Facing the future

At the end of each year many of us tend to focus on the future, wondering what it will bring. We wish each other a happy New Year, and hope that life will treat us kindly. We try to shape our own futures by making New Year resolutions, many of which fall by the wayside after a week or two. Much of our future is not ours to shape. But still we persist in trying to predict the future.

Many of our predictions about the future are based on speculation or wishful thinking. Remember the personalised jetpacks we were all going to use, and the Moon colonies many thought would be established in the 1970s? No matter what we think we 'know' about the future, we are unable to predict the future with one hundred percent confidence. Gambling casinos and bookmakers make a fortune out of our desire to guess what will happen next. On 21 December 2012, many people held their collective breaths because of a well studied, but poorly understood 'prophecy' about the ending of an age. Some sold their houses, or gave up their jobs in preparation for the 'end of the world', and were relieved and disappointed in equal measure when nothing happened. The Mayan Apocalypse did not happen. Many of us didn't believe it would. We have seen it all before, several times. Down through the ages self appointed religious cult leaders have predicted the return of Christ, or the start of Armaggedon, or some global catastrophe, largely based on their own personal interpretations of texts or 'signs'. This always spreads fear and uncertainty to many. All the modern day prophets have failed, but have ruined the lives of many gullible and impressionable people in the process.

What about teachers and schools? If we try to predict what will happen to education in the next year, we will probably have reasonable success, especially if we work within the teaching profession. Those of us who are engaged as learning professionals tend to see the trends first, and can better understand the nuances and vagaries of education better than the average 'man in the street'. This is why practising teachers are better placed than politicians to offer ideas for improving education. The caveat is that if we try to predict what will happen in education over a longer time scale, say 3 to 5 years time, we become less accurate, because there are random events, changes in policy, variations in world economy, new technologies, or other unknown variables that can happen to change the terrain.

And yet, you and I have a sneaking suspicion that if we do not try to anticipate the future, and make ready to respond to changes as they occur, we will be caught off guard. And we would be right. Anticipating change is a natural part of our survival strategies, and should be encouraged. So we have a conundrum. Do we try to predict the future and risk being badly wrong, or do we just let the future roll over us and try to adapt to it? If we decide on the latter, then we will be at the mercy of change, and not only will education suffer, more importantly, the children and young people in our care will be affected. If we decide on the former, then at least we have made a choice to try to anticipate the future, and we have an outside chance of being right. The less timescale we try to predict, the more chance we have of being right. The farther we try to gaze down the corridor of the future, the more risk we run of being wrong, because there will be more opportunities for unpredictable things to occur.

Over the next few blog posts I intend to examine some of the predictions that have been made on the future of education, with specific reference to technology and the role it will undoubtedly play.  Some of the predictions will be fairly inevitable, others will be wildly speculative, and many will sit somewhere in between, as possibilities that may or may not become reality. If we are prepared for change, then we will be less likely to be taken by surprise. We can at least prepare for a successful new year of teaching and learning based on what we believe is just around the corner.  But we still need to live and work in the present.

I wish you a happy and successful New Year.

"Learn from the past, prepare for the future, live in the present." - Thomas S. Monson

Other posts in this series
Is technology making us smarter?
The future of intelligence
The future of classrooms
Digital classrooms
AR we there yet?
Global learning collectives
The foresight saga
Touch and go

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Facing the future by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Lenandlar said…
All the best to you too Prof! I wish to thank you for your blog. It is one of the blogs i look forward to reading every week. I am very optimistic about the new year. But for what i cannot cast my mind. Perhaps practice a bit more the things i read and learn? I am not going to make big resolutions. There are a couple of little things that if i can do better, i will be alright come the end of 2013.
Cheryl Doig said…
I'm looking forward to the updates Steve. I think we do need to stretch our thinking into the future. Technology has changed the game plan and schools are just are just a part of a growing number of possibilities for education. Happy New Year!

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