We live in a VUCA world. VUCA, an acronym which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, was first cited by the U.S. Army War College as far back as 1987 and was later adopted by business leaders. The term is often used to describe a “new normal,” one where individuals, organizations, sectors and systems all must operate in an environment that is rapidly changing, chaotic and turbulent. This “new normal” or VUCA environment can be difficult. It has contributed to systems shocks and disruptions and has triggered both transformation and collapse for many of the institutions on which we rely. It has also inspired new mechanisms for meeting shocks and disruptions through innovation and collaboration.
Disruption to many key areas that on which we depend along with the creation of new strategies for resiliency, was central to the Platforms for Resilience driver of change detailed in KnowledgeWorks’ 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning. This post is part of an ongoing reflection on that forecast and an opportunity to reflect on the possibilities that driver of change described for new resiliency strategies in the face of systems shocks and what it might mean for learners and their communities.
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.
The Platforms for Resilience driver of change described shocks and disruptions in arenas such as energy, finance, climate and healthcare as being key forces of destabilization in this century. In the face of such disruptions, the driver argued that maintaining the status quo would not be sufficient. Rather, it recommended that institutions develop platforms for resilience, enabling responsive flexibility, collaboration and transparency to innovate and adapt in face of challenges. The driver identified the opportunity for learning communities to build their own platforms for resilience and to create lightweight, modular infrastructure that could support the health and well-being of learners, families and learning agents (the many kinds of educators who help a learner along their learning journey).
Disruption Is the new normal
Revisiting Platforms for Resilience from the year 2020, one would be hard pressed to find a sector or industry that has not experienced disruption to some degree. The driver made mention of four specific arenas that would be key areas for destabilization.
- The energy sector is experiencing shock, as renewable energy in the US is now cheaper than coal.
- Finance is dealing with disruptions that include challenges to incumbents posed by new payment technologies such as blockchain; trading platforms’ leveraging AI; and the push towards digital transformation.
- Increased climate volatility has led to phenomena such as increased forest fires in places such as California, less snow pack in Alaska and sea level rise.
- Healthcare in the U.S. has also experienced systems shocks, most notably with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.
In the face of such destabilizing forces, we have also seen the rise of new strategies for navigating disruption. These strategies include a move towards what Bruce Katz calls “The New Localism,” where decision making and power are moving towards collaboration and transparency. They are shifting downward from national governments and states to cities and communities and horizontally from the public sector to networks of public, private and civic actors.
More specifically, the Platforms for Resilience driver of change also asked two questions that are helpful to revisit in order to get a more detailed sense of whether its key themes are still relevant today. Below I explore these questions, slightly revised for the sake of looking back at the 2020 Forecast.
What kinds of partnerships, transparency and networks have been critical for building resilient school communities?
Networks and ecosystems have been approaches in which many education stakeholders across the globe have taken an interest as they have been wrestling with disruption while trying to transform learning. Examples include the structures described below.
- Remake Learning Network is an open group of interconnected, creative and innovative people and organizations in the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, region. It aims to spark and share best practices and new ideas, make it easier for neighbors and colleagues to help one another, reduce duplication of efforts in the region and leverage resources collectively for greater impact.
- ReSchool Colorado’s Learner Advocate Network seeks to help learners and their families increase their capacity to make meaningful choices about education, thereby helping them to navigate an increasingly complex landscape of learning.
- Eagle Rock School’s professional development center staff act as school change consultants who work collaboratively with select networks of public secondary schools, districts and non-profits by engaging them in school change that revolves around re-engaging disengaged youth.
While more school networks and other organizing principles taking shape to help school communities become more resilient, they mostly occupy places on the fringe of the K-12 education system. Often, they work to share experiences and resources in service of resiliency and scaling up new classroom practices and approaches to school. As education faces more instability as part of the new normal, we can expect to see more networks and ecosystems emerge.
What kinds of shocks has the education system faced in the last decade?
The education system has faced numerous shocks over the last decade, perhaps too many to list in a blog post. Some of the major sources of disruption appear below.
- The digital revolution has caused young people to learn, seek supports and develop their identities in vastly different ways than education was equipped to handle. This shift was a major reason why the Remake Learning Network formed, and it became the major story of change in KnowledgeWorks’ third ten-year forecast.
- The changing nature of work is proving to be a disruptive force for the education system, with many schools and education organizations grappling with how to best prepare students for the future of work.
- An increase in mental health issues is also creating shocks with which the education system must contend. Contributing to it, an estimated 75% of learners have negative feelings while in school, the youth suicide rate is rising and the growing opioid epidemic is impacting children and families.
Looking ahead, the education system can expect more shocks as it navigates the VUCA world. Stakeholders should quickly work to adapt to the new normal and to establish their own platforms for resilience.
Surfing the wave of disruption in the decade ahead
Stakeholders need to adapt to operating in a world that is rife with disruption. As detailed above, education is not immune from these challenges. The Platform for Resilience driver of change is just as relevant now as it was ten years ago and by all indications looks as if it will remain relevant into the next decade.
While this news might be distressing for some, the structures and approaches that education communities are developing to surf the ongoing waves of disruption also mean that now is an opportune time to evaluate what we want for the future of learning as we work to make it more resilient.