August 28, 2015
We will need to consider how to best harness exponential change in order to create equitable outcomes for all learners so that as the pace of change accelerates the most vulnerable among us are not left behind, and as technology rapidly reshapes the world around us we have an education system nimble enough to keep pace.

Harnessing exponential change for an equitable future

KnowledgeWorks submitted a proposal for a South by Southwest EDU session, which focuses on our next future forecast. Learn more and vote for the session here!


If I were to ask you to take 30 linear steps across the room you are sitting in, how much distance do you think you would travel? If you answered 30 meters, you are correct.

If I were to ask you to take 30 exponential steps, how much distance do you think you would travel? The answer might surprise you. If you were to take 30 exponential steps, you would have covered a distance of 1,074,741,824 meters.  This is the power of thinking exponentially; those 30 steps were actually 30 doublings, moving you from one to two,two to four,four to 16, and so on. When you finally arrive at the 30th doubling have circled the world 26 times!

Our forthcoming Forecast 4.0, “Learning in an Era of Partners in Code” posits that we are entering a new era of living, working, and learning.  One of the main drivers helping to usher in this new era is the exponential advances in the key technology areas of information and nanotechnology.  How might these technologies affect learning in the future?

Let’s first consider your smartphone to illustrate how powerful exponential change can be in these critical areas. Inside of your phone is a chip called an accelerometer. This chip helps your phone determine if it is being held vertically or horizontally or if you might be shaking it. In the 1960’s that chip was part of the early navigation systems of ICBM missiles. They weighed around 50lbs and cost somewhere around $50,000,000. That same technology today is small enough to embed in your smartphone and costs about $0.30.

Thinking more broadly than just smartphones, we are already seeing advances and innovations that even just a few years ago would have seemed almost like science fiction. We have robots that work side by side with human counterparts, machines that create art, and cars that can drive themselves.  Much like the accelerometer in your phone, we can expect these innovations to become smaller, faster, cheaper, and increasingly more capable as time goes on. The learner of 2025 will have access to vast oceans of data. They will learn from and with digital companions. Advances in nano and information technology will help reveal new insights into how our bodies and minds work, allowing for personalized learning that is tailored to the very core of who the learner might be. Ultimately such rapid technological advancement will not only change how and where the learners of tomorrow learn, but they will also change the world in which the learners of tomorrow live.

We will need to consider how to best harness exponential change in order to create equitable outcomes for all learners so that as the pace of change accelerates the most vulnerable among us are not left behind, and as technology rapidly reshapes the world around us we have an education system nimble enough to keep pace.

We invite you to come explore what learning might look like as exponential change leads us into a new era of living as part of this year’s SxSW Edu conference in March, but to get there we need your vote!

Please consider voting for our workshop at SxSWedu,  and together we can begin shaping the future of learning.

Jason Swanson

Written by: Jason Swanson

Jason Swanson is the Director of Strategic Foresight at KnowledgeWorks. He has a strong passion for studying the future and believes that studying the future is empowering.

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