The education industry saw so many notable, significant changes this past year–from an increased focus on augmented reality and other visual technologies to make learning come alive, to the “Googlification” of the classroom with Chromebooks and Google education apps becoming staples–we’ve reached the point where education technology is now the norm, not a luxury.

This makes looking ahead at 2018 exciting because there is so much opportunity for districts and educators to elevate their curriculum with innovation right at their fingertips. On top of that, there is promise for continued education outside of the classroom; just look at Google’s recent $1B pledge over the next five years to help train Americans for jobs in technology. Called Grow with Google, the program targets not only teachers and students, but also local business, job seekers, developers and startups to provide online training initiatives and programs to prepare for tech-focused careers.

The most hopeful potential impact of 2018’s edtech landscape is the opportunity for nurturing skills that will help students succeed in the future of work. Considering how robots could replace 38 percent of jobs in the U.S. over the next 15 years, it’s absolutely vital that we’re arming today’s students, from as early as kindergarten-age, with the ability to succeed once they enter the workforce.

Let’s examine four key trends that are expected to shape the education industry this coming year:

1. Maker spaces will gain popularity in K-12 schools in the U.S.

President Trump’s initiative allotting $2 million per year to make coding a priority in U.S. schools will give way to an increased focus on STEM and coding in schools, reinvigorating the “maker movement.” As the maker movement continues to make its way into the mainstream, a growing number of K-12 schools in the U.S. will build dedicated maker spaces in their districts–helping more students than ever to obtain hands-on experience in STEM, tinkering and technology.

This trend is already being experienced globally. In China, for example, the government is committed to building new maker spaces in schools–to the tune of more than 5,000 new maker spaces opening in schools in 2017, alone.

2. The edtech industry will move from selling physical products to selling services.

While teachers already understand the importance of branching out from the traditional textbook, regulatory roadblocks make it difficult to get approval from administrators to purchase physical edtech products to incorporate into lesson plans. Considering this, edtech companies will likely move away from developing physical products, towards selling services (think: content, curriculum ideas) that can make even the driest subjects fun and interesting.

(Next page: 2 more exciting education industry trends for 2018)

3. The new age of STEAM is upon us.

While many lesson plans emphasize either “technical” subjects like math or science, or “liberal arts” subjects like reading and language, technology can–and should–be an important component to all lesson plans.

To keep creativity at the forefront of the educational spectrum, while also fostering “hard skills” like STEM, it is important to emphasize the arts the “A” in STEAM education. Whether students have an affinity for the arts or not, incorporating elements of creativity into STEM education has undeniable benefits, including making STEM more approachable and understandable. The STEAM model will continue to take shape in the coming year.

4. Awareness of play-based curriculum will help students master STEM early–but not too early.

In order for children to truly succeed in STEM, their kindergarten education must focus on concrete practice rather than observation. This is more commonly known as teaching through the process of play versus learning. Play-based curriculum lets children take the lead in exploring and asking open-ended questions that ultimately cause them to reflect on their actions, form theories and begin thinking strategically. This theory is predicted to take a bigger role in early childhood education in the next year and beyond.

It’s encouraging that the 2018 education industry is predicted to be structured in a way that is preparing the next generation with the skills they’ll need to survive and thrive once they enter the workforce. Ultimately, it’s up to individual districts and teachers to determine how their classrooms will function, but the good news is that we’re entering the new year on a strong, positive footing, geared towards equipping students for their future, right from the get-go.

About the Author:

Ricky Ye, PhD is the CEO of DFRobot.