What’s driving STEM education? Emerging trends on the road ahead
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What’s driving STEM education? Emerging trends on the road ahead

5 Dec 201734 Shares

Where is STEM education heading in 2018? Andrew B Raupp looks back on 2017 to predict what lies ahead for STEM.

In many ways, 2017 has been a year of great acceleration and progress in the field of STEM education.

In the roughly dozen or so years since the term ‘STEM’ was first popularised, the acronym referring to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics has become something of a household term.

Not only are traditional primary-school science educators talking about STEM, but it seems that our entire global culture has started to shift towards recognising the power and importance of scientific innovation as we collectively look towards solutions to the challenges of our modern times.

It’s truly an exciting time to be a young person exploring the various subjects and disciplines of STEM, and, while the work is challenging, it’s also never been more invigorating to be an educator or educational leader devoted to furthering STEM education opportunities.

As we look back on 2017 and the years preceding it, we can also look forward to the trends emerging on the horizon.

Reports from the field: What research says about STEM education trends

It can be difficult to forecast the trends and influences in STEM education due to the rapidly changing nature of the technologies that inform STEM pedagogy.

However, referring back to a 2013 report tasked with forecasting STEM through 2018 offers some key takeaways for STEM practitioners across the globe. The report keys in on a dozen “technologies to watch”.

2013-2014
  • Learning analytics
  • Mobile learning
  • Online learning
  • Virtual and remote laboratories
2014-2016
  • 3D printing
  • Games and gamification
  • Immersive learning environments
  • Wearable technology
2017-2018
  • Flexible displays
  • The internet of things
  • Machine learning
  • Virtual assistants

These technologies have already begun to play out in our classrooms and our lives, and this report provides a solid glimpse for what’s to come.

It’s surprising to look back at the use of mobile and online learning tools as a ‘new’ idea just a few years back. Today’s classrooms at the primary and university levels have, for the most part, fully integrated the use of personal technologies with instruction.

It’s no longer strange to see a smartphone or tablet being employed in the classroom, and this comfort with technology has set the stage for what’s to come.

In addition, the use of ‘out of the box’ approaches, such as gamification and alternative or immersive environments, seems like it just might be paying off.

A recent article in US News and World Report shares some promising news for STEM strides, noting that “the number of students who took an AP exam in mathematics or science has never been higher. Students taking these exams nearly doubled from 273,000 in 2003 to 527,000 in 2013.”

Greater interest in advanced courses in mathematics and science is a trend that seems like it will only increase as educators and administrators continue to invest in not only off-the-shelf STEM pedagogical products, but also invest in a mindset that values the power of properly prepared educators and prioritises meaningful, rich opportunities for students to engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the classroom, and the real world.

Looking ahead: The future of STEM education in 2018 and beyond

Many thought leaders in the educational community remain excited and forward-thinking about the future of STEM and, increasingly, STEM initiatives are happening via global collaborations that reach far beyond political borders.

In a report focused on the future of STEM education, the tenets of the STEM 2026 Vision are put forth as follows:

  • Engaged and networked communities of practice
  • Accessible learning activities that invite intentional play and risk
  • Educational experiences that include interdisciplinary approaches to solving “grand challenges”
  • Flexible and inclusive learning spaces supported by innovative technologies
  • Innovative and accessible measures of learning
  • Societal and cultural images and environments that promote diversity and opportunity in STEM

Most notably, none of these “six interconnected components” are prescriptive or specific to one particular approach of achieving success.

Flexible by design, the goal of STEM education going forward is not that all classrooms come equipped with a 3D printer and the latest software package that promises results, but rather that educators and students work together to radically transform our traditional notions of what a STEM classroom looks like.

What do these emerging STEM trends look like in practice? 

Some experts predict that more schools will invest in multi-use makerspaces in which students can engage in truly hands-on problem-solving through experimentation, robotics, coding or even low-tech group activities that model the experience of solving engineering problems in the real world.

Others predict that Silicon Valley technocrats will continue to have a major influence on STEM education trends as companies such as Google continue to proactively grow their employment pipeline. But, at the same time, it seems likely that individual products or services will become far less important than a more holistic commitment to digital literacy and self-directed learning.

And, while collaborative learning is far from a new trend, many expect that increased access to free or low-cost collaborative technology will make for more dynamic, group-driven classroom work that better prepares students for the experience of working together for a common cause, on a common problem.

The future of STEM education will likely involve some shiny bells and whistles, such as AI or even new funding streams for coding courses, but what’s most essential about the future is that we are now building upon our successes in a way that’s different from building the plane as we fly it.

With more than a decade of experience and experimentation behind us, the next steps in STEM education look brighter than ever and, together, we can light the way towards global solutions that can collectively advance us all – with our foot on the accelerator.

By Andrew B Raupp

Andew B Raupp is the founder of STEM.org, the longest continually operating, privately held STEM organisation in America, serving schools, districts, organisations and the world’s top brands in more than 25 countries.

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