Five Tips for Working with the Future

Topics: Future of Learning

As you consider what you want learning to look like in 10 years and how you might pursue that vision today, here are 5 tips to help you avoid potential pitfalls.Making sense of the future can be challenging, but the rewards are great. “Shaping the Future of Learning: K-12 School-Based Education Workbook” highlights suggested strategies for taking action toward the future today. It also includes stories of current innovators along with questions for reflection and discussion.

As you consider what you want learning to look like in ten years and how you might pursue that vision today, the tips below can help you work with others and avoid potential pitfalls.

1. Balance Future Perspective with Current Demands

Spending time thinking about the future might not feel like the best use of time when today’s goals and challenges are so pressing. However, grappling with long-term possibilities can help clarify current priorities and unearth new opportunities, ensuring that your organization’s current approaches remain relevant and keeping you and your colleagues from being blindsided by unexpected change.

2. Create a Safe Space

Exploring future possibilities can trigger a variety of emotions: fear, excitement, grief, hope. People need time to process their feelings before they can begin making connections to their own work. Give yourself and others time to process emotional responses. You might even consider positioning the future as a safe space of exploration in which people can unfetter their thinking and explore multiple possibilities.

3. Look at All Sides

It can be easy to get bogged down in gloomy scenarios or to place undue emphasis on promising ones. In particular, people tend extrapolate from the present, projecting frustrations with things that are not working well today as fears about the future or thinking that positive aspects of the present will continue. Encourage people to examine both positive and negative implications and to acknowledge that not everyone views any given change the same way. Sometimes, the same change can have both positive and negative implications from different vantage points.

4. Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon

Because future forecasts typically look further out than most strategic plans do, it can be challenging to imagine just how different things could be in ten years as compared to three or five. While considering future possibilities can inform vision and strategic planning, a great deal of exploration and interpretation needs to come between reading about future possibilities and applying them to any given setting. Using foresight to inform strategy can be fruitful, but mistaking foresight for strategy or expecting future possibilities to make sense within today’s reality can lead to frustration.

5. Be Bold

It is important to encourage activity participants to be open to possibility and to probe the unknown. Sometimes ideas that seem impractical or implausible in the short term (for example, because they seem difficult to scale or inaccessible to learners with relatively few resources and supports) might represent important considerations for the long term. Resist the urge to limit your thinking to what seems possible today.

We can all be leaders in shaping the future of learning. These tips can help you and others set an informed but aspirational course and find pathways forward when obstacles or new opportunities arise.

For more ideas about leading change in education, see my blog post, “Leading Change in Education.”