Archive for the ‘Futuring’ Category

What skills should we be teaching to future-proof an education?

Some time last year I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what skills we could be focusing on in higher education to “future-proof” a degree.  What skills will stay relevant no matter what future careers look like?  There are two frameworks used and endorsed in K-12 education: Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Equipped for the Future.

I felt that the lists not quite right for adults that are returning or seeking an education.  Here is the list that I developed, and a link to the Prezi that includes many video resources that correspond with the skills.


  • Manage your information stream
  • Pay attention to details
  • Remember (when you need to)
  • Observe critically
  • Read with understanding
  • Set and meet goals


  • Media literacy (determine and create the right media for the job)
  • Present ideas digitally
  • Design for the audience
  • Depict data visually
  • Convey ideas in text
  • Speak so that others understand


  • Advocate and influence
  • Resolve conflict and negotiate
  • Collaborate (F2F or virtually)
  • Guide others
  • Lead


  • Interpret data
  • Make decisions
  • Think critically
  • Solve problems
  • Forecast
  • Filter information


  • Think across disciplines
  • Think across cultures
  • Innovate
  • Adapt to new situations
  • See others’ perspectives
  • Be creative


  • Formulate a learning plan
  • Synthesize the Details
  • Information Literacy
  • Formulate good questions
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Know what you know


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Future of Education Interview in Unlimited

About a month ago I had an interview with Lewis Kelley at Unlimited Magazine.  A portion of the interview, called The Future of Education, was published yesterday, along with interviews with two other “leading education thinkers.”

Here’s a short excerpt from the interview …

“I’m not optimistic that real change is going to happen from within education. I think education is kind of a behemoth. It’s an interconnected system, and any kind of interconnected system is really hard to shift. You can push on parts of the system, but they still have to align with the rest of the system. You can’t push too far.

We can’t radically change our curriculum because that would affect the students coming in and the students going out. K-12 can’t radically change their curriculum without affecting their students’ ability to do well in college, and college can’t radically change its curriculum because students would be coming in out of K-12 and not prepared.

We can’t move unless everybody moves together, and that’s the thing that I think is particularly rough. But …”


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Podcast Interview: Future of eLearning

Illustration in black and white with title "Future of eLearning" in the middle.

Here is Part 2 of my Podcast Interview with Eric and Staci at On Teaching Online.  In this part of the podcast, we discussed the future of online education and possible trends in course management and learning systems.


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A Recipe for Free Range Learning

On Saturday I spoke on the Live Stage at the Maker Faire in Detroit. The stage was in the Henry Ford Museum and it was the first time I have ever spoken under an airplane.

Description: Never has there been a time where information could be so freely found outside of formal education. It’s a time when you can learn just about anything you desire. However, it’s not enough to just have access to the information. To engage in learning (in or outside of education) you need to have the essential ingredients and a good recipe. What can you do today to enhance the effectiveness of free-range learning, and how will the DIY movement affect learning in the future?

This prezi has a fabulous new illustration by Mat Moore (the house of free-range learners/makers).


We did record a video, but I’ll warn you right now that while the audio is good, the video quality is not fantastic (the room was dark).

I only had about two weeks notice to come up with a presentation for this event, so this was quite a bit of work in a short time frame. Hope you enjoy it!

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Interview with a Learning Futurist

Last week I was asked to do four interviews!  One of them was with Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make Magazine.  Here’s the link to the post over at Maker Faire Daily.

I’m excerpting the questions here to make them easier for me to find later:

You are a learning futurist and you’re also a math teacher at a community college. How do these different perspectives give you a fresh understanding of what’s important in education?

As a learning futurist I scan the technology, international, and business horizon to look for changes that will be affecting learning – that means looking at the future of careers, work-life, and technology-assisted learning. Rather than make predictions (best left to the work of psychics), I try to create positive visions for learning paths we could achieve… if the right steps are taken along the way. I believe that good common visions lead us to great accomplishments. One of the most famous examples of this is the 1961 speech by J.F.K. visioning us landing an American on the moon – a task accomplished 8 years later, fueled by a common vision of a positive future. So many of our forecasts for the future of education are gloomy, so I try to provide alternative paths – ways we could take another route if we just choose to do so (see Where’s the Learn This Button).

The fact that I am still an educator within the formal higher education system provides grounding to my ideas. Mathematics is a subject that builds on itself with every course that is taken, so if math is learned poorly one semester, this problem is magnified in the next semester. Mathematics is also the first subject to really be tackled by companies developing technology-based tutoring/learning systems because it is easilyprogrammable (math-based subjects like physics, economics, and chemistry are close behind). Online homework systems, “smart” computer tutoring systems, and open learning platforms are all proliferating in mathematics first. From my vantage point as a math instructor, I can see how learners interact with these systems and develop a realistic understanding of the role of such technologies in the future of learning.

Making is a form of learning, an active demonstration of what we know and what we can do. What potential do you see for making in education?

Making is definitely a great way to assess learning, and you can see examples of making in education now (though you might not recognize it as “making” from your perspective). When you write a paper or put together a presentation as part of a class, youare”making” – demonstrating what you know and what you can do. Unfortunately, most of these types of activities are seen by our learners as tasks of drudgery instead of opportunities to polish their learning and demonstrate their skills. There are some “maker faire” type activities in education, but they are more the exception rather than the rule: Science Fairs, engineering competitions to build the best cement canoe or a solar-powered car, the “Egg Drop” or bridge-building competitions in science classes, putting together a class yearbook, use of lego robots to understand computer programming.

In order to see more of these types of maker activities in education, I think we would need to take back 20% of classroom time (either by increasing the time spent in school or cutting the curriculum). Project-based activities (take a look at the Learning in Depthprogram) require freedom to explore ideas and learn skills that are not scheduled into a lesson plans.We need to find a way to create the “Google 20%” time for students at all levels of our education system, but I don’t optimistically see a way to do this inside educationandfocus on high-stakes testing too. We need a nationwide shift back to valuing learning (not education) as one of our fundamental core values, and I’ll talk more about how I think we can do this at Maker Faire on Saturday.


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What is SOCRAIT?

SOCRAIT is my name for the SRSLS (spaced-repetition socratic learning system) that we need to push learning into the digital age.  The name SOCRAIT (pronounced so-crate) is a play on Socratic (because it’s based on Socratic questions), it contains SOC for social, AI for artificial intelligence, and IT for information technology.

Since July,  I have been preoccupied with this idea.   Many technology and learning experts who have read or talked with me about SOCRAIT have told me that they believe that our learning future has to at least look something like SOCRAIT.  They say (and I agree) that the simplicity of it just makes it feel “right.”  In fact, it’s such a simple idea, that I spent the last four months wondering if I was crazy – after all, if you’re the only one with the idea, then there must be something wrong with it, right?  As more people read the article and prodded at its weaknesses, the idea grew more robust.  The text of my article, The World is my School: Welcome to the Era of Personalized Learning, published today in The Futurist (read it as a PDF or read it online) has been finalized for some time, and at this point, I could probably write another article just about the game layer that SOCRAIT will need.

Now I need your help.  Someone or some company needs to step forward and build SOCRAIT.  I’ve pursued as many avenues as I could, but as a community college professor from an obscure city in recession-occupied Michigan, it’s hard to get taken seriously.  So, here’s your assignment:

  1. Read the article (the whole thing).  You can’t stop halfway, or you’ll get the wrong impression.  Every sentence matters.  Print it and read it.
  2. Agree or disagree, please share your thoughts and ideas (and if you have a public space, please use it) … tweet, blog, write, discuss.
  3. Send the article on to others through email, Facebook, and discussion forums.

If you believe in the power of a new way of learning (even if it doesn’t turn out exactly like SOCRAIT), please help me spread a new (positive) vision for what education could look like in the future.  Thanks!

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Using Math to Understand the Future

Futurist Peter Bishop was one of the keynote presenters at MichMATYC 2010 this year.  He spoke to us about what a futurist does, and shifted our paradigms about how to look at data trends to one that is more mindful of the cone of plausibility.  Don’t know what that is? Well, watch the talk!  If you don’t have a lot of time, then watch the last 20 minutes.  You can also get the slides here.

If you’re interested in the other sessions at MichMATYC 2010, many of the slide decks are posted in the Resources Tab of the MichMATYC 2010 Website.

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What IS a Learning Futurist?

One of the things that’s been keeping me busy is my new position as the Learning Futurist for The LIFT Institute at Muskegon Community College.  This is, essentially, an advisory position (read: not full-time), and really, I think I’ve been doing the job for a couple years, but without any kind of official designation.  So I’m thrilled that the college has chosen to acknowledge the role I play at the college by incorporating it into our new faculty center.  (by the way, LIFT = Learning. Innovation. Futuring. Technology)

I got to choose the specific job title for our futurist position at LIFT and I was torn between Education Futurist and Learning Futurist.  Ultimately I chose the second, because I wanted to acknowledge that plenty of learning happens outside of formal education.  I also wanted to make sure that attention is paid to the non-formal learning that the college can foster in our students and in the surrounding community.

So, what is a futurist? First, a futurist does not “predict” the future, they use foresight skills to complement insight and hindsight.  One foresight skill is basic forecasting (trend analysis), but this only works if the field under investigation is relatively stable.  In unstable fields, futurists use scenario planning to project several possible outcomes – by examining the possibilities, an organization can plan for the most common outcomes, or at least think through some of the planning necessary for extreme possibilities (often, several extreme possibilities have some commonalities).  Futurists have to think creatively about the direction and meaning of trends, not just within a field, but in the surrounding fields.  You could say that Futurists have to be excellent systems thinkers.

Who does futuring? Well, technically, if you’ve ever made a budget for the next year, or participated in a strategic planning process, then you do.  In both of these activities, you look at the trends, social, technological, environmental, and political indicators to make your best plan for the future.  Is it a guess? Yes. But it is an informed guess, and we do it to help us to weather change.

So, what is a Learning Futurist, in particular? A learning futurist looks at characteristics of intelligence and brain development. They examine educational research to look for valid learning methods that might develop into technologies and learning strategies in the future.  They help people to recognize the necessity and importance of lifelong learning (with the acceleration of technology, you’re losing ground if your learning is not keeping up).  A learning futurist examines the available and predicted science and technology, social trends, and shifts to the political, economic, and cultural environment to thinks creatively about how learning will be impacted.   Because education, in particular, tends to move slower than business and other industries, it is particularly important to pay attention to the trends and technologies outside of education.  A learning futurist also keeps tabs on the future of careers and watches how “work” is changing.  After all, students eventually become workers, and even workers should still be learning.  To prepare our students (especially in higher education), we must pay attention to trends in the work force.

As far as I know, I am the first person to identify myself as a “Learning Futurist” (but you can find examples of many well-known education futurists).  In particular, I focus on higher education and adult learning in a timespan  5-15 years out.  I read voraciously, everything from academic journals to blog posts.  I rely on my social network (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and social connections) to keep me informed about new developments in other fields that might be important to learning and education.  I share what I learn and think in open spaces, to encourage conversation and idea development about the future of learning.

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