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How to Apply Futurism in Education

Friday, June 30, 2017 -- Scott Sterling

You would think that the practice of trying to predict the future has no place in education. But it turns out that there is a world of difference between futurism and the kind of “fortune telling” you might be picturing.

What is futurism?

Futurism is the systematic practice of trying to predict the future. Instead of possessing a connection to the great beyond, futurists are usually social scientists, technologists, and other experts who use their knowledge of the past and current trends to attempt projections of future events. It’s really no different than the job of a financial advisor, except futurism has broader implications and tends to focus on long-term rather than short-term ideas.

A simple example

For example, if you were to make a long-term projection on the state of education, you would weigh things like the rate of the advancement of mobile technology, computing power, development of artificial intelligence (AI), and student demographic trends. You could then come up with the idea that mobile devices will become so cheap and so powerful that they can be loaded with adaptive learning technology (the AI) and be used to greatly improve access to and quality of education prospects in developing countries, which would in turn have significant implications for English language learning programs in the US.

That was just an example that I came up with in about two minutes. Professional futurists get much more detailed, coming up with multiple “futures” and rating them by likelihood. The Association of Professional Futurists actually published an issue of their newsletter dedicated to education in 2014. It might seem dated, but everything is still quite relevant (we are talking about the future, after all).

Applications in the classroom

At first glance, predicting the long-term future of education might not be within the interests of the classroom teacher or even the district-level administrator. However, the people who could really use that set of skills are the individuals who will be living in that future—the students.

A big driver of the move to STEM is to try and create the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Successful entrepreneurs don’t see the world as it is now. They see where the world is going and position themselves and their companies to benefit from that movement.

Students trained to have a forward-thinking mindset would also be positioned to make more responsible decisions on everything from retirement finances to foreign policy. Humans in general struggle with being too shortsighted, especially now in the instant-on era. Focusing on futurism in the classroom is one way we can help our students break that trend.

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