January 15, 2020

2020 Education Trends

BY Amy Takabori

2020 Education Trends

With the passing of another year—and decade—educators have exciting education trends to look forward to in 2020. Here are 5 trends in K-12 education research and policy to keep an eye on this year.

1. Trauma-Informed Education

The effects of trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on classroom behavior have been studied for years, but only recently have we seen notable momentum in the form of school policies. This development will certainly continue in 2020.

Educators are increasingly innovating trauma-sensitive responses to student behavior that take the approach of asking “what happened to you?” rather than “what’s wrong with you?” From cool-down corners that encourage students’ emotional management to the “two by ten” rule for building meaningful relationships with students, trauma-informed education takes many shapes and will continue to evolve. Increasing interest in the topic is evident in this year’s third annual National Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools Conference.

At the federal level, this trend has taken the form of the Resilience Investment, Support, and Expansion (RISE) from Trauma Act, which would expand trauma-informed care in schools. Taken up in 2019 by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the bill has enough bipartisan support to possibly be passed in 2020.

2. Executive Function

Research shows that executive functioning skills, including impulse control, decision-making, and focused attention, are crucial components of learning. In fact, research shows that working memory is a better predictor of academic success than I.Q. Dedicated educators, who do everything they can to help their students succeed, have begun to offer more than just compelling classroom content; they are increasingly f­ostering executive functions in their students.

The part of the brain that primarily houses these skills is the prefrontal cortex, which develops through adolescence and into one’s 20s. Recent neuroscience research has unlocked further insight into the teenage brain that underscores how crucial adolescence is as a period of rapid development in the prefrontal cortex, and further research and best classroom practices are sure to follow this year.

3. Personalized learning

What does personalized learning look like in the classroom? It is the difference between the classic classroom setup of front-facing rows to clustered groups that foster collaboration. It is replacing a one-size-fits-all curriculum with differentiated content that acknowledges students’ strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Personalized learning is aided by technological tools that cater to individual needs. It is student-centered and student-empowering, and it has transformed the national educational landscape.

But personalized learning is not without its critics who warn against the scant research that support its efficacy and who declare the hype to be over. But research takes time to conduct, and RAND’s studies of personalized learning for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are currently underway. Let’s see how this trend continues to take shape this year by education researchers and practitioners.

4. Artificial intelligence in education

In a world of Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, artificial intelligence (A.I.) has permeated our lives more than ever. Education is no exception. In fact, 2019 saw a breakthrough in A.I. technology, with a Seattle lab producing a system that passed an 8th Grade science test.

Although A.I. technology in the classroom is not as sophisticated yet (thank goodness!), many educators save time and labor by using A.I. and machine learning tools that simplify tasks like assessing homework and grading tests (including essays). Some tools hyper-personalize learning, and schools are even preparing students to help further develop an A.I.-pervaded society by offering A.I. curricula.

The increased use of A.I. raises ethical concerns, and student data privacy is among the top. California’s 2019 privacy law, which went into effect this year, is perhaps a sign of things to come in the realm of protecting young people’s privacy.

While it’s too early to predict everything about the future of A.I. in the classroom, this topic is trending hot and will only heat up more in 2020.

5. Social-Emotional Learning

A 2019 Rand Corporation research brief found that support for social and emotional learning is widespread, with 99% of principals and 94% of teachers agreeing that interventions supporting students’ social and emotional learning have the potential to improve student behavior. In other words, educator buy-in of the value of social-emotional learning seems to have reached nearly complete consensus. Now the focus is on questions about how to define, implement, and measure social-emotional learning. Further conversations and research about social-emotional learning are sure to crop up this year.


When every day is full of surprises in the life of a teacher, whether scrapping a lesson plan or responding to an astute observation from a student, it’s hard to accurately predict what an entire year will bring. But these education trends are sure to turn up fascinating developments, so keep your finger on the pulse with these topics. We wish you a productive and wonderful 2020!

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