Predictions, A Pandemic, & Our First Virtual Global Summit

8 min readJan 11, 2021


Looking back at our 2015 predictions for the year 2020 & what global experts at the ASU+GSV Summit say is the future of digital learning.

For the last decade, the ASU+GSV Summit brought together the world’s top founders, investors, educators, innovators, journalists, and policy makers to change the world for good. In 2015, GSV authored a comprehensive white paper, 2020 Vision A History of the Future, about our predictions for the year 2020. None of those predictions included a global pandemic, one that would thrust 1.6B new learners online and displace millions of workers due to COVID-19 within a couple of weeks. This made the 11th annual summit the most critical one yet, as the pandemic accelerated the need for access to quality digital education for all. The global pandemic took us from B.C. (Before Corona) to A.D. (After Disease), leaving education permanently altered. Welcome to the Dawn of the Age of Digital Learning.

As the world shifted online amidst the pandemic, ASU+GSV pivoted to host our first ever virtual conference. The Summit included over 150 panels, 8 content channels, and networking events across 5 days virtually. The virtual format provided an opportunity to give open access to the broader learning and talent community, drawing 15,000 active attendees across 135 countries without geographical barriers. Speakers included: Founder and CEO of Zoom, Eric Yuan; CEO of Coursera, Jeff Maggioncalda; and Award Winning Journalist Malcolm Gladwell; alongside 7 Former Cabinet Secretaries/Presidential Advisors, 15 New York Times Bestselling Authors, 21 University Presidents/Provosts, 8 EdTech Unicorns and many more!

Through the Virtual ASU+GSV Summit, we explored many of the predictions made for digital education and whether or not they held true in 2020. In 2015 GSV identified 10 signposts that would help increase access to education globally by 2020. We examine some of these signposts below and share further insights from some of the world’s top founders, investors, journalists, and educators into the next 5 years and beyond …

Strength through Diversity

Predictions in 2015 for 2020: Women and people of color are underrepresented in key roles across every industry. Beyond the blatant lack of equity, our diversity gap poses a material risk to our democracy and position as a leader in global innovation. This is a systemic risk that we will work to change through purpose networks, providing foundational skills, investments, and representation.

What happened: In 2020 America was forced to deeply reflect on inequalities across gender and race, including the pervasive injustices Black people face highlighted through the Black Lives Matter movement. GSV has always been committed to increasing access to the future for everyone. Everyone of GSV’s 150+ panels at the ASU+GSV summit had a woman, non-binary person, or POC on it, in line with Allraise’s Visionary Voices initiative to end “manels” (all male panels) and increase diversity in tech. The summit also hosted a channel dedicated to Equality in Education during the three main days and an extra day of conversations focused on Truth & Reconciliation. The speakers discussed the most pressing issues of today including immigration, race, symbolism, representation, and accessibility.

Highlights & Future Predictions:

Equal Access to Early Learning

Predictions in 2015 for 2020: Students who entered kindergarten unprepared to learn were over 25 percent more likely to drop out of high school, 60 percent more likely to skip college, and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Starting from behind stacked the odds against you for life. New models like Universal Pre-K, Mobile Media & Skill Building, and Learning Through Play will help early learners get a head start.

What Happened: Overnight millions of parents effectively became teachers. Work from home and an emphasis on digital learning forced parents to evaluate how their children were learning and leverage digital tools to augment their learners’ experiences. This also further shed a light on the need for effective digital learning tools. Startups like Hellosaurus, using interactive media and play by learning, are filling a critical need for early childhood development.

Highlights & Future Predictions from ASU+GSV:

  • COVID has exacerbated challenges in the U.S. around childcare. Today, on average U.S. families spend about 10% of their income on childcare and in many states, families pay more for child care than for mortgages and higher education. In the wake of school closures and increased financial instability resulting from the COVID crisis, parents are desperate for a solution. Julia Stigltiz, Sara Mauskopf, Natalie Renew, Chelsea Sprayregen, Elizabeth Harz Panelist, and Brian Tobalwe dove further into this crisis and what can be done now to mitigate it.
  • Research has shown a 13% return for every dollar spent on early childhood development for at-risk students. Early childhood programs have lifelong positive impacts, from school readiness to high school graduation to workforce and civic participation and even health outcomes. Noble Prize winner Jim Heckman discussed the state of innovation in early childhood with Diana Rauner.
  • Pamela Cantor, M.D. offered an optimistic story about learning and thriving straight out of the science of learning and development. She described the specific conditions that can reveal what each and every child is capable of, no matter their starting point in life.

Accelerate Learning with Technology

Predictions in 2015 for 2020: The rise of the Internet and smartphones means that physical location is no longer a barrier to accessing the world’s best learning content. Powerful adaptive software means that we all could have our own robot tutor to help us learn exactly what we needed to know at our own pace. The real challenge, ultimately, is catalyzing adoption of these game changing technologies.

What Happened: 2020 was the year IRL (In Real Life). The world shifted to WFH (Work From Home) and learners of all ages from Pre-k to Gray were SFH (Studying From Home). Technological advancements in Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing, and Machine Learning contributed to widely available learning tools that could be accessed globally. AI in “RoboED” created a more individualized experience providing personalized content that acts as an inexpensive tutor in anyone’s pocket. Startups across the glove including PhotoMath, QuillBot, and CoLearn led the charge in using technology as a Weapon of Mass Instruction to reach dominant and emerging markets.

Highlights & Future Predictions From ASU+GSV:

  • AI is transforming everything, especially how we learn. As we move forward in this new age, big questions remain as to how exactly AI will impact learning — will it make it better, faster, cheaper, or lazier? Will we as humans become better learners with more personalized learning? Gordon Jones, Shravan Goli, Burr Settles, Nuno Frenandes, Matthew Rascoff and Stephanie Butler explored the promise and potential downfalls of AI in higher learning.
  • Education became entertaining, as Hollywood Met Harvard following the Masterclass model of creating high quality content at a low price through scale. Millions of people come to YouTube every day to learn, and with the global shift to remote learning, even more students, teachers, and parents are turning to YouTube as a supplemental classroom resource. Leading educational creators and university educators shared how they are meeting learners where they are, with everything from inspiration to instruction, and making an impact at scale.
  • The impact of AR/VR applications in K-12 is endless, from enabling a more diverse curriculum catered to non-traditional learners with different needs to supporting autistic students in real-time via meaningful simulations. Entrepreneurs assessed the market demand for AR/VR technology in K-12. They also focused on the key obstacles presenting challenges to adoption within this nascent market, to see if AR/VR can live up to its hype.

Prepare a Modern Workforce

Predictions in 2015 for 2020: Our “modern” education system was designed in the early 1900s to produce predictable talent for process-driven work, from factory floors to the massive bureaucracies that supported industrial corporate titans. In an era of globalization and technology automation, lifelong learning is now imperative. We needed adaptable talent for entrepreneurial work. Some models that will work to prepare the modern workforce include immersive learning programs, on-demand skills platforms, accelerated career preparation programs, and a 21st century curriculum.

What Happened: COVID-19 forced employees to work from home, which led to a global and distributed workforce. To compete in this environment, employees must have 21st century skills and adapt to rapidly shifting roles. Companies like Guild Education and LearnIn are leading the pack in on-demand skills platforms while startups like Coursera and Degreed are enabling workers with the immersive learning they need to keep up with the requirements of their jobs.

Highlights & Future Predictions From ASU+GSV:

  • Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, spoke about how to solve the global skills crisis. His talk highlighted the urgent need to build a coalition of governments, industries, and universities around the world to equip the global workforce with the necessary skills to advance careers, boost employability, and stimulate inclusive economic growth.
  • With COVID-19, distributed teams have already begun to transform the workforce and the workplace. Panelists shared how to get ahead with a remote first company including what makes remote-first companies successful, tools that drive the distributed workforce, and more about this revolution taking over the global workplace today.
  • There’s a supply-demand imbalance of workers for jobs and working adults without a traditional four-year degree. The summit explored how to identify great talent in unexpected places. Social and commercial entrepreneurs described how we can identify and train talent in underserved communities to fill the millions of open jobs around the nation. Accelerated career preparation programs will be essential to including underrepresented talent in the modern workforce.

Overall, the north star for the ASU+GSV Summit in 2015, 2020, and beyond is to create equal access to the future for all. We believe education is the vehicle to do this. While 2020 was an exceptionally tough year, it was also a year that forced us to focus on what unites us and the power of education as a tool that will help us learn together from Pre-K until Gray.

For a deeper look into more of GSV’s predictions you can read our white paper here and also view all sessions from our community of experts at the summit here. You can register for our next hybrid summit in 2021 here.

By Thea Knobel




The world’s leading digital learning summit bringing together educators, founders, and investors.