What’s the future of education – and what should we do about it?

Category under: Education

08EducationFuture.jpgI’ve been pretty busy in the education sector. Two weeks ago, I provided an overview of key education trends for the Board and senior academic team of a major university. Next month, I’ll be keynoting a conference with key leaders from Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt and countless other leading colleges and universities from throughout the US. I’ll also be spending time with the CEO and senior management team of a major player in the global education market.

All of these sessions have focused on the key trends impacting the world of education on a long term basis. It’s certainly a far-reaching topic – education twenty years from now will likely look nothing like what it does today.

Consider the kids in this picture. Most of them will work in careers that don’t yet exist; they’ll have multiple careers throughout their lifetime; they’ll constantly have to upgrade, enhance and rebuild their knowledge; they’ll find themselves having to grab new knowledge on a “just-in-time” basis. Providing for such a reality requires a fundamental rethinking a lot of the current assumptions that are fundamental to the education system.

Where do I start such sessions? By challenging the audience or CEO team to ask themselves this question — “what is the nature of the world our children will graduate into?”

I then build into that an overview of ten key trends impacting the future of education.

1. Rapid knowledge growth

As of late, I’ve been speaking “ever-growing sapiential circles” as the core trend that is driving rapid knowledge growth, and which is having the biggest impact on education.

The phrase comes from Warren Bennis, a distinguished professor, Southern California’s Marshall School of Business — he was referring to how the knowledge of a group tended to increase exponentially as new members were added to the group. What we are witnessing in the world today is a dramatic increase in our own human sapiential circles as a result of global connectivity.

Quite simply, we have connected the minds of people around the world who share an interest in a topic or issue — they become a sapiential circle. And the result is dramatic — for example, the amount of medical knowledge doubles every eight years; it is said that half of what an engineering student learns in their first year is obsolete or revised by the time they graduate.

As such, there are some fascinating issues at work here, with the key point being that teachers need to not only teach children knowledge, but they need to teach young people how they can continue to absorb new knowledge in the future.

In other words, we need to teach them how to learn. That’s why one of my favorite phrases continues to be “learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st century.”

2. Rapid career change

The rapid rate of knowledge growth is leading to rapid career change – – hence, the Australian observation that “65% of children in pre- school will be employed in roles and jobs that don’t exist today.” Given my understanding of change, I’d happen to believe that to be true.

I often work to ensure that educators understand that we must be prepared to engender a mindset that involves adaptability, flexibility; a mindset that embraces and does not fear constant change; a mindset in which they will view a future of constant change with wonder and awe, rather than concern.

Here’s an Interesting statistic — a survey of consulting engineering students revealed that most of them thought a long term career was one that lasted from 2 to 5 years….! The kids are already thinking about this — we can instill them with our wisdom and guidance as educators in order that they can do it right.

3. Rapid career extinction

Workers of the future will change jobs 19 times during their lives — and parallel careers become the norm as people extract themselves from professions that are becoming extinct.” That’s from the Daily Telegraph — and I think I’m already witnessing career extinction occurring all around me.

Educators need to know what is happening; how careers go extinct; how people survive extinction; and how they use extinction to thrive. Knowing this will once again help them in preparing young people to cope and thrive in a world of constant, relentless change.

4. Just in time knowledge

Related to this — I’ve often explained that the incredible challenges young people will face come from the rapid rate of change that envelopes us — and with so much change, we need to be prepared to learn darned quickly. Hence, we need to provide the skill of “just-in-time” knowledge” — I explain what it is, and why it will be so critical … and what the elements of “just in time knowledge” are, and how we can bring this idea into the classroom.

5. The challenge of globalization

I also explain that the rate of change is only going to speed up more as the BRIC and N-11 countries become more affluent, and take on more of a role on the world stage…..

This observation really does it justice — “Two decades ago, there were relatively few technology graduates from Chinese and Indian universities. Yet, those countries now individually award more science and technology degrees per annum than America” (“Will offshoring shift innovation’s frontier?” Electronic Engineering Times-April 2004)

Think about the impact! Suddenly, we are seeing the emergence of vast new numbers of people with scientific backgrounds — what this is going to lead to is faster discoveries, faster innovation — and even more challenges. There is a lot of new focus that is required to return certain economies to the forefront of scientific knowledge.

6. The impact of demographic issues

The end of retirement.” “Integrating Gen-Y into the workforce.” Two of my recent articles, and there are certainly education issues that flow here.

Consider, for example, the issue of adult continuing education — if it is likely that people will have to keep working past retirement, what do we do to continue to keep their knowledge evolving? Particularly given that a whole bunch of folks are going to find themselves needing to pursue new career and knowledge options given the recent economic meltdown.

7. Social / cultural change issues

Lots of interesting things going on here — in Australia, 80% of children are taken care of by their grandparents. The same trend is evolving in North America. The fact is that the very nature of the family unit continues to change — did you know that 2 out of divorces see the parent with the child moving back in with their own parents?

25% of British couples expect that they will be supporting their children into their 40’s — i.e. when their children are 40!

What is the impact of the changing nature of the family on the education system? Does the extended family imply unique, new economic challenges that might impact the demand for education? Are there new mentoring possibilities that can be pursued? That too is a good question to ponder.

8. Technological trends

I recently keynoted a conference on robotics and intelligent systems. I used this quote from a head researcher in Robotics at MIT: “In just 20 years the boundary between fantasy and reality will be rent asunder? Just five years from now that boundary will be breached in ways that are as unimaginable to most people today as daily use of the World Wide Web was 10 years ago“.

It would be fascinating to put into perspectivewhat’s coming here — and the impact this will have on learning and the classroom.

9. Thriving with multiple careers

In my own life, I’ve coped with massive change — I’m on my 4th career!

I’ve picked up all kinds of new skills through the years — I’ve kept myself going through thick and thin when confronted by new issues and challenges where I have lacked knowledge.

The biggest challenge for an educator can be wondering, “how do I keep up” — dealing with the velocity of change is critical, and adapting career skills at the same pace is an imperative.

10. A flexible delivery system

Agility and flexibility defines the educational organization of the future. As I note in the intro for my College Board keynote, “The “velocity” of knowledge is leading us to a world of “just-in-time knowledge”; the result being the reality that the relationship between educational institutions and students is set to change; primarily, from a period of short term, concentrated knowledge delivery, to one more related to the lifelong, ongoing replenishment and rejuvenation of knowledge. The challenge for institutions of higher learning is how to change their ingrained thinking, behavior, structure –and outcomes — to adapt to this reality.

This is tough one for institutions; changing a centuries-old system is very difficult. One of my favorite quotes that I use is that “Perhaps the only person who likes change is a wet baby.”

Yet change is inevitable, and I can certainly incorporate a good bit of discussion on attitudes to change, how to deal with change, and how to turn change into an opportunity.


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.