A nation’s education system typically mirrors its times, lagging a bit behind. The United States is currently undergoing a transformation from a national, analog, industrial economy to a global, digital, information economy. Today’s schools were created for the industrial economy. Tomorrow’s schools will be designed to meet the needs of an information economy.

Not only will this entail major changes to our schools, but it will require equally great changes in the work of our teachers. Five important changes stand out.

1. A shift from teaching to learning

Traditionally, the focus of schooling has been on teaching, centering on the length of time students are taught and the process by which they are taught. The number, subject, sequence and duration of courses are fixed while the outcomes are variable, differing from student to student.

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In tomorrow’s schools, the focus will shift to student learning. Learning outcomes, rather than time and process, will be fixed. This will necessitate that teachers develop competency in formulating and measuring learning outcomes, translating the content and skills (including what are being called 21st-century skills) that students must master into outcomes and using data to drive individualized outcome-based learning.

2. A shift from classrooms to learning environments

Traditionally, schooling has taken place in classrooms during a 180-day academic calendar with groups of students organized by age. This has required that teachers be competent at managing a classroom, building a climate of trust and respect in that classroom, establishing classroom routines and procedures, and creating classrooms that support teaching and learning.

In tomorrow’s schools, the classroom will expand from a walled physical space to a virtual space that embraces both formal learning and informal learning, which occurs anytime, anyplace, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This will require both that the skills and knowledge required of today’s teachers expand in comparable fashion and that teachers understand and be capable of working in this expanded environment and making use of the resources it offers.

3. A shift from planning to learning design

Traditionally, teachers have planned and built curricula, units of instruction and daily lessons for their classes. To accomplish this, they must know the students in their classroom; recognize the needs of their diverse students, particularly the needs of students with learning disabilities and English language learners; understand and be able to apply knowledge of adolescent development; be able to develop curriculum, units and lessons integrating pedagogical and content knowledge; and set high expectations for all students.

In tomorrow’s schools, teachers will act as learning designers. This requires that they be competent in a new range of skills: combining content and teaching knowledge with design thinking, so that they can create individualized learning plans for all students, rather than just for students with special needs; grounding learning design in the cognitive sciences; accessing, evaluating and using an ever-expanding array of learning resources; and choosing the best instructional and assessment practices to fit learning design plans.