Future of Learning

What expectations for the future mean we should do now

KnowledgeWorks Forecast 5.0 does more than simply imagine the future

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People like predicting the future. And people like reading predictions about the future. But there’s rarely any accountability and many, many predictions fail to come true.

KnowledgeWorks, an education-focused nonprofit, has a team of people dedicated to thinking about the future of education, and every three years since 2006 they have released a comprehensive forecast about what to expect 10 years out. They are careful to clarify that these forecasts are not meant to be read as “predictions,” but rather “insights about the wide range of possibilities for what might happen in the future,” as Jason Swanson wrote at the end of 2015, kicking off a blog series looking back at how much of their first forecast became a reality.

But for KnowledgeWorks, forecasting isn’t just about writing down expectations and waiting to see whether the world turns out the way they thought it would. “Navigating the Future of Learning: Forecast 5.0,” released last week, offers educators concrete ideas about what to do now to ensure the future they want.

The forecast describes a current reality in which organizations, including schools, are increasingly out of sync with what people need from them.

“The new era could exacerbate the current misalignment and deepen existing inequities, or it could inspire new frameworks for how we live, work and learn,” the forecast reads. “The choices we make today will determine not only whether people can thrive in the near term, but also who might be best positioned to thrive in the future.”

The forecast identifies five key drivers of change for the next 10 years: automation; technologies that affect our brain functioning; toxic narratives about success and achievement; changing community landscapes (because of economic and climate factors) and the work of “civic superpowers,” be they individuals, nonprofits or volunteer organizations, that are stepping in to fill gaps in traditional governance.

Katherine Prince, senior director for strategic foresight at KnowledgeWorks, said these drivers can be alternately mind-boggling, overwhelming, scary or exciting. The forecast is meant to create a bit of a road map, given the expectations for the future.

“KnowledgeWorks creates forecasts not just to inform people across the field about what’s on the horizon, but really to try to encourage everyone to consider themselves active agents of change in creating the future,” Prince said.

The forecast aims to facilitate that. Key questions follow a description of each driver of change, to help readers consider their own roles. For example, Forecast 5.0 imagines a world in which people can use products to enhance their brain performance. Already, Prince said, some companies expect employees to take drugs like Adderall to be sharper on the job. If technologies are created to a similar effect, they might be available unevenly, allowing wealthier or better-connected students to use them, increasing the existing achievement gap. Even if they are available widely, educators may have to consider the ethical boundaries of asking students to use brain-enhancing technologies. The question prompt in the report is, “How might learners retain their rights in deciding when and how to use new cognitive tools while also navigating new expectations of performance in education?”

Forecast 5.0 imagines possibilities for the future of education. Prince finds one – about how teaching and learning systems might become oriented around a holistic understanding of human development – to be particularly accessible for current educators.

“We’re already seeing increasing interest in integrating social and emotional competency development alongside academic mastery,” Prince said, adding that there is also growing interest in personalizing learning, supporting students affected by trauma, and focusing student advancement on content mastery rather than simply their time spent in a classroom.

A final section of the forecast points to existing schools and educational programs that offer glimpses of the future. The I Promise School, for example, a joint initiative of the LeBron James Family Foundation and the Akron Public Schools, offers wraparound services with whole-child development in mind.

The forecast is massive, with a lot to absorb. Prince imagines people will read sections at a time, coming and going to read what they find most useful at any given time. She and her team didn’t intend the reading experience to be a linear one.

And while Forecast 5.0 describes some destabilizing visions of the future, Prince finds the forecast, on balance, to be inspiring.

“I think engaging with the future invites us to be more informed about what could come to pass and also be more deliberate about what choices we make today,” she said.

This story about forecasting future innovations was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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Tara García Mathewson

Tara García Mathewson is a staff writer. She launched her journalism career with two award-winning pieces co-produced during a three-month stint at the Kitsap Sun… See Archive

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