Hindsight is 20/20. So, ten years ago, was foresight.
Exploring the future involves shifting perspective so that we can see paths forward that would not otherwise be apparent. When KnowledgeWorks released its 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning, we chose its title as a fun way of referencing the time horizon to which it looked. We were playing with language and with the function that a ten-year forecast serves. This forecast, KnowledgeWorks’ second, sought to build on the momentum of our first one by continuing to help education stakeholders anticipate how changes in the broader environment could impact learning. It also urged to help them consider what future of learning they might want to create.
The 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning, published ten years ago, revealed how many of our fundamental relationships — with ourselves; within our organizations; and with systems, societies and economies — were being reimagined and re-created in ways that could disrupt the status quo and challenge our usual assumptions.
At the time of its writing, those involved felt excited about cultural movements toward distributed authority and making. We saw promise in how spreading technologies of cooperation could impact schools and enable new possibilities for learning. We felt stunned by the rapid spread of data, along with its increasing visualization. Even as we were sobered by increasing bio-distress and the apparent fragility of our systems and infrastructure, we felt encouraged by the ways in which individuals were experimenting with performance and communities were seeking new ways to foster resilience.
We saw these developments as adding up to a wave of innovation, much of which seemed likely to take place outside traditional education institutions. The 2020 Forecast introduced the idea that the drivers of change shaping education were pushing us to create learning ecosystems in which the role of schools, colleges and universities would need to be negotiated. It highlighted the need to tread carefully as learning geographies diversified, given the potential for inequities to deepen as some learning ecosystems flourished into oases and others withered into deserts.
Releasing a new forecast is always thrilling. The writing team gets to dig deep, bash out ideas and discern patterns that can help make the change happening around us make sense. We get to work with designers to find the right visual treatment for the ideas. With the 2020 Forecast, it was not immediately clear how to organize the drivers of change to show their interconnections while conveying enough detail about each one.
Then we get to work with education stakeholders far and wide to make sense of future possibilities in their context, to help them see opportunities to create the future of learning. The 2020 Forecast team had different perspectives on how best to engage stakeholders. Some wanted to emphasize standalone presentations that opened people’s eyes to the first glimpses of change. Others preferred to situate the exploration of the forecast in the context of organizational learning and development. Both perspectives shed light on change.
Yet when dealing with the future, we see but through a glass darkly. Now that the year 2020 has arrived, we can shine a clearer light on how the changes taking place ten years ago have played out. Where they impacted learning as we anticipated, where their promises fell short or their threats caused less damage than seemed likely. Where some developments simply ran aground as new considerations emerged. What changes are still underway, either as they seemed ten years ago or in a different form.
Futurists aim not to predict the future, but to illuminate future possibilities for the purpose of guiding strategic action today. Still, now that the year 2020 has arrived, KnowledgeWorks will be looking back at the drivers of change from the 2020 Forecast to illuminate how they have unfolded. Over the next several months, additional contributors will be sharing their experiences of working with future possibilities, which will give us occasion to reflect on the different vantage points of ten years ago and today. It will help us all step back from the press of change and innovation and consider what we see more clearly now that 2020 has arrived and what questions most excite and weigh upon us as we gaze ahead to the year 2030.
Drawing upon fourteen years of education foresight, KnowledgeWorks can help you and your stakeholders consider what future possibilities could mean in your context and how you might want to respond.