How Will The COVID-19 Pandemic Impact The Future of Education?

Learning and Behavioural Sciences May 05, 2020

As schools around the world transition to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, students, parents, and educators are all wondering what this means for education in the future. 

While it may seem difficult to predict how the future will unfold during such uncertain times, some of the most pioneering work happening around us can guide us in our thinking.


Digital education is catching up to, and may surpass traditional classroom education  

Historically, digital education has often been viewed as the “free version” of traditional education, or the second-best option available for under-resourced communities that do not have access to traditional education. However, this may not be the case going forward. As I shared in Is Digital Learning Still Second Best?, innovators such as Dr. Sanjeev Arora of Project Echo, have demonstrated that healthcare workers educated through telemedicine can now get the same health outcomes in patients as specialist centers at university hospitals. Or that EdTech startups using artificial intelligence to analyze students’ sentiments can get better results than traditional classrooms. We can no longer assume that traditional classroom education is the best education

While much of the world will likely return to school after the pandemic dies down (since schools are a cornerstone of personal youth development and a form of daycare for working parents), the difference will be that online learning will also be acceptable and credible in the future. While we previously saw a minority of parents homeschool their children, we may see a much larger number in the future, especially if families discover or invent other ways for youth to socialize and for parents to work during the pandemic.


Envisioning education in 2030

Not only is the world facing a pandemic, but at this moment we are also in the midst of digitizing every industry and aspect of our society. This means many parts of our lives that used to be separate will now converge. The pandemic is simply accelerating that process. 

Last year, through my work at Singularity University, I led an initiative bringing together our community of alumni, faculty, startups, corporate partners, and staff to envision the future of education in 2030. That vision, which we published in the form of a free downloadable graphic novel, outlines a world where learning, work, and family life is deeply integrated. Youth learn from a digital global curriculum (rather than static lesson plans or books) that is based on real-world problems that need to be solved. The problems are identified by social organizations, governments, communities, and companies. Every company and organization in the future runs its own university. Adults and parents who work at these institutions not only do their own work but spend part of their time teaching and engaging others in building solutions. Students receive credits for their work, which not only records their accomplishments but is a form of real money.

I encourage you to check out the vision and consider how life might evolve as we digitize and converge the fields of learning and work.

On a practical note, given where we are today, it is also important to think about the challenges we face as these different sectors converge. Lately, I’ve been following the work of Isabelle Hau, a Partner with Imaginable Futures, a philanthropic investment fund spun out of the Omidyar Network. Even before the pandemic, Hau was working on solving a problem that has not received much attention – supporting post-secondary success for parents. In a world that requires adults to constantly learn new skills, how are they supposed to balance keeping up with their own education, working, and raising children? Imaginable Futures and Lumina Foundations recently launched a $1 million incentive prize to help spur solutions.

While we know that in a digital future, we will combine education and work in new ways, we cannot rely on students and employees to take on the burden of the transition – our companies and educational systems must also transform. Now is the time for all of us to re-imagine the future we want to live in and start building it.