2021 Projections for K-12 Education

As we begin 2021 in K-12 education, we see ourselves with COVID-19 at its worse across North America. For many who already were not in teaching online, immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday, we saw many school districts move to online instruction due to holiday surges. However, these toggles from hybrid to online instruction mostly took place urban and suburban locations while the remainder of the country in rural areas kept up hybrid in-person instruction.

With many uncertainties going forward, we do have hope that educators will begin receiving vaccinations and inoculations will only ramp up as we move into the spring and summer. Therefore, as we progress throughout the year, the hope is that we will see many toggles back to in-person learning when COVID spikes decrease in addition to having a teaching workforce that is vaccinated.

Ultimately, trends in K-12 education this year will ultimately reflect the tug and pull of toggles, the pandemic, and creating deliverable content students can access at all times that is instructionally sound. Additionally, underlining all of these trends discussed in this post is social-emotional learning. Social-emotional learning will be centerstage and we also must remember that social-emotional learning important for students, teachers, school leaders, and all school personnel. Thus, we will focus on social-emotional learning, the toggled term, integration of instructional strategies with edtech tools, on-demand learning, and educational support systems (i.e., online tutoring). Each of these trends will undoubtedly have a major impact this year on K-12 education and will have many implications going forward into the future.

Social Emotional Learning remains a top priority

Social-emotional learning came into its own in 2020.. Now, to begin 2021, it will only become an even more meaningful part of everyday lessons and curriculum within K-12 schools. All integrations of social-emotional learning will hopefully be implemented further to reflect CASEL’s SEL framework.

(CASEL, 2017)

Each element of the CASEL SEL framework needs to be integrated within K-12 schools and districts. Luckily, all of its elements can be interwoven into curriculum and lessons and can be amplified by instructional strategies as well as edtech tools. Moving forward into 2021, schools and districts will invest heavily in making this happen as social-emotional learning is critical for everyone within school communities to navigate our ever-changing world.

The Toggled Term Continues

The toggled term continues. Due to rising COVID-19 numbers, we will see toggles occur at increasing rates leading up to spring and during the spring. As cases lower when warmer temperatures begin as well as further vaccinations of teachers, we will see many toggles back to in-person hybrid instructional settings. However, as the year progresses, there will be toggles back and forth between online only and hybrid in-person instruction. This will occur until the entire teaching force is fully vaccinated as well as the vast majority of students. As more and more vaccination occurs, we will see less full and lite toggles (i.e., a complete in-person instruction closure and move to online learning/move from online learning to some form of in-person learning; teachers and/or students quarantining due to exposure or infections for one or more classrooms), but this will not likely occur until sometime during the of Fall 2021. Even during the fall and moving into the winter, full and lite toggles will still occur, but at lower rates than earlier in the year and during 2020.

Real quickly, lets see the toggles that took place between November 18th, 2020 and January 8th, 2020. This interactive photo illustrates the toggles that took place across the United States when COVID spiked due to holiday gatherings. Ultimately, we can expect toggles to occur throughout 2021 and beyond. You can continue to see these instructional trends in real-time by watching the interactive map on MCH Strategic Data.

MCH Strategic Data Teaching Method Time Lapse

Another major development is that many districts and schools throughout North America believe online remote learning and hybrid/blended learning education is the future. Once the pandemic is under control, the lasting effects could result in multiple types of instructional settings within a district/school that they could provide students. There could be the traditional model option, online option, and hybrid/blended learning option available for students to enroll in for a school year. Schools and districts should invest heavily in these options as this will be the future of K-12 education moving forward even beyond the pandemic.

Further Edtech Integration with Instructional Strategies

Now more than ever, educators have a grasp on how to use edtech tools as the entire educational landscape was thrusted into using them on a mass scale in 2020. Teachers now can use many of the edtech tools within online and hybrid/blended classroom settings. The interfaces of the tools can be navigated and implemented to varying degrees, which is a huge development. However, more work needs to be done. We now must now focus on integrating instructional strategies with the edtech we are using at higher rates to enhance our instruction and amplify learning. With strategies we know through research that amplify learning, we can use them strategically within the context of our lessons using edtech tools to deliver the instruction to students.

One quick example of this is taking a strategy like think-pair-share and digitizing it within a lesson using Zoom and Pear Deck. The Pear Deck acts as the element where students interact with content and the strategy is sequenced. Zoom then acts as the means to create pairs or small groups, which is then interwoven into the sequence of the slides. As a result, in just five minutes, its possible to integrate an instructional strategy.

Think-pair-share is one of hundreds of strategies that can be integrated using edtech tools we have at our disposal to deliver instruction to our students. Harvard’s Project Zero is a great place to start to look for instructional strategies that can be integrated with the edtech tools utilized in any classroom setting. For 2021 and beyond, this is the future of edtech as it must be pedagogically driven strategically by teachers. Professional development for the future must focus instructional integration with edtech tools to further innovate and push the envelop for amplifying learning. The implications of these integrations will amplify learning and will make instruction within online, blended, and traditional in-person classrooms more effective across the board.

On-Demand k-12 Education Grows

On Demand education is growing in prominence by the day. Everyday, a new asynchronous class appears online created by an expert in a field. Major platforms these courses appear on are MasterClass, Coursera, Teachable, and Udemy. Eventually, this will move into K-12 education; especially secondary school and possibly even middle school. Elevate K-12 is a platform making waves as the Peloton of online on-demand synchronous courses.

While this can create adaptive pathways to learning, the by product could create a consolidation in education. If a quality product that is interactive can be on-demand supported by 24/7 tutoring and support staff, it could cut costs significantly. The worrisome ramifications of this is that online options provided by local districts would have to compete with this platform, which could ultimately cut jobs over time.

In practice with the infrastructure and tools I have available, I can essentially do this for my students, which could then be reproduced at a massive scale. For example, within my online classroom for Algebra 1, my goal moving forward is to record all of the synchronous sessions as well as make all of the interactive capabilities to students available if they are not able to attend the live synchronous class. My interactive slides will always be available and can be sequenced simultaneously with the recorded synchronous lesson. Additionally, I can use a product like Paper Learning as my 24/7 tutoring and support tool for students. Therefore, essentially what this will look like is making all synchronous classes on-demand asynchronously. However, admittedly, the on-demand version of the class will not have as many collaborative elements available. Yet, over time, new ways of instruction and the appropriate implementation of HyFlex instruction can alleviate this issue when an entire course is built before it begins.

Availability of Digital Education Support Systems (Tutoring)

There have been ideas circulating regarding creating national tutoring programs to support learning and help students make up learning loss resulting from the pandemic. Research has shown that the effect size of tutoring on student achievement is .37, which is substantial to learning outcomes (Nickow, Oreopoulos, & Quan, 2020). To make tutoring available on-demand to every single student in the United States would be an unprecedented step to making education more equitable for our students.

Companies such as Paper, TutorMem, and Chegg Tutors provide on-demand tutoring options for K-12 students. However, the pricing and usage of the service differ as they can either be curated for individual students who pay per use or for entire schools and districts for unlimited use. If a national program is in reach, we must find ways to create unlimited access for students within schools to access a tutor whenever they need additional support. As a result, this would help increase equity and opportunity for all of our students to receive the support they need to succeed.

Last, to make on-demand tutoring better and more effective, increasing investment into innovative strategies for synchronous user engagement and gamification will help with motivating students, increasing memory retention, productivity, and engagement. Overall, with improvements and the mass distribution of widespread tutoring, it could greatly impact K-12 education within the United States.


Many trends were highlighted within this post that will impact K-12 education throughout 2021 and beyond. Beyond what we discussed in this post, there are several other important trends we suggest to keep track of, which include: K-12 education funding, the United States new Secretary of Education, edtech company buy-outs/consolidations, increasing online connectivity for students, social-media infused pedagogy and microlearning, school leadership, and teacher shortages. Throughout the 2021 this blog will feature articles on each of these trends. It will focus on the practical implication of each of these topics for teachers, principals, schools, districts, and policymakers. Ultimately, the goal will be to bring forth new research and their practical implications for implementation within K-12 schools and districts.

What are your thoughts? What trends do you believe will greatly impact education in 2021? Continue the conversation here or on Twitter.

Published by Matthew Rhoads, Ed.D.

Innovator, EdTech Trainer and Leader, University Lecturer & Teacher Candidate Supervisor, Consultant, Author, and Podcaster

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