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The Nature of the Future in Education

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I'm spending this week at the Future of Learning Institute, so it seems like a good time for a long overdue review of Marina Gorbis's The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World.

Gorbis is the director of the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, an organization with connections to a variety of people interested in the nexus of education, technology, and the future, like Howard Rheingold, Jane McGonigal, and John Seely Brown. The Institute for the Future spends their time imagining the ways that social forces and technological change will reshape the world. They are optimistic but not Utopic; they believe that the world can be made to be a better place, and we should try, even if we know, historically, that change always produces winners and losers. They are deliberately provocative and imaginative in assuming that the future will not merely be a few tweaks on the present, and they intentionally coin new words and terms to help create a language for describing things which don't quite yet exist.

One of the terms Gorbis introduces in her new book is "socialstructing," the process of leveraging networked connections to allow individuals or small communities to create societal changes that previously required large institutions or movements to enact. An easy example is Wikipedia: a few people make a framework for sharing knowledge and suddenly information distribution is fundamentally changed.

Interestingly, part of Gorbis's inspiration for this framework comes from her upbringing in the Soviet Union, where her widowed mother raised her in a social economy short on hard currency but long on barter, care and community. She saw the wealth that people could generating by caring for each other, and she's bullish about the possibility of technology to expand these kinds of communities across geographic boundaries and reduce the transaction costs of bartering to make sharing ever easier and more compelling.

In education, this means that people can share their talents. Part of her vision of the future of learning relies on adaptive technologies to personalize learning experiences, clocks that understand your brain cycles, and optical devices that allow people to create informational overlays on the real world. But the heart of her vision is that technology will enable multigenerational learning communities, allowing for ad hoc learning groups, apprenticeships crossing geographic boundaries, and a personalization of learning that comes more from building relationships between experts and learners than from algorithms serving up learning objects. The video below is an engaging introduction to some of these ideas.

Marina Gorbis - Future of Education from IFTF on Vimeo.

What I've provided above is description rather than commentary. My own take on the future of education is probably more conservative: our social systems of education are extremely resistant to change, especially at the level where students and teachers interact. But the utility of futures thinking is not just about making predictions that are correct. It's about expanding our imagination, giving us new visions of what learning spaces might look like, challenging educators to look outside the sector for inspiration and tools for change.

What I enjoyed most about Gorbis' book is the challenge to envision the big leaps that might take us to a better world. That's a good frame of mind for me to be in as I spend the week working with other educators to imagine the future that we'd like to create.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my publications, C.V., and online portfolio, visit EdTechResearcher.

Check out the Future of Learning Twitter stream at #HGSEPZFOL.

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