What is a trend?

A trend is a shift or tendency within a system that is likely to grow in importance and influence how the system operates. Some trends are opportunities, others disruptive, a challenge or threat; some turn out to be a short-lived novelty (an innovation can develop into a trend, or die out), others slow-burning, even barely noticeable but seismic and enduring over the long term. A trend may emerge in one country but not another, another may be global.

Examples of global trends include increasing higher unemployment as robotisation spreads, a more and more globalized economy, more ethnic and religious tension, and increased migration.

Examples of trends in education systems are increased school autonomy, more personalized education and a rise in data-driven decision-making. Some are outside the control of individual schools, but they and more local and school-based trends (e.g. increased competition between schools for students, more involvement of parents, whole school professional development, more inclusive pedagogy) should be identified and factored into school development planning and designing future-proof effective teaching and learning.

A trend can also be related to the emergence of technologies that might change educational institutions and learning; for example, increased personal ownership of technology, faster and more reliable internet access, and cost-effective cloud services. However, a technological trend does not in itself cause educational change, but can be a necessary condition for innovation in teaching and learning. Gartner's "Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies" is a useful way of monitoring emerging technologies and separating the hype from the reality. It plots technologies as they rise on a scale from Innovation Trigger to a Peak of Inflated Expectations, then dropping to a Trough of Disillusionment before slowly rising again up the Slope of Enlightenment and settling on a Plateau of Productivity – mainstream adoption, where the true benefit of the technology is located and its use becomes banal, no longer inflated by hype, marketing and evangelism. This phenomenon of over-expectation and under-delivery is as old as technology itself, from the telephone to television, via modems and compact discs. That is why in education it is so important to consider first the educational need, opportunity or challenge that a technology might meet. Rather than focusing on the technology, it is worth thinking the human side of the equation: What will people do, what will people want to do? If technology is the driver, what is the attractor?

Hot technology, 1989

There are therefore many trends potentially affecting how education will develop: global, educational, technological, system-wide and local ones. Activities in the Future Classroom Toolkit will help decide which are important and high-impact (as opposed to which are novelties or short-lived) and which to take into account and prioritise in planning for the future.

Here is a selection of useful resources on the subject of trends. You can also contribute your own views on key trends.

Useful resources

Global trends

  1. Pew Research Centre provides authoritative reports on global trends as well as threats
  2. A toolkit for predicting the future by The Economist. It is a toolbox with three tools:

    a) History lessons – patterns from the history of technology, e.g. new forms of crime, concerns about privacy, etc.

    b) Uneven distribution – in some places, the future is already here, so look for them (e.g. in 2001, mobile handsets with cameras and colour screens were commonplace in Japan)

    c) The imagined futures of science fiction – not only predictive, but often inspirational

Trends in education generally

  1. Trends shaping education (OECD). This is an annual publication. Trends Shaping Education examines major trends affecting the future of education and sets the background on upcoming challenges for policy makers and education providers alike. This work does not give conclusive answers: it is not an analytical report nor is it a statistical compendium, and it is certainly not a statement of OECD policy on these different developments. It is instead a stimulus for thinking about major tendencies that have the potential to influence education, and conversely, the potential of education to influence these trends
  2. European Commission publications are useful indications of future directions in education, for example School development and excellent teaching for a great start in life
  3. TALIS report (OECD), useful evidence of changes in teachers' professional development needs; the Teacher's Guide highlights teaching students with special needs, followed by the use of ICT as the top needs.
  4. Innovating Pedagogy (Open University, UK). Published annually, the 2016 edition highlights, for example design thinking, and productive failure.

Trends in educational technology

  1. The Gartner Hype Cycle (e.g. Top Five Strategic Technologies Impacting K-12 Education in 2017). The full reports are very expensive but summaries are free and useful for stimulating discussion.
  2. Horizon K-12 reports (New Media Consortium, USA), also published annually. Reports (2017 report) provide a view of challenges, trends and emerging technologies based on a consensus of some 40 experts around the world (but mostly from the USA). It is interesting to plot how they have evolved over the years since the report's first publication in 2009.
  3. Technology compass for education (Kennisnet, Netherlands), published annually (2016 edition). Aimed at school leaders, describes technological innovations worldwide and considers their usefulness in addressing challenges in the field of education
  4. How teachers can keep up with trends in technology (Lee Watanabe Crockett)
  5. Edfutures ( aims to help change education systems fit for the 21st century. The initial focus is on the role that technology might play as a lever for change. See for example Digital technology strategies.

Trends identified by teachers – join in!

In many ways, teachers and students are better placed than industry, policy-makers and educational technology researchers to identify significant trends affecting education, because they experience at first hand in their daily lives how new devices and tools are being used and the pedagogies that best exploit their potential. That is why European Schoolnet, in the Future Classroom Lab initiative, is taking regular soundings of teachers and students in Europe to gather their views on which trends are likely to impact most on the future classroom, and to share the analysis of the results with industry, policy-makers and researchers.

The latest results are here. Read more about the Future Classroom Lab at

The realities of teachers

A new professionalism: There has been lately a great emphasis on teacher professionalism. It appears that many education systems have come to the conclusion that the quality of teachers is the most important factor to improve learning. This is leading to incentives for those teachers deemed to be good, to tighter recruitment of graduates, and stricter controls on the quality of teaching.

Formative assessment has come of age: Most educators nowadays agree about the effectiveness of formative assessment, that is, assessment used on a daily basis for diagnostic purposes and to dynamically adapt teaching, rather than for grading. At the same time, it is now become clear that this type of assessment requires a deep re-think of the traditional roles of teachers and students, which takes time and support.

Learning goes outside, does the teacher follow? Education has always been associated with schools. However, this relationship is now under stress as new technologies move learning outside of the school walls. This trend poses challenges to the traditional role of the teacher. Some specific opportunities and risks are: educating outside school hours, more emphasis on facilitation, mentoring and guidance, increased workload, linking with families, some risks of establishing informal links with students (e.g. using emails and texts).

Inclusion in practice: Many classes in European schools are now culturally and ethnically diverse. Teachers are becoming increasingly experienced in dealing with diversity and know how to recognise and address inclusion issues when these arise.

Low carbon teaching: This trend is associated with much wider trends, from climate change to the shift towards more sustainable lifestyles and alternative sources of energy. Schools and teachers are increasingly encouraged to incorporate these themes in curricular activities, discussions and tasks with learners.

The realities of students

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics): There is currently a great emphasis on STEM skills, but there is also a persistent lack of interest from students (particularly girls) in these subjects and jobs compared to other disciplines and professions. Many learners feel disconnected from the reality of industry and lack real-world experience in crucial subjects.


21st century skills: Students increasingly expect to acquire competences that make them employable in the future. These include media and ICT literacy, communication, problem solving and collaboration.

Informal learning: Students live in worlds filled with engaging technology and opportunities to pursue personal interests and motivations. Once they enter schools they have to leave behind such interests and motivations. This creates a divide between the way "schools teach" and the way "students learn" in informal learning environments. Schools are nowadays facing a challenge trying to bridge this gap.

Too much information: Learning resources are increasingly available digitally. The saturation of information, and ubiquitous access to such information, are becoming a challenge for many students who don't know how to deal with such complexity and abundance.


We don't want to ‘power down': Parents and pupils are pushing for increased adoption of ICT in the classroom (combined with new teaching practice which effectively utilises the technology to enhance learning.

Enhanced learning spaces: Learning spaces (i.e. physical ones) may not change in the next few years but advances in enabling ICT means the dynamics of learning (personalisation, collaboration inside and beyond classroom) will.

Beyond delivery: Learning platforms (e.g. VLEs / LMSs) will continue to play a role as management tools but advances in Web 2.0 (and Web 3.0) will challenge these technologies as traditional content delivery models.

User generated content will lead the way: User generated content and high quality shareable resources will increasingly support teacher led and peer based learning as suitable standards emerge or are developed.

Better access to content and resources: Web 3.0 will allow pupils to connect with both content and valuable information sources. Resource based content will be enhanced by subject experts, other learners and mentors.

Multi-touch input is here to stay: Integration of interactive display technologies such as whiteboards and other multi-touch devices with other technologies e.g. netbooks, smart phones, learning platforms (some owned by school and some by learner) will promote collaborative learning and move it beyond ‘transmission' and ‘instruction'.

Promising innovations are emerging: Research into the use of digital games, 3D, immersive learning environments and augmented reality have provided positive results so far. Further research is necessary, and likely to take place, which must demonstrate how the potential benefits may be brought to scale.