Looking Back at the Future: Part Four

Topics: Future of Learning

Welcome to the fourth installment of Looking Back at the Future!  If you are just joining us, Looking Back at the Future is a blog series revisiting KnowledgeWorks’ first forecast on the future of education, the 2006-2016 Map of Future Forces Affecting Education. For this installment, I will be looking at the key area of “Institutions” and considering where our first forecast might have landed in terms of images of the future as we approach the forecast’s time horizon of 2016. Each scenario or future image will be reviewed using 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

For more information on this series and the forecast, please visit here, and for more information on the scoring metrics, please visit here.

And now, let’s see how we imagined the future back in 2006…

Communities create common-pool resources

pooled-resources Common-pool resources (e.g., grazing land and fisheries), are non-excludable and sub-tractable – that means everyone has access to them, and individual users can deplete or damage the resources if they are not managed properly. Elinor Ostrom’s pioneering work shows there are principles for creating institutions for collective action that maintain and nurture successful commons. Innovative communities, like the eLearning city in Espoo, Finland, treat their educational resources as a commons – a resource maintained by the community that sustains the community’s innovative drive. How would public educational and learning resources (teachers, facilitators, students, funding) change if they were treated as common-pool resources?

Needs a boost: There is movement in terms of open educational resources, such as Khan Academy and Gooru, that act as common-pool resources in regards to content. However, other learning resources such as funding, teachers, and even students themselves remain siloed from learning opportunities in the formal education space. Funding continues to be a hot-button issue, and despite calls for reform has largely remained unaltered. Teachers are typically tied to their place of employment, and many students find their learning journeys constrained to whatever formal learning environment they are in.  This is often based on geographic assignment rather than the learner and their family being able to exercise choice about which learning environment might be ideal based on the learner’s needs, interests, and goals. Despite many of these resources being far from common-pool, the trend towards more personalized learning, along with a decline in state spending on educational funding, may point towards a plausible future where educational resources might be treated as common-pool due to an education system that is both increasingly personalized and is dealing with resource constraints. However, this remains extremely unlikely to happen by 2016.

Unbundled education supports personalized learning

unbundled-education The convergence of networks, emergent self-organization, and co-operative strategies sets the stage for a host of new business models that function as platforms for value creation among distributed knowledge workers, innovative users, and customers. EBay doesn’t sell anything, but it provides a platform for buyers and sellers to meet, for individuals to develop careers as Power Sellers, and for third-party business, like Picture It Sold, to prosper. Schools and districts that become open platforms for development of innovative and diverse models will have a distinct advantage.

Already happening:  Schools and districts have not yet become open platforms. However, they are beginning to take advantage of the open platforms that are developing  such as OER Commons which offers teaching and learning materials at no cost which can be downloaded, edited, and reuploaded for others to use; and different classroom formats, such as the Genius Hour, which provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period.  Schools and districts may not be open platforms, but they are leveraging them to make learning more personalized.

Urban frontiers as innovation zones

innovation-zones An open economy empowers innovation at the periphery – it allows individuals with local, tacit expertise to affect change on the whole system through locally appropriate solutions. MIT’s FabLab does this by bringing personal fabrication tools to rural India or remote Norway and helping residents innovate in ways that fit their distinct needs. Lightweight infrastructure will provide modular, flexible systems for urban social entrepreneurs, cutting-edge thinkers, and expert users to customize meaningful local solutions that could become sources of innovation for school districts.

Needs a boost: Meaningful local solutions are benefiting many places. For example, Code for America builds open source applications to create solutions for local governments; however, these solutions have been slow to become sources of innovation for school districts. Despite the lag, there are some promising signals of change. Ideas such as using school buses as a power source for schools; and the Ever Forward Club, a community-based club that helps young men, (particularly underserved or at-risk young men of color) develop emotional maturity so that they can better handle the challenges of school and life. These are examples of shared solutions in which meaningful local solutions help to provide a source of innovation for school districts.

Everyone is a donor or lender

donor-lender New bottom-up financial infrastructures will leverage social accounting tools, reputation systems, and peer-to-peer connectivity, creating access to credit, savings, and insurance for urban residents cut off from traditional institutions. Developing alternative funding strategies will become more important as education competes with health and disaster response for funds. Microfinance experiments will utilize social networks to secure loans in communities where traditional lending practices may not succeed, like those pioneered in developing countries by the Grameen Bank. Prosper Market models itself on eBay, matching prospective lenders with borrowers. Aggregation of microtransactions, such as those initiated with eScrip and School Pop, will become more sophisticated and targeted. Web-based fundraising taps the social networks of potential donors, such as Omidyar Network’s DonorChoose that allows individuals to donate in-kind to schools.

Already happening: Platforms, such as Kiva and Indiegogo, enable anyone to become a lender or a donor. Schools have also benefited from these new transactional models, with platforms such as Rockethub and Piggybackr that help them to fundraise via micro-transactions and crowdfunding. Expect these platforms to become even more widely used as issues regarding school finding persist.

The built environment becomes instrumented and responsive

responsive-tech Sensor-based technologies that currently track resources and manage logistics will also be used to monitor and manage the complex, interacting environments of daily life, including homes, workplaces, and schools. With ubiquitous wireless Internet access, location-based information, and displays everywhere, schools become adaptive learning environments that respond to the changing needs of administrators, students, and their families. Facilities management becomes a strategic function, working collaboratively with those involved in curriculum development, technology integration, and pedagogical objectives.

Needs a boost: Classrooms are just now becoming adaptive environments thanks to educational apps such as Socrative, which helps teachers monitor students’ understanding in real time.  While the classroom is becoming a more adaptive environment, schools themselves have yet to become adaptive or responsive environments, though the emergence of the “Internet of things” might signal that the responsive school might not be far off.


In reviewing the images of the future for the key area of “Institutions,” I was pleased to see that most of the images presented are already happening or falling in the “needs a boost” area. I say pleased not due to the images being accurate, but because these images are in my mind positive images, with both the communities and the education system becoming more resilient in an increasingly uncertain world. Our education system will have to be increasingly adaptable and open to change as the pace of change all around us, not just in education, accelerates. These images of the future show that education can adapt.

As you read through the above future images, what stood out to you? How do you think the key area of “Institutions” is faring now?

I hope you will join me for the next installment of Looking Back at the Future where we will examine the key area of “Educators & Learning!”