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Learning Library Blog 4 Innovative Trends in K-12 Education
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4 Innovative Trends in K-12 Education

By Liz Miller Lee
April 28, 2022
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The past couple of years have brought tremendous disruption to the world of education, leading to teacher burnout, student anxiety and parent frustration.

But out of all the upheaval some amazing opportunities have emerged. Here are five innovative trends in K-12 education to look out for.

1. Online learning is here to stay — but it should look different going forward.

We’ve seen firsthand how emergency online learning has negatively impacted some students through learning loss, social isolation and mental well-being. But while it’s easy to blame those ills on online learning, it’s important to understand that many of the online learning practices employed during the pandemic don't actually reflect what we know to be best practices in online learning.

The rapid switch to virtual learning was an emergency response. Now, we need to take the best of what online learning has to offer and bring it forward regardless of the school setting. More schools than ever are offering permanent virtual options for their students, and innovative practices, such as blended and flipped classrooms, are here to stay.

Here are some key ways to focus on best practices, as outlined in ISTE U’s Online Teaching Academy:

Ensuring equity and inclusion: Some students thrive in environments where they can learn and interact with others virtually. Online learning provides these students with opportunities to succeed at the same level as peers who thrive in face-to-face classrooms.

Creating community: Excellent learning requires strong relationships through effective communication and collaboration. Learning online allows for new and innovative ways of communicating, such as asynchronously or with collaborators across the globe.

Designing instruction: A unique and innate opportunity of online instruction is that it increases student agency — or the control students have over their path, pace and place of learning. 

Providing feedback and assessments: Online teaching allows us to check in on student progress and provide feedback regularly and in fun, creative ways through activities such as games and interactive knowledge checks.

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2. Data literacy is emerging as an essential skill.

Data is all around us. It’s in the news, reporting on the latest trends in COVID cases, and it’s in our classrooms, in the form of metrics gathered by the very edtech products we’ve rolled out over the past few years.

Data literacy is the “ability to collect, organize, visualize, analyze, interpret and share data for yourself and other people to use and understand.” Just like literacy and numeracy are essential for communication and higher-order thinking skills, it’s essential that today’s students are able to understand and infer meaning from all types of data.

One example: In the early days of the pandemic, various sources circulated sometimes confusing, often conflicting guidelines about how to adjust our behaviors as conditions changed. What were these guidelines based on and why did they lead to such a range of interpretations? 

As renowned economist Emily Oster pointed out in her SXSW EDU session, The Power of Data and Its Limits, when we don’t understand where data comes from, we tend to fill in the holes with our emotions. Today’s students should be equipped with the skills to understand where data like this comes from and how to best interpret it.

Data literacy doesn’t need to be complex! Everyone – regardless of age or background – should be able to engage with data and science. Even younger students can collect and interact with data in simple ways, such as posting stickers on a sheet of large paper to form a colorful histogram or asking their classmates their favorite color and tallying the results.

ISTE U - Computational Thinking edtech PD

3. Rethinking teachers’ roles to bring the joy back to teaching.

It’s no secret that many teachers are finding less joy in their jobs these days. One reason for this  is that teaching looks much the same as it has for more than a century – even as the world around us has evolved. The traditional model of one teacher in front of a room of students dates back to the Industrial Era, when schools were designed to train students for factory jobs. 

But this model no longer aligns with today's careers, where competencies like critical thinking, communication, global collaboration and other soft skills are becoming essential.

The pandemic forced us out of the traditional model as schools had to reach students virtually and outside of traditional class schedules. This phenomenon has some educators imagining new models that take advantage of all the skill sets and passions teachers have to offer. As Kimberly Wright of Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College shared during SXSW EDU session, The Next Education Workforce, we’re not able to meet the needs of our students if we don’t have teachers who want to be in the profession.

ASU’s Next Education Workforce partners with local districts to meet this moment of disruption and rethink what teaching teams look like. 

What if one teacher is especially good at curriculum design but another is amazing at executing project-based learning activities? Why should they play the same role when they could divide and conquer based on their skills and interests? 

Wright believes that a first-year teacher’s job shouldn’t look the same as a 10th-year teacher’s role, and educators should have a variety of career pathways to advance through.

Next Education Workforce runs pilot schools where teacher teams share large groups of students and divide responsibilities for maximum flexibility that puts students at the center. They bring in preservice teachers and community members to support day-to-day functions and better integrate workforce development into the curriculum. Ultimately, this model supports student outcomes as well as teacher job satisfaction.

Looking to deepen your teaching practice? Explore the book Stretch Yourself.

4. Edtech has exploded, but it isn’t everything.

Thanks to widespread emergency remote learning during the pandemic, we now have more tech in schools than ever before. This is a huge step forward, as network connectivity and access to devices are no longer the barriers they once were. In fact, as Project FoundED founder Sandro Olivieri explained in his SXSW EDU session, The Hidden Costs of the EdTech Boom, investment in edtech increased sharply during the pandemic. 

But edtech itself is not a solution. Edtech companies receiving the most investor funding – and thus seeing the most growth – are not necessarily aligned with the best learning outcomes for students.

One reason for this might be that educators are not getting properly trained on how to best use these tools to improve learning. We need to reimagine what learning can look like and how technology — and technology training — can support us getting there.

Technology can enhance many aspects of innovative learning: student creation, collaboration, communication, agency and other skills that will help them thrive in today’s ever-changing world. The best tech investment schools can make right now is in high-quality professional development that guides teachers in transforming learning in their classrooms.

The ISTE Standards are competencies for learning, teaching and leading in the digital age. They provide a comprehensive roadmap for the effective use of technology in schools. Districts that align PD to these standards – on top of content and tool-specific training – through resources like  ISTE U, ISTE Certification and ISTE books are able to support their teachers through this transition.

ISTE Cert for cohorts

It’s time for new practices

No one disputes that the pandemic was hard on students, hard on educators and hard on parents. And reverberations of the upheaval will likely last for years to come. But this disruption has also cracked open a system that’s been in need of an overhaul for decades. Now is the time to use this opportunity to usher in innovative practices that will lead to greater student agency, a more empowered and passionate teaching force and a focus on the very skills that industries so desperately need in their workers. 

To hear more about these topics and others, don’t miss my ISTELive 22 session Life's Too Short for Bad PD: Redesign Teacher Learning With ISTE U, where I’ll address ways to scale innovation in your school or district.


Liz Miller Lee is the director of online learning at ISTE. She leads ISTE U, ISTE’s online professional learning initiative that helps educators build the confidence, tools and strategies they need to accelerate innovation in their schools. She is passionate about transforming K-12 education through technology to promote student equity and success.