Looking Back at the Future: 9 Years of Forecasting

Topics: Future of Learning

Since 2006, KnowledgeWorks has been forecasting the future of learning.

Throughout the past nine years, we have published three major forecasts with accompanying forecast updates; explored the future of teaching and the future of credentials; developed a guide to help stakeholders move from vision to action; and most recently, released a publication which considers strategies for cultivating vibrant learning ecosystems; and a paper exploring how educators’ roles may diversify in the future. In addition to those papers, we are also gearing to release our fourth major forecast exploring the future of learning.

KnowledgeWorks’ first forecast on the future of learning, 2006-2016 Map of Future Forces Affecting Education, was published in 2006 in conjunction with the Institute for the Future. As we approach the 2016 time horizon and begin researching our next major forecast, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at this first publication and see where we landed in terms of the images of the future as written in 2006.

As we look back at our first forecast, it should be noted that none of our forecast publications are intended to be predictions. A prediction is an affirmation or specific statement as to whether something will or will not happen at a specific date, and by definition is either right or wrong. The goal of our strategic foresight work is to help build understanding and generate insights about the wide range of possibilities for what  might happen in the future and to help education stakeholders to use those ideas to foster systemic and transformational change.

Drivers of Change

As we begin our look back at the future, let’s introduce the drivers of change that were identified in KnowledgeWorks’ first forecast. A driver can be thought of as a force that is causing change, something that is affecting or shaping the future. The 2006-2016 Map of Future Forces Affecting Education highlighted six drivers of change affecting the future of education:

Grassroots Economics: From economies of scale to economies of groups

Grassroots economics is an emerging set of rules for creating value from collaboration more than negotiation, from bottom-up rather than top-down processes, and from shared resources rather than private property.

Smart Networking: From informed citizens to engaged networkers

At the intersection of traditional social-networking and connective technologies is an emerging skill set of engaged networking — the ability to form ad hoc groups and catalyze communications of action using personal interactive media.

Strong Opinions, Strongly Held: From global media culture to a splintered fundamentalism

As media channels fragment and subcultures form around common interests, strong opinions will be reinforced by strong social networks — with a tendency toward more fundamentalist views of complex problems.

Sick Herd: From steadily improving quality of life to increasing signs of distress

With population density increasing dramatically, environmental crises looming, and a more interconnected global society that buffers population less, there are increasing signs that the human herd is not healthy.

Urban Wilderness: From predominantly rural to predominantly urban spaces

This decade, as the urban population surpasses the 50 percent threshold worldwide, megacities and rapidly growing smaller cities will face unprecedented challenges in managing wealth, health, infrastructure, and social discontent.

The End of Cyberspace: From physical versus digital to seamlessly physical and digital

Places and objects are becoming increasingly embedded with digital information and linked through connective media into social networks. The result is the end of the distinction between cyberspace and real space.

The forecast applied these drivers of change across five key areas:

  • Family and community
  • Markets
  • Institutions
  • Educators and learning
  • Tools and practices

The images of the future that the drivers produced when applied to the five key areas became KnowledgeWorks’ first forecast on the future of learning.

Over the course of this blog series I will be exploring the details of our first forecast and exploring how the images of the future we imagined in 2006 may or may not have developed as we approach 2016. In the meantime, what drivers of change from our 2006 forecast do you feel are still relevant today?