10 Education Trends to Watch: What is on the Horizon in 2019?

We are two months into 2019, and I’m finally ready to share my education predictions. As many of my regular readers know, this is not a random list that I throw together at the last minute. It is based upon an ongoing, relentless analysis of what has been in development over years (or sometimes decades); consideration of the current conditions; and an examination of the various levers that often lead to a trend being amplified or muzzled in a given moment.

I am not trying to create a list of buzz words that peak interest. I’m happy to use concepts that have been known and used for the last century, but only if there is something new to consider or watch. As I review my list for this year, there are ideas that have been around for millennia. I include them this year because I anticipate an important change or turning point.

I make no claims of a neutral or objective assessment. There is a measure of activism in my predictions. I am predicting what my ongoing analysis leads me to believe is likely, but I candidly use this to highlight that which interests me (because of potential positive implications, negative implications, or a mix of the two). And because I’m a researcher/practitioner, I’m already actively engaged in trying to co-create the future in many of these areas.

Finally, note that these are “trends to watch.” I use this language because I believe that these are worthy of our attention, sometimes because of the direct impact of a trend, but also because of the indirect impact or the important lessons that we can learn…even when/if some of these fail to deliver on their promises.

With these important caveats, here is my list for 2019.

Humanizing Education

I’ve been using the word “humanize” in reference to education for years, but I’m not the only one. For some, this is a word used to get at concerns about what people deem as the abuse or misuse of technology. I don’t use it that way. I’m using it to direct people’s attention to the fundamental notion that education is, at its core, a deeply human endeavor. This calls for shedding a narrowly mechanistic or reductionist approach to education design, learning experience design, education innovation, as well as education policy and practice.

As we see adaptive learning and AI find their ways into education, there is a parallel conversation about how we can embrace these technologies and innovations, but doing so in ways that honor, even celebrate, the lived human experience, learner voice and choice, the importance of individual and collective well-being, and a growing body of knowledge about human learning, agency, and motivation.

Positive Psychology in Education

Positive psychology continues to grow in general, but the applications for education will be amplified this year. Expect more research, frameworks, models, methods, and approaches to education that draw upon the rapidly growing body of knowledge that looks at the psychology of human flourishing.

It is difficult to find people in education who are not familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on fixed versus growth mindsets, or Angela Duckworth’s research on grit. Yet, there are hundreds of other researchers doing fascinating work in this larger field of positive psychology, and we can expect 2019 to be a year where more of these scholars (or their ideas) reach the same sort of mainstream conversation.

I’d keep my eye out for the fascinating research on the psychology of awe, wonder, gratitude, and mastery. While I’m personally intrigued by these four, I’m not sure if they are the ones to hit the education mainstream in 2019, but awareness will undoubtedly expand this year.

Education R&D

The idea of research and development in the corporate world is being explored and applied in higher education and education companies in intriguing ways. In 2019, we will see this grow, being increasingly common in the public discourse, and finding its way into more K-12 schools and school collaborative efforts.

More people recognize that innovation and differentiation are not optional for organizations today. They are and must become a core part of a thriving education organization’s strategy and culture.

Notice that I’m predicting a growing focus on R&D and not simply innovation. This is a critical distinction. R&D is more systematic, closely tied to the strategic goals and mission of an organization, and keenly focused on a desirable return on investment. Innovation has too often been framed as a value in itself. A shift to a R&D approach will help our discourse and mindset around innovation evolve into something far more mission-minded and ultimately more beneficial for everyone involved.

Academic Partnerships / New Expressions of Education in a Networked World

We are still figuring out what it means to live in a connected and networked world, and while many schools have embraced strategic partnerships and connections for decades, we are going to see several high profile announcements about new and different types of collaborations in 2019. Some of this will be driven by necessity. Some of it will come from what will later be revealed as moments of serendipity. Most often, however, it will come from a growing awareness of how to live and learn in a connected world. More leaders in education are seeing enough exemplars to finally understand how partnerships and collaborations can be mutually beneficial, perhaps even necessary for survival.

I expect 2019 to be a year of new experimentation in this regard, and I plan to be directly involved in that work.


Out of all of the items in my list, this might be the most ancient. I certainly cannot claim that storytelling is a new “trend”, and yet it is becoming a newly discovered one in education communities.

Many schools are not good at storytelling, not internally or externally. Yet, in an increasingly crowded marketplace of ideas, there is a craving to find methods to connect with people in deep, memorable, and meaningful ways. For many, they will find the answer in new, multi-modal, cross-platform approaches to storytelling. The smallest of learning organization will and can capture the attention of the larger world, even amid the multi-million dollar marketing investments of a small number of educational behemoths.

School Startups

Amid the talk about school closings on the higher education level, people have missed the more significant story, the massive growth of education and learning community startups. I’m defining learning community as broadly as possible, to include contexts as simple a Facebook group with a learning or education focus. This is necessary if we want to understand how education is evolving in our connected age. We can’t limit ourselves by narrow mental models or constructs about what constitutes a “school.”

Look for more informal or outsider learning communities in 2019, but I’m also stepping out and saying that we can expect plenty of new school startups (or startups in the works). 90% of the time, these will not be standard schools. They will have a niche, a distinct focus; what I’ve long referred to as unavoidable, undeniable, school-shaping concepts.

Even as some colleges are at risk of closure, you can expect to hear about as many as a dozen new college launches. They will not all launch this year, but look for them to announce their plans, oftentimes in conjunction with an understanding of trend #4 about partnerships and collaboration. This means that some will be standalone efforts, but others will be attached to an existing school or organization. I expect the same thing to occur on the K-12 level, although there has been a rapid emergence of new K-12 schools for the last two decades. What is different on that level is that it has never been easier for a person or group of people to launch a new K-12 micro-school. Plus, school founders don’t presume that their school startups will last for decades.

Talent Management in Education

In certain levels of higher education, the competition over top talent has been going on for a long time. This type of thinking is not common in K-12 and less competitive higher education institutions. What I’m predicting for 2019 is that more education leaders are going to discover new and improved ways to find and connect with the talent that they need. Some of this will be aided by new employment platforms and startups focused upon solving this problem. Other parts of it will be highlighted by a growing public conversation about the limitations of so many simplistic and transactional hiring practices that achieve subpar results. The science and art of true talent management is something that will capture the attention of more education leaders this year.

Challenges & Competitions

Foundations have a history of using challenges to find worthy recipients of their funding and support. Communities use them to gather engagement and interest around a valued goal or theme. Companies are using them to find talent or great ideas. Serious game designers are creating them to achieve any number of goals around learning or awareness of a valued cause.

We are reaching a point where challenges and competitions are just about to show up as the next MOOC-like trend in education. I’m not sure if competitions and challenges are packaged enough to garner the same viral media attention, but looking at what seems like a convergence of ideas and developments, 2019 might just be the year where we see this begin to happen. I expect it to start in 2019 with some high profile partnerships between education institutions and other organizations. In 10 years, I suspect that we will look back at 2019 as a turning point.

Experiential Education

First I included storytelling, and now I’m putting experiential education in a trend to watch in 2019? Any student of education knows that this is most certainly nothing new. Agreed. Here is what is new.

Technologies like augmented, virtual and mixed reality have reached a level of maturity that will help amplify and help us re-imagine what experiential education looks like.

Assessment innovation has evolved enough to give us ways to measure growth with experiential education.

Research on the power and importance of engagement and how knowledge transfer works is increasingly known.

Then there is a growing yearning for meaning and differentiation among schools.

There is more public interest in apprenticeships and experiential approaches to education.

More people are questioning the traditional sit and get methods of schooling.

Put all of these together and we have the conditions for a rapid increase in experiential education experimentation in 2019 and beyond.

Authentic and “Alternative” Assessment Goes Mainstream

The growth of alternative credentials along with the rapid increase in critics of the letter grade system leaves people looking for something better than what we’ve done in the past. The push for improved ways to help people find jobs and help companies find qualified people is also growing. Alongside both of these, we have decades of authentic assessment exemplars on every level of education, but we’ve not fully grown into understanding what this means, what opportunities it creates for organizations and communities. 2019 is a year of awakening in this regard. As outdated assessment and grading practices begin to lose their grip on the education ecosystem at large in 2019, we can expect it to launch us into a new era of educational innovation and experimentation.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, my “predictions” each year are not neutral. They are informed by a mix of research and aspiration. They are also not simple trends. These come from a careful and ongoing assessment of what is happening in education and society over years and decades. As such, I’m looking forward to tracking and/or helping amplify the impact of these trends through and beyond this current year.

Leave a Reply