All our tomorrows

It's impossible to predict the future. If I could do so, I would have been a millionaire many times over when I visited Las Vegas. Fortunately I don't gamble, so I simply sat and watched other people trying to predict what would happen next.

Most of them lost their money.

No, I'm not a prophet or a clairvoyant. And yet people keep inviting me to speak about the future of learning. Some physicists argue that the present, the past and the future are much the same thing, but they tend to obfuscate their arguments with strange words such as string theory and quantum foam. Anyway, for most of us common folk, our experience is that the past is a memory and the future is imaginary. All we have and all we experience is the present, time flows in a straight line, and it flows in only one direction.

We can look at the trends though, and we can look at the past to see what lies there. Many technologies are a lot older than we realise, and many are already on the drawing board, or in production before we see them even appearing in science fiction movies. Gesture based computing was already being developed before it featured in the movie Minority Report. The fax machine is nearly 150 years old (in 1846 it was called the telecopier). Newer technologies such as the tablet computer and mobile telephone were first conceived in the 1960s.

Sometimes these emerging ideas and technologies help us to anticipate what is coming next. Often all we need to do is look around us to see what is on the horizon. We could tell in the late 1980s that multi-media was going to be very big. And so it was. In the late 1990s, with the new millennium approaching, we could see that everything was beginning to converge on the Web.  Several years ago, I stuck my head above the parapet at a major conference and predicted that the future of learning would be focused on smart mobile technology. I was lucky to be fairly accurate with that prediction.

Today, at the Reform Symposium #RSCON5 Online Miniconference I presented a keynote entitled 'Digital Learning Futures: 3 things you should know about future learning'. I mentioned several times that our predictions of the future are often seen as ludicrous in hindsight. Where are all the flying cars and moon colonies? Predictions about the future are often so wide of the mark because we talk about the future from our limited present-time horizons.

I overheard two young school boys talking on the train a few months ago. One was saying how much he liked the new Sherlock TV series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The other agreed, but sagely pointed out that the 'classic Sherlock Holmes' films were far superior - the ones starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law! The only way we can ever begin to think about our possible futures is to take a leap of imagination outside and beyond our current experiences. And that is a very difficult thing to do.

My talk went quite well with plenty of great questions from the audience. Soon, I am reliably informed, the full presentation will be online for people to download and watch at their leisure. In the meantime, the slides are made available below for anyone who missed my talk and would like to catch up. Ultimately, my parting comments at #RSCON5 showed that we can invent our own futures. But to do so, we need to stop thinking of the future from the perspective of our current thinking, and take some leaps of imagination into the seemingly impossible.

Photo by McKay Savage on Wikimedia Commons

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All our tomorrows by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Mark said…
Hi Steve.
Thanks for sharing the slidedeck from your presentation. Some very good points as always. Just one question I do have though, why the picture of Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai? I guess it is iconic of massive change over a relatively short period or is it the highway flowing in one direction. Just trying to make the connection.
Cheers and best
Steve Wheeler said…
Hi Mark, good question. The image looks quite futuristic, but more than that, images of Dubai, Doha and other cities that have literally risen from the sand in just a few years epitomise rapid change.

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