“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.”

William Gibson

No one can predict the future. We can only toggle between forecasts, imagination, and reflection as these three streams feed the ebb and flow of waves until the tide of the future rushes in.

When Keith Kruger (CoSN’s CEO) invited me to share my approach to thinking about the future of education and technology, I considered each of those three perspectives or streams. As with the three types of natural streams that feed our oceans, each serves different, yet equally important, roles in thinking about the future.

For reliable near-term forecasts,  CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) offers broad and deep expertise in education and technology. For imaginative longer view scenarios, the Institute for the Future (IfTF) offers foresight.  Finally, when grappling to reconcile the two perspectives, literature offers space for rich reflection.

The Value of Forecasts:  Helping to Navigate Near-term Effects

Forecasts help us think about the future and guide near-term decisions. This month marked the start of a new cycle of one of the best edtech trend forecasts, the CoSN’s Driving K-12 Innovation Series. CoSN’s Driving K-12 Innovation helps education leaders make smart, strategic technology and innovation decisions in the near-term to help transform education in our ever-changing digital world.

The Driving K-12 Innovation Global Advisory Board looks at near-term drivers of change and makes forecasts about potential hurdles, accelerators and technology enablers. This thought stream provides leaders with sound decision-making guidance.

CoSN’s trend reports forecast the year’s most important technology enablers for schools to leverage to surmount the hurdles and embrace the accelerators for innovation. For example, last year’s tech enabler report identified Digital Collaboration Platforms as the likely top tech enabler for 2020:  VIDEO CONFERENCING anyone?  The three Driving K-12 Innovation reports from last year’s 2020 cycle can be downloaded here for free.  The 2021 trend reports will be issued at the end of January 2021.

Imagination: Designing Maps of the Future

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and
underestimate the effect in the long run.”

-Amara’s Law,  From Roy Amara Scientist

To complement CoSN’s forecasts, consider a stream of far-away scenarios. Last month’s IFtF Ten-Year Forecast Summit’s hyper-relevant theme was “Building Future-Ready Organizations.”  We explored signals, foresight, and tools to create change for more equitable futures.

Whereas predictive forecasting from CoSN looks at broad underlying existing forces of change already shaping the future (such as AI) over a one-to-three year horizon, IfTF focuses on signals and scenarios that portend disruption using a 10-year horizon.

A signal is a small or local innovation with the potential to disrupt the status quo or scale up in size or geography. A strong signal is one that is concrete, current, and compelling.

For example, on the 2013 IfTF Learning Flows Map we can see that long before today’s world-wide instantaneous migration away from traditional public K-12 education, there were many signals that such a state was a plausible reality, even before the pandemic pushed “Go!”

Which brings me to one final stream: reflection.

Reflection:  Reading Our Way to the Future

“Courage is the human virtue that counts most—courage to act on limited knowledge and insufficient evidence.
That’s all any of us have.”

Robert Frost       Poet

Trends and imagination take us far as we think about the future, and we need our own practices of retreat and reflection to harmonize these and respond with the right action. Literature can be a powerful reflective retreat when thinking about the future. Not only speculative fiction but all types of literature, including poetry. For example, reflect on Robert Frost’s[i] rural realism and you might find a call to courage.

This call for courage unites the other two streams with a need more urgent than ever to embrace innovation in K-12 education. We need the courage to look clear-eyed at data revealing deep inequities and not be discouraged by the complexity and scope of those inequities. Courage to recognize signals of closed systems that continue to limit innovation. Courage to consider solutions that are human first, yet welcoming to the technology that can propel us to equitable futures.

Ultimately we need the courage to teach each and every student every single day to equip and enable their own courageous, self-actualized life journey.

Author: Mary Lang, Officer, Organizational Change Management, Los Angeles County Office of Education

Published on:  October 26, 2020

CoSN is vendor neutral and does not endorse products or services. Any mention of a specific solution is for contextual purposes.

[i] This Blog post’s title is taken from the Robert Frost poem, The Courage to be New