Looking Back at the Future: Part Two

Topics: Early College High School, Education Policy, ESSA, Future of Learning

In this second installment of “Looking Back at the Future,” I will begin diving into the details of KnowledgeWorks’ first forecast on the future of education, the 2006-2016 Map of Future Forces Affecting Education. As KnowledgeWorks prepares to release our fourth  major forecast on the future of learning and as we approach the 2016 time horizon from our first forecast, I thought it would be interesting to take a look and see where our original forecast landed. What has already come to pass? What is on track? What might have been off?

Using a metric adapted from one developed by Dr. Andy Hines for evaluating forecasts, we will review each of the elements from our first forecast. Rather than the five-point metric used by Dr. Hines, I use the following scale:

1) Already happening: scenario is currently taking place

2) Needs a boost: not currently tracking but still plausible

3) No longer tracking: no longer plausible

With that in mind, let’s begin by exploring the forecast elements in the area of “Family and Community.”

Local value grows

local-value Economies of group connectivity combined with fears of globalism, political gridlock, and concern over the dominance of big business will create a revival of localism.

Already happening:  Localism is currently enjoying a revival with growing markets for items such as local handmade goods, locally grown produce, and farm to table restaurants.  While fears of globalism, political gridlock, and concern over big business are driving forces, the emergence and proliferation of platforms to sell local handmade goods, such as Etsy, and places to create these products, such as TechShop, have also contributed  to the rise of local and handmade goods.

Youth media defines community networking

social-media Millennial (Gen Y and Z) smart networkers will push the organizational edge for employers and community leaders. Their experiences with shared presence through instant messaging and video chat, and gaming as a structure for thinking and interacting, as well as multiple digital and physical worlds will create new modes of work, socializing, and community learning that stress cooperative strategies, experimentation, and parallel development.

Already happening: Youth media has redefined not just community networking, but also the idea of community. Millennials have extended the definition of community to include the digital environment, leveraging social networking platforms and other digital tools to connect with others. They are also leveraging these tools to create new modes of work, for example on-demand style employment offered by ride-sharing service Uber, new ways of socializing such as the dating site Tinder, and new forms of community learning such as Skillshare.

Families become deeply diverse

diverse-families Communities will need to learn how to negotiate more complex and layered identities as citizens develop a range of affinities based on attributes in addition to race, ethnicity, education, and income.  Genetic history, mixed families, household diversification (multi-raced, multi-generational, same-sex, adoptive), and religious personalization create multiple layers of identity that define a complex topology of ideas and values. Developing forums for building bridges across extreme, often polarizing, ideological perspectives will be a major challenge for community institutions.

Needs a boost: While families have become deeply diverse, with the Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage a right and a growing conversation about gender roles and sexual identity, we seem to be falling short in terms of bridge-building, with more and more people retreating into entrenched corners of belief. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center cites that, “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.“

It’s harder to be healthy

healthy It will be increasingly difficult and expensive for people to achieve good health. Developed economies are beset by chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes. Poor urban residents in the United States with marginal access to fresh foods, green spaces, and pollution-free environments will suffer disproportionately. More children will need access to ongoing medical care but in ways that don’t impact their ability to participate in school.

Already happening: According to the CDC, roughly half of all adults in the US suffer from some form of chronic illness; in terms of obesity, during 2009-2010 more than one-third of adults in the US were considered obese, and one out of five youth (age 2-19) were considered obese. Poor urban residents are experiencing issues with access to fresh foods, with poor urban neighborhoods often being labeled “food deserts.” Poor urban residents are also suffering disproportionately from pollution.

Humans become an urban species

urban-species During the next decade, more than half of the world’s population will live in cities. The shift to cities will be the greatest in developing countries, yet small cities with populations less than 50,000 will be among the fastest growing in both the developed and developing worlds. The emerging megacities will constitute an urban wilderness presenting extreme conditions that will require existing institutions to provide new infrastructures (physical and social) and develop new adaptive strategies.

Already happening: The megatrend towards urbanization continues, hitting the time horizon of the forecast as 54 percent of the world’s population now live in urban areas. As urban centers expand, creative solutions to infrastructure needs are often being found by existing instructions, for example, identifying green energy solutions to address problems with energy infrastructure. Also, organizations are finding solutions on a smaller scale, for instance, local libraries engaging in activities such as loaning out tools.

Urban environments become VUCA focal points

vuca-cities The VUCA environment – volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – touches all institutions and community members, including schools. In extreme urban areas decimated by poverty, pollution, and economic instability, public schools become zones of health and security – physical, intellectual, and emotional. Schools will be expected to play a leadership role in addressing the interrelated issues of learning, health, and civic intelligence.

Needs a boost: The VUCA environment  has extended beyond urban environments as focal points to the extent that VUCA is often referred to as the “new normal.” While the VUCA  aspect of this scenario is already happening, public schools  are only recently enacting programs that address the overall  health of a student beyond just physical health; for example, Master charter school implementing a trauma-informed approach to handling classroom disruptions and the growing interest in bringing mindfulness training to schools. These examples are signals pointing towards schools becoming zones of health and security. However there is still a ways to go before the majority of schools have such programs in place.

The community becomes the classroom

community-classroom Ubiquitous computing and wireless connectivity, embedded in physical environments, will turn physical places into aware contexts – environments that recognize people, information, and activities, and then respond appropriately. As place-based information becomes more accessible, educational services will be customized to place, making learning increasingly visible in the community.

Already happening: Physical spaces are becoming increasingly context-aware through developments such as contextual marketing in retail spaces and the use of augmented reality in museums. Additionally, organizations such as the Hive Learning Networks are working to weave learning throughout communities.


Looking across the key area of “Family and Community,” where do you feel we landed in terms of these developments? What issues do you feel might still be salient today? What issues are emerging in this area?

In next week’s installment of “Looking Back at the Future,” we will examine the key area of “Markets.”