The Europeans (and Asian counterparts) have systems where those that tested well are channeled into college, and the others go to trade school. In the US college path standards are applied to everyone in high school so naturally the US scores lower as a broader population is that group. This in no way suggests give up on standards but it does suggest a more realistic view on education as societies need people with a diversity of skills, (ie why not have more trade schools?). Verses the increasing more common – suspend and reject poorly preforming students as they draw down the average and jeopardize the “free market” pay increases teachers get under the “no child left behind” program.

    • Heather B.

      It’s interesting: we concentrate so much on making the comparison between states consistent, in the name of improving science education vs. global averages. We don’t apply those same methods to comparing the U.S. to other countries. Do we need a way to compare our “college bound” kids to those of other countries? Of course, as soon as we can easily do that, there are issues with equality and self-determination. These are big issues that cannot be ignored.

  • KJ

    Here’s some extreme food for thought regarding the poverty in the United States and the effects of living with poverty in the education system. What do the statistics say about the percentage of children in poverty live in single parent homes? Although not true for all cases, but did divorce play a role in the “single parent” status? Can it be said that divorce was a major precursor to the children in poverty? And what is divorce other than a lack of personal commitment, information and convenience? Dr. Jane Rosen-Grandon, a family psychologist, has stated that children never get over divorce and that it affects everything in the child’s life from the day of occurrence continuing for the rest of their life. A discussion about child poverty in the United States cannot occur without discussing what effects divorce has done to our nation, and America’s value on committed human relationships. Certainly, the answer is not a bowl of rice.

    • RationalCenter

      The United States is about average when it comes to single-parent homes – More importantly, when it comes to marriage rates, we have the highest number in the world – If we have more divorces per 1,000 people, it’s because we have far more marriages, not because more of our marriages end in divorce. Many of the European countries that thump us on testing have much higher rates of failed marriages. And even there, they have social supports to protect children from the worst effects of poverty should that be a result of the divorce. Divorce is a sad and at times terrible thing, and many people jump to it too quickly, but that is not the root of our kids’ struggles – poverty is.

      • KJ

        The National Center for Children in Poverty writes that 13 million children live in poverty in the U.S. Some written causes of poverty in children include low wages, single parenthood, lack of child support, parental education and minority status. Other writers have said that what hurts children in poverty the most in education is the personal belief that they will “remain” in poverty–do poorly in school–because they are poor and can’t expect anything to change. The big challenge for educators is to help all children succeed and show them that they can succeed. The new CCV standards and Big Themes in learning are addressing the needs of many groups of children, all with the end goal of making our children more ready to compete and succeed in this fast-paced, electronic century. I look forward to learning more about the Big Themes in 2013 and those in the years to follow.

        • RationalCenter

          I am in total agreement that belief systems can trap students in a cycle of failure. The work of Carol Dweck (as described in her book “Mindset”) in documenting how personal beliefs can make or break students has been hugely important. However, the stresses of poverty also have demonstrated physiological effects on brain development (some irreversible) and on the learning process. We need to try to mitigate the impact of poverty on the development of young children AND teach them the growth mindset and “grit” to be break the poverty cycle.

          • Renoruona

            Get real common sense stop texting and slow down device addiction in America. The truth of your soul comes from within. Think before you speak. Texting is the downfall of the english language.

      • Renoruona

        What does that tell you. Wait to get married and don’t rush it. I say get to know the person 3-6 yrs and live with them before committment to marriage will work.

    • Renoruona

      I disagree wholeheartly, my wife came from a divorced family. Teach kids original ideology and quit the Tech device addiction. Young people need to learn about face to face time and quit living in some time warp bubble. Be original in your thoughts and quit copying others. Too much plagiarism is not good for todays youth.

  • Farhana N. Shah

    I believe our social structure is our downfall. Until we realize and prioritize our responsbilities, especially as parents, we will continue on this downward spiral. Putting programs in place does not work because we are dealing with young humans who need to be developed through teaching and modeling by adults.
    As far as other ‘advanced’ countries are concerned, we are comparing apples to oranges…waste of time.

  • life in a bottle

    The students being compared in other countries are from the very top schools because those countries have a two tier school system. Students who are not “academically” inclined are sent to the practical school to learn a skill. Smarter students are sent to the college prep schools….which take the tests American students from all economic level and disability level are being compared. I’ve lived in three of these countries and still wonder why the American public is still so ignorant when it comes to schools abroad. Next time look up the literacy rate in these countries instead of the poverty level. Poverty abroad is very different that the states. Crime is very low also. People still have dignity, values and morals. That makes the difference when the culture to learn is still there so poor people are still smart and do well if given the opportunity…..unfortunately, there is a cut off number as to how many the schools can take….the rich still get to go since they are paying……..I was fortunate to make it in one of those….

    • Renoruona

      With money you can get into any school. Otherwise you need pure smarts for a scholarship so you don’t have to start your working career in debt behind the 8 ball.

  • life in a bottle

    I still wonder why the US, the third largest population in the world is being compared to a culture of education as in Japan or a country with 5 million people as in Finland. Both of these homogeneous countries cannot compare to what the US offers in education if you only look at the vast immigrant students in the colleges.

  • Azul Terronez

    Big Observations about the trends you shared Annie
    1. SMART USE OF TECH- Rather than the technology being the focus, I think the shift is the connectedness of this current generation. Students use to show up to school even if they didn’t want to just so they could see their friends. Now their devices rule this space. How we connect is different and changing rapidly. When My current 8th graders were in 5th grade there was no such thing as an app store, times have changed and education should too.
    2. ADVANCE OF THE COMMON CORE-I think it this movement is a good idea, not because it is “Standardizing” across the states, but because it’s assessing and measuring in a different way. Rather than rote memory students will have to think more deeply, thus Deeper Learning is the next Killer App for education not the advancement of commonality.
    3. LEARNING OUT OF SCHOOL- Students aren’t empty vessels to be filled like they were once thought. Teachers use to be the caretakers of “knowledge” and students needed to wait to be handed over decades of learning to them, one grade level at a time. It now seems silly to teach content that can be Googled in an instant. Rather, what needs to be taught is how to learn in order to be productive members of society. Students love to learn, they just don’t want to be seen as passive any longer.
    Just my opinion.

    • Renoruona

      Come on guy learn to speak properly and get off the device addiction.

      • Azul Terronez

        @renoruona I welcome critique, you however, seem to just be responding to everyone else, where is your original comment?

      • Heather B.

        This is an unfair comment. Azul made very few errors in an informal discussion. He’s in favor of starting with the knowledge and skills the kids already have, which is good pedagogy. Name-calling is something we teach out kids to avoid. It doesn’t look any better on you than it does on them.

    • Renoruona

      Quit googling and get real. Some good old fashion library time is needed with research and development. Orginality counts quit copying other folks ideas.

  • Renoruona

    Get youngsters in High School and Colleges and young Adults to quit the Diddling addiction with devices. I have a home pc and wks fine. Also computers in Car like texting is a driving hazard stop it.

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  • Definitely the rise of educational games too 🙂 Games simulating learning experiences in a risk-free, engaging and interactive environment such as in with Entrepreneurship are super powerful tools to educate youth! Exiting!

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