Accelerating Change

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Designing the future of research libraries and special libraries in Knowmad Society

Paper prepared for Congreso Amigos 2015Ciudad de México

John W. Moravec, Ph.D.
Founder, Education Futures LLC

Kelly E. Killorn, Ed.D.
Instructor, Hamline University


October 1, 2015


In an era consumed with accelerating technological and social change, coupled with rapidly evolving organizational needs and missions, research libraries and special libraries need to reframe why, how, and for whom they exist and explore new pathways to realize these functions. This paper explores a strategic framework to navigate a society in constant flux, disentangling information, knowledge, and innovation. We plot a pathway for maximizing creativity and innovation capital for libraries in knowledge-based institutions, together with the communities they serve.

Paper type: Conceptual

Keywords: innovation; knowledge-based organizations; research libraries; special libraries; strategic leadership; Knowmad Society


Research libraries and special libraries are finding themselves at a crossroads. Having served as keepers of static bodies of information, they are increasingly tasked with supporting the generation of new knowledge in a world that is becoming seemingly more chaotic and ambiguous. In an interview with Paul Zenke (2012), Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian for Research and Instruction at Temple University suggests, “what can we do as academic librarians to better prepare ourselves for what is certainly an uncertain future? We just have to think more entrepreneurially and look for these opportunities.”

How does an academic library or special library reframe itself in an emerging reality that demands more innovation in the roles and services they might provide? In this paper, we propose a strategic leadership framework for understanding and designing the future of research and special libraries in Knowmad Society.

The challenge of Knowmad Society

In the introduction to Knowmad Society, Moravec (2013a) writes:

The emergence of Knowmad Society impacts everybody. It is a product of the changes in a world driven by exponential accelerating technological and social change, globalization, and a push for more creative and context-driven innovations. It is both exciting and frightening. It presents us with new opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities. And, we recognize that in a world of accelerating change, the future is uncertain. This prompts a key question: In a world consumed with uncertainty, how can we ensure the success of ourselves as individuals, our communities, and the planet? (p. 18)

This question extends especially to research libraries and special libraries. How can these institutions survive and thrive in an era that is not based on the availability of information, but instead on the contextualized use of knowledge to solve new problems?

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers, who are creative, imaginative, and innovative, and can work with almost anyone, anytime, and anywhere (Moravec, 2008). As citizens of Knowmad Society, knowmads are individuals who, “are valued for the personal knowledge that they possess, and this knowledge gives them a competitive advantage. Knowmads are responsible for designing their own futures […And,] a knowmad is only employed on a job as long as he or she can add value to an organization. If not, it’s time to move on to the next gig.” (Moravec, 2013a, p. 19).

The growth of knowmadic, contingent, or otherwise contract employees in the workforce changes the face of knowledge-based organizations. By the year 2020, it is projected that 45% of the workforce will be knowmadic (Moravec, 2013a, p. 19). For these contingent workers, a greater focus is now placed on how they add value – particularly at the individual level – within institutions.

Knowmad Society is also rooted in the reality of an exponentially-growing abundance of information (see esp. The Law of Accelerating Returns popularized by Kurzweil, 2005), and most of this does not reside in libraries. Whereas libraries used to have an important and definite role in providing information as a scarce resource, the abundance of information readily available elsewhere combined with a rapidly changing society that demands different information than may be found in libraries. This obviates many of the roles libraries traditionally held. How can a reference library compete with Google or Wikipedia? How can a film library compete with Netflix or YouTube? How can a corporation’s special library keep up with the ever-changing demands of the business as the organization “pivots” to meet new market realities?

For knowledge-based organizations that possess research or special libraries, the role of the library needs to be re-missioned from being a passive resource into a strategic organizer. The library needs to support and enable individuals and teams within organizations to add the greatest value they can, including supporting intrapreneurs (entrepreneurs within the organization) that take risk to create new value.

Challenges knowledge-based organizations face in Knowmad Society

Challenges to conventional wisdom faced by knowmadic organizations are numerous. They may be pressured by the de-hierarchization of leadership (i.e., shared leadership and responsibility), often expressed as organizational flattening. And, they are pressured by the accelerating pace of changes in technology and society (Moravec, 2013b). This means those at the top of an institution’s hierarchy need to consider relinquishing control of what information, knowledge, or strategic goals they believe to be the most important, otherwise risk becoming institutional laggards themselves.

Moreover, our relationships with information and knowledge are transforming, and too often their meanings are commingled. Information is constructed from bits and pieces of data. Knowledge is built by making personal meaning from information (Polyani, 1966). Innovations emerge when individuals and groups take action with what they know to create new value. While we are good at managing information, we cannot manage the personal knowledge created in the heads of our workers. And, human capital in knowledge-based organizations is becoming increasingly more expensive (see esp. Baumol & Towse, 1997). We cannot get the same efficiency gains from human systems as we can from machine systems. Our old approaches, built from principles of “scientific management,” simply do not work anymore.

Invisible learning in the age of knowmads

Invisible learning is a recognition that most of what we learn is “invisible” – that is, learning is achieved through non-formal, informal, and even serendipitous types of knowledge building. While this applies especially to schools, it is also relevant within other learning organizations. Cobo & Moravec (2011) write (translated by the authors):

The result of several years of research, invisible learning is a conceptual proposal, and it seeks to integrate various approaches into a new paradigm of learning and development that is especially relevant in the 21st century. This approach takes into account the impact of technological advances and changes in formal, non-formal, and informal education, in addition to the intermediary metaspaces between them. This approach aims to explore an overview of options for creating education that is future-relevant today. Invisible learning does not propose a formal theory, but instead presents a metatheory capable of integrating different ideas and perspectives. It has therefore been described as a protoparadigm, which is in a beta phase of construction.

1. It is a socio-technological conceptual archetype for a new ecology of education from collected ideas that combine and reflect on learning that is understood as a continuum that extends throughout life and can occur at any time or place. This approach is not restricted to a particular learning space or time, and it proposes to incentivize strategies that combine formal and informal learning. This perspective seeks to stimulate reflections and ideas on how to obtain an education that is more relevant, and one that reduces the gap between what is taught in formal education and what the labor market demands.

2. Invisible learning is also viewed as a search for remixing forms of learning that include continuous portions of creativity, innovation, collaborative and distributed work, and experimental laboratories – as well as new forms for translating knowledge.

3. Invisible learning is not suggested as a standard answer for all learning contexts. Rather, what is sought is that these ideas may be adopted and adapted to meet the specific and diverse needs of each context. While in some contexts, it can serve as a complement to traditional education, it may be used in other spaces as an invitation to explore new ways of learning. Many approaches to education seek to operate from the top-down (government control, the control of educational processes, policy approaches, etc.); Invisible learning instead proposes a revolution of ideas from the bottom-up (“do it yourself,” “user-generated content,” “problem-based learning,” “lifelong learning,” etc.).

4. Invisible learning suggests new applications of information and communications technologies (ICTs) for learning within a broader framework of skills for globalization. This proposal includes a broad frame of competencies, knowledge, and skills that fit a context to increase levels of employability, promote the formation of “knowledge brokers,” or expand the dimensions of traditional learning. (pp. 23-24)

Knowledge development within the invisible learning paradigm suggests significant implications for knowledge-based organizations. If an individual is able to find equivalent information via Google or some other ubiquitous, digital platform then the role of a library as an information provider needs to be reconsidered. Likewise, libraries need to recognize themselves not as information banks, but as connectors of information for new knowledge creation.

Of paramount importance, the relationships between consumers (e.g., individuals, research teams, and workgroups) and libraries need to shift from one where the library serves as a resource toward one where opportunities for creative remixing and new knowledge development are facilitated. This suggests that libraries, utilizing new information communication technology (ICT) applications, can play a critical role in connecting individuals and groups together to build synergies that otherwise would not be supported within an institution. In this role, the library remissions itself from being an access point of information toward an architect of connection making between points of information, knowledge, and expertise.

A leadership framework for libraries to navigate a rapidly changing society

The topic of innovation is a frequent target within academic and business literature. Many authors seek to describe modes and types of innovation within organizations, for example: Clayton Christensen’s (1997) disruptive innovation, Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) breakthroughs through scientific revolutions, and Gibbon’s et al’s (1994) Modes I and II dynamics of knowledge production through research. We build upon the spirit of these works to propose a framework that focuses on strategic leadership, where we define “innovation” within knowledge-based organizations as the purposive use of knowledge to provide a new solution to a problem that creates value.

In research libraries and special libraries, we argue new leadership, oriented around innovation, is needed to encourage mission-driven research and actions. We frame this within three types of institutional innovation, ordered by their potential for effect – and also difficulty in implementation – with the third mode (“Type III”) designated as having the most potential for impact. Table 1 illustrates the distinguishing characteristics between the three types, along with their ease of implementation for leadership.

Table 1

Three types of institutional innovation

Type I Type II Type III
Characteristics Interventions Attitudes Systems-based
Vectors Beliefs Core-transformative
Quick hacks Trendy ideas Revolutions
Ease of implementation Easy to sell Easy to sell Hard to sell
Easy to implement Hard to implement Really hard to implement
Easy to measure Hard to measure Really hard to measure

Type I innovations consist of interventions, vectors, and quick hacks. They are “easy to sell.” That is, their key ideas are simple to communicate and support for the ideas is easy to build. Implementation is also generally easy as only a simple intervention is needed, which is likewise easy to measure. Institutional impact is predicted to become low as simple interventions rarely create core transformations.

Type II innovations are centered around attitudes, beliefs, and trendy ideas. Like Type I innovations, they are easy to sell, but implementation and measurement are difficult. One example is building creativity into an organization. We imagine few leaders would believe building greater creativity into an organization is a bad idea, but developing a more creative organization is a challenge to implement. It can also be challenging to maintain momentum of a creative endeavor. And, within creative organizations, the extent to which one is creative is challenging to measure.

Type III innovations are built upon true revolutions that interact on a systems level with the knowledge organization to transform the core or “heart” of the institution. This is often expressed as creative destruction: tearing down the structure and culture of an organization and rebuilding it into something new. These innovations are hard to sell, as very few people want a total revolution in their organization. And, like a revolution, they are very hard to implement. Further, they touch so many core areas of the organization that measurement becomes very difficult (unless macro-level, post-hoc methods of measurement are used, such as asking, “did the institution survive the revolution?”).

Within this framework, we recognize that while some innovations may be preferred over others, each of the three types can create value for a knowledge-based organization. More importantly, innovations from the three types may interplay and integrate with each other, contributing to the goals or desired outcomes of others. A Type I or Type II innovation may very well fall within the overall strategic framework of a Type III innovation.

Table 2

Examples of the three types of institutional innovation in research libraries and special libraries contexts

Type I Type II Type III
Virtual delivery of services and content Transforming library into collaborative spaces Library laboratories
Mobile applications Blended librarian Invisible and tacit learning
Institutional repository development Expanded library Knowmadic places

Type I institutional innovation examples include the virtual delivery of services and content, the use of mobile applications, and the development of institutional repositories. In the past, the main purpose of academic libraries was to provide materials needed immediately by users and to store materials for future use. However, as the current landscape continues to shift toward greater digitization of information, libraries have begun doing the same. Rather than serving as a storehouse for print items such as books and journals, libraries are digitizing and storing content in institutional repositories for more immediate access and use. Further, libraries are investing in services and tools to enhance the discovery, access, and use of information (Levine-Clark, 2014). Consumers are able to access library resources at any hour, any day, and helpdesks are now available online. As end users move toward utilizing their own mobile devices, libraries are working to deliver content to them. Content and services are delivered via email, text messaging, instant messaging, and social networking services (Dysart, Jones, & Zeeman, 2011). Content is increasingly streamed to classrooms (Jantz, 2012). In addition to traditional printed materials, eBooks are becoming more popular and accessible. In fact, libraries are buying fewer print materials as they make the shift to digitization of resources (Dysart et al., 2011; Levine-Clark, 2014). These Type I innovations are easy to communicate and garner support from end users within the organization. Implementation, effectiveness, and degree of success are simple to measure. The overall impacts of these innovations, however, remains relatively low, as the core functions of a library remain static.

Type II institutional innovation examples include transforming libraries into collaborative spaces, blended librarians, and expanded libraries. As libraries continue downsizing their print collections in favor of digitized access of information, physical space is increasingly available for use in different and more flexible ways (Dysart et al., 2011; Jantz, 2012; Sinclair, 2009). The reinvention of these spaces for social, technological, and cultural uses provides new opportunities for co-working, collaborating, and delivery of specialized trainings (Sinclair, 2009). Some libraries house coffee shops and dining establishments. These changes in the ways library spaces are used and the continued digitization of resources has shifted the responsibilities of the librarian toward becoming “blended librarians.” They are less focused on transactional services and provide more people-intensive services toward improving end users’ experience (Dysart et al., 2011). Their focus is blending library skills, information services, ICT, and instructional design. Blended librarians collaborate with information technology departments to develop skills with online tools, software, multimedia, and mobile applications (Bell & Shank, 2004; Sinclair, 2009). They further expand beyond the walls of the physical library (Sinclair, 2009), collaborating with many different departments, embedding themselves within project and work teams, using their skills to develop services specific to the needs of the staff with whom they work (Dysart et al., 2011). These shifts from the traditional “pull” approach of library use toward a “push” style of engaging the community and working with consumers have extended the reach of the services and content available through the library. These Type II innovations are centered on the beliefs that work is collaborative in nature and the library’s role is to accommodate consumers through availability and accessibility, physical space, and support. These ideas are relatively easy to market internally, however, implementation and the measurement of success of these ideas are more difficult.

Type III institutional innovation examples include library laboratories, invisible and tacit learning, and knowmadic places. Some libraries are beginning to transform into laboratories and maker spaces to encourage user collaboration using traditional library materials combined with other types of creative and innovative resources (Colgrove, 2013). They provide tools, machines, and workshops designed for experimentation and development (Berry, 2012). Tools such as projectors, 3D printers, and large screen monitors are available for use (Berry, 2012; Colgrove, 2013; Sinclair, 2009). Users also have access to studios for producing their own photography, audio remixing, videos, and digital media such as podcasts and blogs (Berry, 2012; Colgrove, 2013). The focus of simply using library resources and materials is shifting toward actually creating with them (Colgrove, 2013). Invisible learning spaces enable library users to develop knowledge through non-formal and informal approaches, often employing “do-it-yourself” or hacker-like thinking to develop new understandings and solutions to challenges and opportunities (Cobo & Moravec, 2011). Knowmadic places create, through design, emotional links between spaces and their users, supporting the abilities of individuals to think differently, while flattening hierarchies (Noriega et al., 2013, p. 144). These Type III innovations transform what was once considered the purpose of a library: from one that houses and makes available resources and materials to consume, toward something that is very different from a traditional library “blueprint” and the formation of something unique to the host organization. These revolutionary ideas, because they are so transformative and question the very “fabric” of traditional organizations, are hard to sell, implement, and measure.

It is important to note that while the potential to create impact is obviously greater in Type III innovations, we should not downplay the importance of the other two types – each of these types of innovation have value. Strategic leadership for organizations that support knowmadic entrepreneurship (and intrapreneurship) requires approaches that address interdisciplinary, systems integration of knowledge-based work. These require a transformation in the way libraries operate, from looking at interventions and vectors toward creating real organizational change: systems-based, core-transformative, and those that challenge our key assumptions about how we relate, learn, and collaborate with each other. This means considerations should be made as to how to feed Type I and Type II initiatives into a greater Type III revolution.

For these revolutions to have impact, libraries need to reframe why, how, and for whom they exist and explore new pathways to realize these functions. From an organizational standpoint, this suggests libraries (and their leaders) need to build a metacognitive sense of the institution: an awareness of what is not known about the organization, its goals, and methods. Only then is it justifiable to engineer breaks from the system that challenge the status quo and enable Type III transformations to flourish.

An example pathway for maximizing organizational creativity and innovation capital

Type III innovations, at their core, engage with (and challenge) organizations to employ more creative resources toward solving a greater, mission-driven problem. As the challenges are greater, they resemble a “Noble Quest” for transformative leadership.

As an example of one such Type III goal, to support knowmadic workers and learners, the library can be transformed into a knowmadic hub, where new knowledge creation and the contextual application (doing) of knowledge are facilitated, in contrast to the traditional role of a library as an information repository. This transforms the space into one of knowledge brokerage (see Meyer, 2010) and action. The library, as a knowmadic space, could incorporate other innovations, such as the virtual delivery of services (Type I) and the transformation from stacks of resources to collaborative spaces (Type II).

The library as a knowmadic hub is centered on sharing knowledge, expertise, and ideas, connecting an organization’s people and other actors together to create purposive value. As organizations become less hierarchical in function and increasingly operate as mesh networks (see esp. Allee, 2003; van den Hoff, 2011), the knowmadic library and its librarians can find new roles in serving as connecting hubs, particularly with smart, purposive applications of ICTs.

In lieu of conclusion, spaghetti needs meatballs

Figure 1. A traditional, formal organizational chart.

org chart

Figure 2. A value-oriented knowledge organization.


Organizations that are driven by value networks and knowmadic knowledge can seem messy. While they may still maintain top-down organization charts, the operation may appear chaotic to an observer. Allee (2003) writes:

Much of the chaos that results from organizational change efforts arises not from trying to do something new, but from careless disregard of the complex system or systems that will be changed or affected in the process. Organizations evolve along multiple dimensions. When organizations change, old patterns of relationships are dismantled and reassembled into new configurations. People can better see where to make needed adjustments in their own activities without wreaking havoc on the whole system if they more fully understand the essential exchanges and relationships that create value. (p. 194)

When Allee maps how these organizations function as value networks, they no longer appear as orderly, top-down operations with clear lines of relationships (Figure 1). Rather, they appear as complex strings of spaghetti with multifaceted connections flowing between and among various levels and spans of an organization (Figure 2). In such a configuration, certain individuals and departments emerge as larger players (“meatballs”), with greater connections across various levels of the institution; some meatballs are larger than others.

As knowmadic hubs, libraries become super-connectors, knowledge brokers, and facilitators of invisible learning within the institution. Perhaps appearing as a large meatball in a map of the organization’s spaghetti-like, mesh network, added value is created for its users and stakeholders by brokering new opportunities for knowledge development and innovative actions.

In this rapidly-changing world, where information is literally at the tips of our fingers and an institution’s ability to act on knowledge drives its potential for success, does the future need libraries? Or, does it need meatballs?


  1. Allee, V. (2003). The future of knowledge: Increasing prosperity through value networks. Amsterdam ; Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  2. Baumol, W. J., & Towse, R. (1997). Baumol’s cost disease: The arts and other victims. Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA, USA: E. Elgar.
  3. Bell, S. J., & Shank, J. (2004). The blended librarian a blueprint for redefining the teaching and learning role of academic librarians. College & Research Libraries News, 65(7), 372-375.
  4. Berry, A. (2012). How libraries are reinventing themselves for the future. Retrieved from
  5. Christensen, C. M. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
  6. Cobo, C., & Moravec, J. W. (2011). Aprendizaje invisible: Hacia una nueva ecología de la educación. Col·lecció Transmedia XXI. Barcelona: Laboratori de Mitjans Interactius / Publicacions i Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona.
  7. Colgrove, P. T. (2013, March). Editorial board thoughts: Libraries as makerspace? Information Technology and Libraries, 32(1), 2-5. Retrieved from
  8. Dysart, J., Jones, R., & Zeeman, D. (2011). Assessing innovation in corporate and government libraries. Computers in Libraries, 31(5), 6+.
  9. Gibbons, M., Lomoges, C., Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P., & Trow, M. (1994). The new production of knowledge: The dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage.
  10. van den Hoff, R. (2011). Society 3.0. Utrecht: Stichting Society 3.0.
  11. Jantz, R. C. (2012). Innovation in academic libraries: An analysis of university librarians’ perspectives. Library & Information Science Research, 34(1), 3-12.
  12. Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago.
  13. Kurzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity is near: When humans transcend biology. New York: Viking.
  14. Levine-Clark, M. (2014). Access to everything: Building the future academic library collection. Libraries and the Academy, 14(3), 425-437. doi: 10.1353/pla.2014.0015
  15. Meyer, M. (2010). The rise of the knowledge broker. Science Communication, 32(1), 118–127.
  16. Moravec, J. W. (2008). Knowmads in Society 3.0. Education Futures. Retrieved from
  17. Moravec, J. W. (2013a). Introduction to Knowmad Society. In J. W. Moravec (Ed.), Knowmad Society. Minneapolis: Education Futures.
  18. Moravec, J. W. (2013b). Knowmad Society: The “new” work and education. On the Horizon, 21(2), 79–83.
  19. Noriega, F. M., Heppell, S., Bonet, N. S., & Heppell, J. (2013). Building better learning and learning better building, with learners rather than for learners. On the Horizon, 21(2), 138–148.
  20. Polyani, M. (1966). Chapter 2: Emergence. In The Tacit Dimension (pp. 29–52). New York: Doubleday.
  21. Sinclair, B. (2009). The blended librarian in the learning commons: New skills for the blended library. College & Research Libraries News, 70(9), 504-508.
  22. Zenke, P. F. (2012). The future of academic libraries: An interview with Steven J Bell. Retrieved from

Special thanks to Patricia Avila (INFOTECH), Wouter Schallier (United Nations-CEPAL), and Giovanna Valenti (FLACSO México) for their remarks as panel discussants at Congreso Amigos 2015. Additional thanks go to Alejandro Pisanty and Cees Hoogendijk for the commends on the draft document on

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Knowmad Society released – and it is beautiful!

I am very pleased to share that the print edition of Knowmad Society is in press, and it is beautiful!

Knowmad Society cover-print-smallYou can read it now at – the book is available in print, PDF, iOS, and Kindle editions. If you enjoyed a free copy of the book, please consider purchasing a printed copy. It helps us recover our costs, and, as I can’t say enough: It is beautiful.

Knowmad Society explores the future of learning, work, and how we relate with each other in a world driven by accelerating change, value networks, and the rise of knowmads.

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers: Creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. The jobs associated with 21st century knowledge and innovation workers have become much less specific concerning task and place, but require more value-generative applications of what they know. The office as we know it is gone. Schools and other learning spaces will follow next.

In this book, nine authors from three continents, ranging from academics to business leaders, share their visions for the future of learning and work. Educational and organizational implications are uncovered, experiences are shared, and the contributors explore what it’s going to take for individuals, organizations, and nations to succeed in Knowmad Society.

Coda: In producing the print edition, Martine Eyzenga took charge of the creative layout of the interior, and the cover was illustrated by Symen Veenstra. Thank you to everybody who provided feedback while the book was available in its “preview” format – you provided critical peer review.

The Singularity and schools: An interview with Vernor Vinge

Note: An mp3 of this interview is available for download.

Last week, I spoke with Vernor Vinge [Wikipedia | website], a retired San Diego State University professor of mathematics. He is better known as a five-time Hugo Award-winning science fiction author. His works include True Names, Fast Times at Fairmont High, and Rainbows End. Most importantly, his 1993 essay “The Coming Technological Singularity,” argues that accelerating technological change will bring about the end of the human era as we know it, and that the world will become so complex and foreign to human observers, it will be impossible to predict what will happen next.

Ray Kurzweil and others have since contributed to the popularization of the Singularity, but the conversation has been centered on technological determinism. In a world that is consumed by accelerating change, what are the implications for systems that are at risk of being outpaced — namely, human systems? And, what are the implications for how we will learn and work in the near future?


I got this sort of vision where the human workplace is scattered in both space and time, and for a single career, it’s not a merely a matter of changing your career every couple years, it’s a matter of actually changing your point of attention on smaller time scales.

What can science fiction tell us about our future?

According to Vinge, a lot. He helped introduce the cyberpunk genre in the early with his 1981 Novel, true Names. He says, “the technological situation we have now is very similar to what was described in True Names, which actually was implicitly targeted in the year 2014,” but much of that can be attributed to pure luck.

The future authors of the genre have envisioned, he argues, has emerged today as a mix of expected and unexpected dystopian and hopeful elements. Society of today, he believes, has not changed much since the early 1980s. Corporate dominance in government, for example, is still at the same level as it was before, and our views on technology shifted since 1984:

Before the year 1984, people generally looked at computers the way George Orwell did in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. After 1984, people had these great visions of computers freeing the people from tyrannies, and that is still a real possibility… and it is a possibility that has come true in large parts of the world. But, I would say the jury is still out as to what the ultimate effectiveness of computers and communication automation favors tyranny or favors liberty. I’m putting my bets on liberty, but I would say it’s not an obvious win in either direction.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the Singularity was introduced at the NASA VISION-21 Symposium. What’s changed?

I’m still where I was in my 1993 essay that I gave at a NASA meeting, and that is that I define the Technological Singularity as being our developing, through technology, superhuman intelligence — or becoming, ourselves, superhuman intelligent through technology. And, I think calling that the Singularity is actually a very good term in the sense of vast and unknowable change. A qualitatively different sort of change than technological progress in the past.

He still believes four pathways could lead to the development of the Singularity by 2030:

  1. The development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent.
  2. Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
  3. Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
  4. Biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.

When asked which one is more likely, he hinted that he sees a digital Gaia of networks plus people emerging:

The networked sum of all the embedded microprocessors in all our devices becomes a kind of digital Gaia. That qualifies, as an ensemble, as a superhuman entity. That is probably the weirdest of all possibilities because, if anything, it looks like animism. And, sometimes I point to it when I want to make the issue that this can be very strange. I think that actually the networking of embedded microprocessors is going like gangbusters. The network that is the Internet plus humanity, that is also going with extraordinarily surprises, if you just look at the successes in the various schemes that go by names like crowdsourcing. To me, those have been astounding, and should give people real pause with how to use the intellectual resources actually that we have out there. So far, we do not have a single computer that is really of human-level intelligence, and I think that is going to happen. But, it is a kind of an amazing thing that we have an installed base of seven billion of these devices out there.

What does this mean for schools?

Vinge believes talking about post-Singularity situations in education are impractical. In theory, is impossible for us to predict or comprehend what will happen, so we should not focus our attention on worrying about post-Singularity futures. Rather, we should focus on the ramp-up toward the Singularity, our unique talents, and how we can network together to utilize them in imaginative ways:

Talking about the run-up to the Singularity makes sense for several different reasons. One is, we have to get through it. The other is that it is our opportunity, as the chief players… it’s our opportunity to make things turn out safely and happily. In the meantime, at just the level of just getting one’s job done, I think there are real changes that are going to be happening in education and more broadly in training issues. I think one thing that is going to become more-and-more evident is the fact that we have seven billion people out there who are variously good … very good … at different things. And, there are ways of enhancing and amplifying that by collaboration. And, when I say “collaboration” […] it is a very good thing. But, if you look at some of the group mind projects and crowdsourcing projects, there is very great imagination that can be exercised in making collaboration effective. One thing is to interface people who have very different skills — that can actually be helped a lot by the network.

When dealing with unknown futures, it remains unknown how to prepare people best for these futures. He states that the best pathway involves teaching children “to learn how to learn” (a key theme in Fast Times at Fairmont High), and that we need to encourage the development of positive futures by attending to diversity in our learning systems. We need to not facilitate the formation of diverse students, but we also need to abandon a monoculture approach to education and attend to a diverse ecology of options in teaching and evaluation.

Most importantly, to meet the individual needs of students, he believes, we need to focus on “shifting the emphasis from intense attention to process and having the process of the teaching right … shifting that attention to having independent rating agencies that are not so much interested in process as they are in giving reliable rating information to people who have to judge the results of the money that is being spent on the education.”

Rethinking human capital development in Knowmad Society

Note: This text is adapted from the original Spanish-language text that I wrote for the first Chapter 1 in Invisible Learning (a book co-written with Cristóbal Cobo). An updated and expanded version of this text will also appear in the next volume, Knowmad Society, due for release later in 2012, and is being shared early to ignite discussion for the upcoming On the Horizon special issue on “Borderless Society.” (The call for papers is still open.)

This working paper presents a framework for conceptualizing changes in society, driven by the forces of globalization, transformations of knowledge society, and accelerating change. The framework is centered on three social paradigms, which Moravec (2008c) labels “Society 1.0,” “Society 2.0,” and “Society 3.0” — expressed as Industrial Society, Knowledge Society, and Knowmad Society. Society 1.0 reflects the norms and practices of pre-industrial to industrial civilization. Society 2.0 refers to the radical social transformations that we are experiencing today, largely due to technological change. The 3.0 or Knowmad Society points to a state of society that is in our near future, where accelerating technological change is projected to have huge transformative consequences. This text considers the human capital development consequences and necessary transformations in education to meet the needs of a rapidly transforming society, and looks into some of the challenges facing Knowmad Society in an era of accelerating change.

The paradoxical co-existence of “Education 1.0” in “Society 3.0”

Society 1.0

Society 1.0 refers to the agricultural to industrial-based society that was largely present through the 18th century through the end of the 20th century. In the early portion of this period, economic activity was centered on family-based enterprises. Children learned at home, and children worked at home. Kids and adults were engaged cross-generationally. Not only were children valuable contributors to the economy at all levels, but adults and kids learned from each other. This paradigm facilitated “learning by doing,” which was formally adopted by organizations such as 4-H, which embraced the principle that if you teach youth ideas and skills, they would, in turn, teach their parents (4-H, 2010).

The rise of the industrial economy saw growth in wage and salary-based enterprises. Kids began to work at low-level, and often dangerous jobs, until they were segregated from the workplace to maintain their welfare. Thus also began the industrialization of education, where, separated from the primary production economy, children were placed into an institutional mechanism where kids learned skills from adults (and not vice-versa), and eventually emerged from the system as “educated,” young adults, immediately employable for the industrial economy.

In Society 1.0, we interpreted data – leading to the information age. By and large, our relationships were hierarchical. That is, was easy to tell how we related with each other. Companies had reporting structures that were easy to decipher. And, we had siloed jobs and roles within organizations and communities. Moreover, we did everything we could to avoid chaos and ambiguity.Leading toward the end of the 20th century, this model worked fine. It was easy to understand. It was easily operationalized. And, it benefitted from an education system that produced workers for the industrial-modeled economy.

By the end of the 20th century, the industrialization of education and proliferation of meritocratic academic structures in the 1.0 paradigm all but eliminated the recognition of “learning by doing.” Moreover, this evolved norm generally provided socioeconomic advantages for those that successfully navigated the industrialized meritocracy (better jobs, better pay) than those who avoided it or did not survive the system .

Society 2.0

The appearance of Society 2.0 is associated with the emergence of the knowledge society that materialized in the 20th century (see esp. Drucker, 1969, 1985). Information needed to be interpreted, necessitating the creation of knowledge workers. However, as Polyani (1968) explains, the nature of knowledge, itself, is personal and is composed of tacit and explicit components. They combine in the creation of personally-constructed meanings that defy the absolute objectivity of Society 1.0’s industrial information model. Moreover, as social animals, humans engage in social networking activities and share their personal knowledge across ever complex systems. This growing ecosystem of personally-constructed meanings and values facilitated the creation of the field of knowledge management in the latter half of the 20th century, which attempted to manage the new elements of chaos and ambiguity related to personal knowledge that were inputted into organizational systems.

Advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs) facilitated the broadened production of socially-constructed meanings. Many of these advancements are made possible through the convergence of the Internet (which has become the symbol for all things networking – personal and technological) and globalization, opening potentials for globally-aware and globally-present social networks. Tools that harness ICTs are being used not only to share ideas, but also to create new interpretations. A few scholars (see, for example, Mahiri, 2004) recognize this a “cut-and-paste” culture. One potent example of this cultural shift is hip-hop, which remixes and reuses sounds, lyrics, and imagery to create new meanings that are as much unique and individual to the hip-hop artist as the creator and the original source works. Other examples include the products of “Web 2.0” tools (see esp. Cobo Romaní & Pardo Kuklinski, 2007, for a detailed list and discussion) that allow individuals to harness new social networks to remix and share ideas and media (e.g., blogs, wikis, and YouTube).

The mass availability of these tools also allows everyday people to participate in an expanded array of vocations and citizen engagement. For example, tools such as blogs, Twitter and YouTube allow for the formation of citizen journalists, who are able to directly compete with mainstream media at a miniscule fraction of the cost that mainstream media needs to develop and deliver content . The technologies also allow for the formation of citizen scientists. By donating computing processing time, non-scientifically trained individuals can search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI@Home project), search for a cure for cancer (Folding@Home), and examine stellar particles retrieved from space (Stardust@Home). Likewise, the Audubon Society has long relied on its social network of professional and amateur birdwatchers to generate a statistically accurate estimate of birds within a given area. Furthermore, technologies allow for the greater democratization of markets, creating citizen capitalists that invest in a global market for ideas, talent, products, and other capital.

Social-orient ICTs carry constraints and limitations that forces individuals to transform how they think and act. For example, Twitter and mobile telephone short message services limit message sizes to 140 characters or less, forcing content producers to deliver clear, concise messages in limited space.

These transformations are leading to new questions for social and educational theorists that are still being debated – and research suggests that these changes are impacting the fundamental organization of the human brain (see esp. Small & Vorgan, 2008). Some key questions arising are: Does Society 2.0 dumb people down, or are we creating a new, hyper-connected, social super-intelligence? If technologically-savvy youth are composing their thoughts in 140 characters or less, are we facing a loss of literacy? In a world of Twitter, do we have any capacity for full-length novels? In a world with YouTube, can we sit through feature length films? Is technological change, paired with globalization, leading to a loss of our cultural heritages? And, finally, what is needed from education to remain relevant in a cut-and-paste society where information flows freely?

Society 3.0

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson (interviewed in Gladstone, 1999)

For most of us, Society 3.0 is in the future – possibly in the distant future. But, for a few people leading the change toward this proto-paradigm, it is very real. Three drivers are leading us to the formation of Society 3.0, which describes a world that is somewhere between “just around the corner” and “just beyond the horizon” of today’s state-of-the-art:

  1. Accelerating technological and social change;
  2. Continuing globalization and horizontalization of knowledge and relationships; and,
  3. Innovation society fueled by knowmads.

Kurzweil (1999) postulates a theory he labels the Law of Accelerating Returns to describe the evolutionary process that leads to accelerating technological and social change:

As order exponentially increases, time exponentially speeds up (that is, the time interval between salient events grows shorter as time passes). (Kurzweil, 1999, p. 30)

Figure 1. Accelerating Technological Change

[Note. The J-curve of accelerating change illustrates the exponential development and exponentially reduced costs of technologies. One example is evident in the evolution of microprocessors, which follow Moore’s (1965) Law of doubling the number of transistors on integrated circuits every two years, while also reducing the costs of associated processing speed, memory capacities, etc. The inflection point on the graph is the approximate location of the Technological Singularity, at which point change occurs so rapidly that the human mind cannot imagine what will happen next. One way of thinking of the magnitude of accelerating change is that if Moore’s Law is followed for the next 600 years, a single microprocessor would have the computational equivalency of the known Universe (Krauss & Starkman, 2004).]

In other words, change is occurring rapidly, and the pace of change is increasing. Kurzweil’s idea is founded on the proposal that as technologies evolve, the technologies improve, costs decrease; and, in turn, the process of technological evolution advances and speeds itself up, creating a J-curve of exponential, accelerating change (see Figure 1, above). As technologies evolve, so will society (Morgan, 1877). This acceleration of change, however, is also expected to impact human imagination and foresight. Vinge (1993) terms the theoretical limit of human foresight and imagination (illustrated as the inflection point on the above graphic) as the Technological Singularity. As the rate of technological advancement increases, it will become more difficult for a human observer to predict or understand future technological advancements.

Given the rate of exponential advancement illustrated by Kurzweil (2005), the rate of technological advancements in the future may seem nearly simultaneous. At this point, Vinge and Kurzweil hypothesize society will reach a point labeled the Technological Singularity. Kurzweil further believes the Singularity will emerge as the complex, seemingly chaotic outcome of converging technologies (esp. nanotechnology, robots, computing, and the human integration of these technologies).

As previously noted, technological change facilitates social change. Near future technological advancements are therefore expected to ignite periods of social transformation that defies human imagination today.

The impacts of accelerating technological and social changes on education are enormous. Today’s stakeholders in our youths’ future must prepare them for futures that none of us can even dream are possible.

Continuing globalization is leading to a horizontalized diffusion of knowledge in domains that were previously siloed, creating heterarchical relationships, and providing new opportunities for knowledge to be applied contextually in innovative contexts. In learning contexts, this means that we are becoming not only co-learners, but also co-teachers as we co-constructively produce new knowledge and its applications.

Table 1 summarizes key differences between the three social paradigms that we explore in this book. In the shift from Society 1.0 to Society 3.0, basic relationships transform from linear, mechanistic and deterministic order to a new order that is highly non-linear, synergetic and design-oriented. The effects of accelerating change suggest that causality, itself, may seem to express anticausal characteristics, due to the near instantaneousness of events experienced by a society in a period of continuous, accelerating change. Therefore, how reality is contextualized (and contextually responded to) becomes much more important to citizens in Society 3.0 than it was in previous paradigms.

Table 1: Societies 1.0 through 3.0 across various domains

Knowmads in Society 3.0

A knowmad is what Moravec (2008a) terms a nomadic knowledge and innovation worker – that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Moreover, knowmads are valued for the personal knowledge that they possess, and this knowledge gives them a competitive advantage. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas the industrialization of Society 1.0 required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific in regard to task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work either at a specific place, virtually, or any blended combination. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities. Consider, for example, coffee shops. These environments have become the workplace of choice for many knowmads. What happens when the investment banker sitting next to the architect have a conversation? What new ideas, products, and services might be created?

The remixing of places and social relationships is also impacting education. Students in Knowmad Society should learn, work, play, and share in almost any configuration. But there is little evidence to support any claim that education is moving to the 3.0 paradigm.


  1. Are not restricted to a specific age.
  2. Build their personal knowledge through explicit information gathering and tacit experiences, and leverage their personal knowledge to produce new ideas.
  3. Are able to contextually apply their ideas and expertise in various social and organizational configurations.
  4. Are highly motivated to collaborate, and are natural networkers, navigating new organizations, cultures, and societies.
  5. Purposively use new technologies to help them solve problems and transcend geographical limitations.
  6. Are open to sharing what they know, and invite the open access to information, knowledge and expertise from others.
  7. Can unlearn as quickly as they learn, adopting new ideas and practices as necessary.
  8. Thrive in non-hierarchical networks and organizations.
  9. Develop habits of mind and practice to learn continuously.
  10. Are not afraid of failure.

(Note: List inspired by Cobo, 2008)

When we compare the list of skills required of knowmads to the outcomes of mainstream education, we wonder: What are we educating for? Are we educating to create factory workers and bureaucrats? Or, are we educating to create innovators, capable of leveraging their imagination and creativity?


Invisible learning a new expressions of human capital development in Knowmad Society

Knowmad Society necessitates the transformation from industrial paradigm, “banking” pedagogies (see esp. Freire, 1968) that transmit “just in case” information and knowledge (i.e., memorization of the world’s capitals) toward modes that utilize the invisible spaces to develop personally- and socially- meaningful, actionable knowledge. There is growing recognition that people with unique, key knowledge and skills (i.e., knowmads) are critical for the success of modern organizations. Godin (2010) argues successful people in today’s organizations serve as “linchpins.” From an interview with Goden by Hyatt (2010), Godin states:

The linchpin insists on making a difference, on leading, on connecting with others and doing something I call art. The linchpin is the indispensable one, the one the company can’t live without. This is about humanity, not compliance.

In their book, The Element, Robinson & Aronica (2009) interview many people who have experienced success in their careers, and identified that the people they spoke with found their “element” – that is, their success was largely due to the fact that they did something they enjoyed in addition to being good at it. This runs contrary to the “just in case” industrial model of education, and suggests that if we enable more people to pursue their passions and support them, they can achieve success.

In the 3.0 proto-paradigm, the inherent chaos and ambiguity related to tremendous technological and social changes call for a resurgence of “learning by doing.” In a sense, we are creating the future as we go along. As co-learners and co-teachers, we are co-responsible for helping each other find our own elements along our pathways of personal, knowmadic development.

How do we measure learning in the invisible spaces?

The cult of educational measurement

A key concern for policymakers and other stakeholders in education is, what is being learned? In an education system focused on industrial production, this is an important quality control issue.

The linearity of the industrial paradigm thrives on mechanical processes. For example, groups of learners are expected to read books progressively, chapter-by-chapter, and recite the information and “facts” they acquired linearly through memorization. In this paradigm, the use of summative evaluation (i.e., tests) is de rigueur.

Throughout the world, we have adopted this culture of industrial learning and evaluation en masse, and created a cult of educational measurement to support it. In the United States, this is manifested through the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. In Spain, the cult is evident in the filtering processes that lead to the Prueba de Acceso. In the United Kingdom, it is expressed within the National Curriculum (Education Reform Act of 1988). And so on.

With policies with names like “No Child Left Behind,” it is hard to disagree: is the alternative to leave children behind? The unfortunate reality, however, is that in these industrial policies we tend to leave many children behind. These industrial-modeled, testing-centric regimes produce exactly the wrong products for the 21st Century, but is appropriate for what the world needed between the 19th century through 1950. As Robinson (2001) and others have argued, these fractured memorization models oppose the creative, synthetic thinking required for work in the new economy and effective citizenship.

Leapfrogging beyond the cult of educational measurement

Focus on how to learn, not what to learn.

In the Invisible Learning proto-paradigm, rote, “just in case” memorization is replaced with learning that is intended to be personally meaningful for all participants in the learning experience. Moreover, the application of knowledge toward innovative problem solving takes primacy over the regurgitation of previous knowledge or “facts.” In essence, as discussed in the previous chapter, students very much become knowledge brokers (Meyer, 2010).

Moreover, the Invisible Learning paradigm enables students to act on their knowledge, applying what they know to solve problems –including problems that have not been solved before. This contextual, purposive application of personal knowledge to create innovative solutions negates the value of non-innovation-producing standardized testing.

The “learning by doing” aspect of Invisible Learning that focuses on how to learn rather than what to learn suggests that measurement or evaluation needs to be outcomes-based in the same way that we evaluate innovations:

  • What happened?
  • Did something new happen? Something unexpected?
  • Was there a positive benefit?
  • What can others learn from the experience?

Although there is a large body of literature supporting the need for formative assessments in education (see, for example, Armstrong, 1985; Marzano, 2003; Stiggins, 2008; Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2007), as well as a rich educational literature theory base that suggests we need to move toward learner-centered learning (perhaps the most vocal being Dewey, 1915; Freire, 2000), summative evaluations still persist in formal learning environments that present little value to the learner. Strategies to bring the informal into the formal are already present and widely adopted in business, industry, and, ironically, within some teacher education programs.

For example, Pekka Ihanainen (2010) explains that Finnish vocational teacher education, for example, is built on a dialogical professional development model. Knowledge and expertise areas of the teachers in training are identified and compared with their occupational competency requirements and goals. Following this assessment, career development trajectories and educational pathways are developed. The system is not designed to determine only how teachers in training meet state requirements, but also relates to their individual interests and professional development goals.

Finally, releasing ourselves from the cult of measurement requires faith and confidence that we are always learning. As we will discuss in the following chapters, as human beings, we are always engaged in learning– it is one of our most natural activities.

Implementing Invisible Learning: Making the invisible visible

The difficulties in mainstreaming Invisible Learning in Western education are daunting. Formal systems are deeply entrenched. Governments believe in the formal approach (it looks good on paper and within state and national budgets). Entire industries (i.e., textbooks, educational measurement) are built around it. And, the scale of the industrialization of education leaves many people wondering if it’s worth fighting against.

The system is further reinforced, by design, to change at a glacial pace. While markets can transform and reinvent themselves virtually overnight, governments cannot. They are designed to be slow and deliberative. As a result, they tend to lag significantly and react to change more often than they proactively design orpreact to beneficial changes.

Paradoxically, despite being key components of systems most responsible for developing human capital and human development futures, education is designed to change even slower. Educational institutions and systems report to governments, respond to governmental policies, and align their programs to satisfy requirements and funding formulae established by legislative bodies. Moreover, these criteria, including establishing what to teach, depends on who sits on what committee at any given time. By relying on personalities, political gamesmanship, and feedback-looped special interests from the formal educational industrial complex, many question if the system has perhaps become too large, too slow, and unfocused.

The problem is, the emerging pressures of Society 3.0 require educational transformation today. Schools need to develop students that can design future jobs, industries and knowledge fields that we have not dreamed of. Schools need to operate as futurists, not laggards.

Is educational reform worth fighting for?


Rather, it’s time to start anew. As Sir Ken Robinson eloquently states, we need a revolution, not reform (TED, 2010).

Revolutions are difficult to ignite. An entire genre of literature that Carmen Tschofen terms “change manifestos” has emerged in education that is rich in calls for change, but falls flat on actually creating the change it calls for (Moravec, 2010). The system, perhaps, has too much inertia. As Harkins and Moravec (2006) suggest in their “Leapfrog University” memo series to the University of Minnesota, perhaps a parallel approach is necessary.

Rather than fighting the system, students, parents, communities, and other life-long learners can invest in establishing parallel, new schools and/or networks of learning, discovering, innovating, and sharing. And some communities are already leading the way with innovative initiatives. For example:

  • Shibuya University Network (Japan): “Yasuaki Sakyo, president of Shibuya University, believes that education should be lifelong. At Shibuya, courses are free and open to all; classes take place in shops, cafes and outside; and anyone can be a teacher” (CNN, 2007). In essence, the entire community and its environment have become the co-learners, co-teachers, and classroom.
  • The Bank of Common Knowledge (Banco Común de Conocimientos, Spain) “is a pilot experience dedicated to the research of social mechanisms for the collective production of contents, mutual education, and citizen participation. It is a laboratory platform where we explore new ways of enhancing the distribution channels for practical and informal knowledge, as well as how to share it” (Bank of Common Knowledge, n.d.).
  • (Technology, Entertainment, Design, USA) challenges lecture-based education by creating “a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other” (TED, n.d.).

Redefining human capital development

To move forward in making Invisible Learning visible, we need to engage in conversations on what futures we want to create. We need to clarify our visions of the future. In China, India, and throughout much of the developing world, the vision is simple: Catch up to the West through planned development. But, in the United States, Europe, and much of the rest of the Western world, concrete visions of where we want to be in the future are absent. We assert that we either do not know where we want to be in the future or we lack the foresight to imagine ourselves in a future that is very different from today.

The consequence is that we are not making investments into our human capital development systems that will enable us to meet needs set by future challenges. We need to prepare our youth and other members of society for a future and workforce needs that we cannot imagine. Moreover, given the potential for today’s youth to be engaged productively in a “post-Singularity” era, it is important to assist them in the development of skills and habits of mind (i.e., the Leapfrog Institutes’ liberal skills outlined in the “Leapfrog” memo series archived at Education Futures). that will foster life-long learning and the innovative applications of their knowledge.

This lack of vision –and acting on it– impacts not only education, but also other areas of our socioeconomic wellbeing. Bob Herbert (2010) recently wrote for the New York Times on the United States’ new unfound willingness to invest in ideas that could increase potentials for future growth and prosperity:

The United States is not just losing its capacity to do great things. It’s losing its soul. It’s speeding down an increasingly rubble-strewn path to a region where being second rate is good enough. (Herbert, 2010)

As organizations, communities, and nations, we need to set visions for the futures we will co-create, and act upon them. Throughout the remainder of this volume, we explore some of the methods individuals, teams, and organizations may employ to help develop these visions of the future.

Using technology purposively

When engaged in conversations about invisible learning or other innovations in education, there is a tendency for people to gravitate their thoughts toward technology as if it can serve as a “silver bullet” to slay the allegorical werewolf of the persistence of the Education 1.0 model. Innovation in education does not mean “technology.” Douglas Adams (1999) elaborated on the challenges of defining the purpose of the Internet:

Another problem with the net is that it’s still ‘technology’, and ‘technology’, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is ‘stuff that doesn’t work yet.’ We no longer think of chairs as technology, we just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often ‘crash’ when we tried to use them. Before long, computers will be as trivial and plentiful as chairs (and a couple of decades or so after that, as sheets of paper or grains of sand) and we will cease to be aware of the things. In fact I’m sure we will look back on this last decade and wonder how we could ever have mistaken what we were doing with them for ‘productivity.’ (Adams, 1999)

Moreover, we use the term “technology” to describe new tools that we do not understand. In other words, the purposive uses of “technology” are not well defined. As a result, in educational contexts, we often take the best technologies and squander the opportunities they afford us. Roger Schank (in Molist, 2010) puts it bluntly:

It’s the same garbage, but placed differently. Schools select new technologies and ruin them. For example, when television came, every school put one in each classroom, but used it to do exactly the same things as before. The same with computers today. Oh, yes, we have e-larning! What does it mean? Then they give the same terrible course, but online, using computers in a stupid way.(Molist, 2010)

Conversely, the Invisible Learning approach to technology is purposive, pragmatic and centered at improving the human experience at its core. Specifically, this means that it is:

  • Well-defined: The purpose and applications of particular technologies need to be specified. Bringing in technologies for the sake of using technologies will likely lead to their misuse, underuse, and/or the creation of unintended outcomes.
  • Focused on developing mindware: The focus of technologies should not be on hardware or software, but on how they enhance our mindware – that is, they focus is placed on how technologies can support our imaginations, creativity, and help us innovate.
  • Social: The use of technologies is often a social experience and their social applications should be addressed. This includes the leverage of social media tools for learning such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., which are commonly blocked from formal education settings.
  • Experimental: Embraces the concept of “learning by doing,” and allows for trial and error which can lead to successes and the occasional failure – but does not create failures.
  • Continuously evolving: As an area for “beta testing” new ideas and approaches to problems, it is continuously in a state of remixing and transformation. As society evolves continuously, so must our learning and sharing.

Who gets to leapfrog to Knowmad Society?

Lastly, a problem facing Invisible Learning is one of equity and equality. Is it appropriate for a select group of “invisible learners” to leapfrog ahead of peers who may be trapped within the paradigm of “education 1.0?” If 1% of the population benefits from Invisible Learning, what should we do about the other 99%? Should they not have the right to leapfrog ahead, too?

We believe so. But, we also recognize the incredible inertia mainstream Education 1.0 possesses. Given rates of accelerating technological, social and economic change, we cannot wait. The revolution in learning and human capital development needs to begin now. This may mean starting out small, working parallel with entrenched systems, but it also means we need to lead by example.



Call for papers: "Borderless society"

Please consider contributing to this special issue of On the Horizon. I will serve as the guest editor:

Call for Papers

On the Horizon – special issue

“Borderless society: The ‘new’ work and education”

Guest editor: Dr. John Moravec

Brief description

In a world driven by exponential accelerating technological and social change, globalization, and a push for more creative and context-driven innovations, how can we ensure the success of ourselves as individuals, communities, and the planet? This special issue of On the Horizon explores the converging future of learning, work and how we relate with each other in this emerging paradigm.

Of particular importance are the emerging class of borderless “new workers,” “neo-nomads” (or knowmads):

[…] a nomadic knowledge worker –that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrialization required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific in regard to task and place.

This issue aims to explore the role of education in developing and supporting such a “knowmad society.” While a traditional lens of organizational thought is used to describe the rise of knowmads in this call for papers, other creative approaches to exploring the changing workforce and human potential development needs are invited.

Suggested topics include (but are not limited to)

  • Roles of technology in human potential development for hyper-individualized creative and innovation workers
  • The role of learning organizations in the creation of personal identity in post-cultural society
  • Key skills and competencies development areas for knowmadic, new workers
  • The economics of education for knowmadic workers
  • Maximizing human potential development in a society embroiled in accelerating change
  • Managing chaos and uncertainty in post-industrial careers
  • Redesigning and reformatting conceptualizations of space and “place” to attend to needs of knowmadic learners and workers
  • New economics and comparative dimensions of knowmadic workers globally
  • Do knowmads have to roam the earth physically or can they roam virtually and live locally?
  • What new worker parallels are emerging in other working classes (i.e., blue collar workers)?

Submissions of title and 250-word proposal due: July 1, 2012

Notice of acceptance: July 13, 2012

Papers due: December 1, 2012

Review result notification: January 15, 2013

Submit a paper

Submissions to this special issue of On the Horizon should be sent to the guest editor at

General questions to:

Tom P. Abeles, editor
On the Horizon

More information, including full author guidelines, is available at:

Download the Emerald Insight’s official flyer for this CFP.

Perspectives on Invisible Learning

By popular demand, here are the slides from my Invisible Learning “stump lecture” from the past month:

In an era of globalization and “flattening” of our relatiohships around the Earth, how can we learn better? What happened to learning as we moved from the stable structures of the 20th century to fluid and amorphic structures of the 21st century? What roles do schools and colleges play when you can learn in any context and at any time? Do we continue with formal learning or do we formalize informal learning?

This is an open invitation to explore some of the best ideas emerging around the planet that are contributing to a new ecology of learning.

More info:

The emerging and future roles of academic libraries

Libraries are actively reinventing themselves for the digital age.  Confronted with corrosive budgets, skyrocketing costs, and challenged by a fear of obsolesce resulting from the accelerating rate of technological change; libraries are struggling for their survival.  For the academic library — the “heart” of the modern research university — survival requires demonstrating their value in new ways, embedding themselves deeper into the university’s core functions of teaching, learning, and research.  Although daunting, these challenges are nothing new for academic li-braries.

Within a generation, the signs of change are highly visible.  Gone are the card catalogues, monastic study corrals, and physical books replaced by media labs, new expertise in strategic areas (teaching and learning, information literacy, copyright, data visualization, and media production), and professionally designed collaborative workspaces.  The resonance of these changes has extended beyond the bookends of the library.  Just this week the Atlantic Monthly blog crowned the 2011 South by Southwest Festival “The Year of the Librarian”.

Photo: library cards Creative Commons BY NC SA 2.0 dorywithserifs

Despite radical attempts to meet the changing needs of every generation of scholars critics have argued that the library — in its current form — may have outlived its purpose.  For some change at the library hasn’t come quickly enough.  A recent editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education codifies this position, accusing practitioners of being complicit — spending the last few decades rearranging the books in the Titanic library.  Sullivan, (2011) contends:

“… it is entirely possible that the life of the academic library could have been spared if the last generation of librarians had spent more time plotting a realistic path to the future and less time chasing outdated trends while mindlessly spouting mantras like “There will always be books and libraries” and “People will always need librarians to show them how to use information.” We’ll never know now what kind of treatments might have worked. Librarians planted the seeds of their own destruction and are responsible for their own downfall”.

I disagree.  There is ample evidence that library leaders have in earnest set their sights on the future — most notably, two of the largest American academic library professional organizations (The Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and Research Libraries), recently produced future oriented reports to catalyze support for the value of academic libraries, and to provide vision for the future.  In my mind, these reports capture the excitement of an institution in transition, and provide insights into the future of higher education as a whole.

Futures Research
The first report, from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a nonprofit professional organization which represents 126 of the largest college and university research libraries in the United States and Canada, created the ARL 2030 Scenarios project to address their strategic focus:

“How do we transform our organization(s) to create differential value for future users (individuals, institutions, and beyond), given the external dynamics redefining the research environment over the next 20 years?

ARL members were invited to participate in individual interviews, focus groups, and a survey.  Key stakeholders from within and outside the academic library community codified the results into four distinct scenarios.  The results were intentionally distributed inside of a user’s guide to ensure that the scenarios were packaged with an accompanying template for utilizing the scenarios at academic libraries as part of their strategic planning process.

Scenario 1: Research Entrepreneurs
In this future “individual researchers are the stars of the story”.  Academic institutions and disciplinary silos are no longer relevant for entrepreneurial researchers who chase short-to-long term contract work from private and public sources.

Scenario 2: Reuse and Recycle
Scenario 2 outlines a world defined by an “ongoing scarcity of economic resources” which forces the reuse and recycling of research activities, with virtually no public support for research.  Academic institutions persist, but have little to offer scholars.

Scenario 3: Disciplines in Charge
Utilizing advances in information technology “computational approaches to data analysis dominates the research enterprise”, fostering massive research projects aligned around “data-stores”.  Two classes of researchers emerge: those who “control the disciplinary organization and their research infrastructure” and everyone else who “scramble to pick up the piecework”.

Scenario 4: Global Followers
As funding forces dry up in the West academic power shifts to the Middle East and Asia.  Scholars continue to do their research but with new cultural influences from Middle Eastern and Asian funding agencies.

ARL Scenario Space
Figure 1: ARL Scenario Space, Creative Commons BY NC ND

The real strength of ARL’s scenarios is the user guide toolkitScenario planning — and futures research in general — is often criticized for being too empyreal.  ARL addresses this criticism head-on featuring six chapters dedicated to implementing of the scenarios within an academic library.  Also, as part of an ongoing process towards validating and refining each scenario articles, studies, and reports are being collected and coded as they pertain to each of the 4 possible futures.

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), another leader in the academic library world, also recently completed a future oriented study presenting 26 possible scenarios for 2025.  ACRL is the largest division of the American Library Association (ALA) with over 12,000 members worldwide.

Research for this study began with an intensive two-month review of quantitative and qualitative literature related to how academic libraries demonstrate their value.  ACRL staff then combined the results into 26 possible scenarios.  ACRL members were surveyed on the probability of each scenario occurring, the impact of each scenario, the speed at which the scenario might unfold, and whether the scenario reflects a threat or opportunity to academic libraries.  The survey results were then visually displayed on a problem space with a number corresponding to each scenario, with green numbers representing opportunities for academic libraries, and red signaling threats (Figure 2).

ACRL Scenario Space
Figure 2: ACRL Scenario Space, Creative Commons NC SA

The survey results concluded nine of the scenarios were highly probable and impactful including: “breaking the textbook monopoly”, “bridging the scholar/practitioners divide”, “everyone is a ‘non-traditional’ student”, “I see what you see” [advancements in IT make collaboration with users easier], “increasing threats of cyberwar, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism”, “meet the new freshman” [librarians help non-traditional student cross the digital divide], “right here with me” [advances in mobile technology for research and publication], “scholarship stultifies”, and “this class brought to you by…” [increased corporate sponsorships of courses and research].

The combined 30 scenarios presented by ARL and ACRL describe the potentially hostile, but promising world for academic libraries in the next 20 years.  The three most common themes throughout all of the scenarios: the impact of technology, the changing informational and infrastructural needs of their users, and the challenges to creating novel funding sources to combat acute budget shortfalls present real opportunities for leadership on the part of library administrators.

Although some have criticized these first attempts at futures research as a waste of time, I argue these reports have been successful because they have forced the debate about the future of the academic library to the forefront of the profession.  Certainly futures research cannot predict the future, however these scenarios provide academic libraries a chance to both strategize for what is most likely to happen, while advocating from an informed position for their most desirable future.

Association Research Libraries. (2010). The ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User?s Guide for Research Libraries. Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Connelly, P. (2011). SXSW 2011: The Year of the Librarian. Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from

Staley, D. J., & Malenfant, K. J. (2010). Futures Thinking For Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025. Retrieved from

Sullivan, B. T. (2011). Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from



Five predictions for 2011 that will rock the education world

Continuing a tradition started in years past, I list out my predictions for the key stories that will rock the education world in 2011. If I could put it into five words, 2011 will be all about mobile, mobile, change, change, and mobile. This next year, I’m looking more at the big picture:

  1. 2011 will be the Year of the Tablet, but schools still will not know what to do with them. Let’s face it, technology companies do not quite know what tablets are good for, either. Rather than provide consumers with details on the iPad, Apple called it “amazing” and “magical” at its launch — but what does it do? Tie it in with the unfortunate reality that schools lag behind in technology leadership (they generally need others to tell them what to use), my fear is that we will end up with a lot of schools buying into the tablet craze but having no idea what to do with them. 2011 will be the year that we start to look for real leadership for educational technologies, and start to look into using new technologies to do “amazing” and “magical” things.
  2. Accelerating adoption of iPads, iPhones and other mobile technologies into social and cultural frameworks is transforming computing into an ambient experience — that is, immediate and purposive access to ICTs is available anywhere and anytime. Just as 2010 saw shifts in culture where it is no longer socially awkward to check into FourSquare or Facebook while on a date, 2011 will see the social and cultural acceptance and embracing of ambient computing continue.
  3. The New Normal: The recession is officially over, but many people are left unemployed or significantly underemployed. This human capital crisis needs to be dealt with promptly as people who thought they could live a middle-class lifestyle with old economy jobs (i.e., manufacturing and retail) are now considered as obsolete and unemployable. The challenge for educators and governments is to help them retrain for relevant career pathways — or, enable them to create new, innovative jobs that have not existed before. This new recognition of the importance of life-long learning and human capital development could launch a “Manhattan Project” equivalent in education that will transform our generation.
  4. We’re not out of the woods, yet. The principle of accelerating technological change prompts social change, which requires new technological transformations, and so forth. We are slowly recognizing that the only constant is change, and many industries will experience increasingly rapid cycles of transformation — for humans that are ill-prepared for change, this could mean more socioeconomic turmoil and unemployment. 2011 will give us a taste of what’s to come.
  5. People are mobile, too. Rapid developments in mobile technologies also enable society to become much more mobile, and we will see this reflected in the workforce, of which the leading edges will exhibit Knowmadic qualities. 2011 may not yet be the year of the Knowmad, but it could be the year that individuals wake up and realize they have options. For countries like the U.S. that are obsessed with controlling immigration, how would they respond when their best and brightest (especially our most competent educators) begin to migrate elsewhere? Will anybody be left around to turn off the lights?

What do you think?

Read my predictions from previous years:

Next Horizon Forum roundtable: Education and the Technological Singularity

An invitation to the next Horizon Forum meeting at the University of Minnesota:

Education and the Technological Singularity

January 27, 2010

11:30am – 1:30pm

250 Wulling Hall (U of M East Bank)

At the next Horizon Forum, you are invited to join the discussion, moderated by Arthur Harkins and John Moravec, with special guests, as we probe into the deep future of education.

The New York Times’ John Tierney published an interview with Ray Kurzweil on accelerating change:

Now, [Kurzweil] sees biology, medicine, energy and other fields being revolutionized by information technology. His graphs [of accelerating technological change] already show the beginning of exponential progress in nanotechnology, in the ease of gene sequencing, in the resolution of brain scans. With these new tools, he says, by the 2020s we’ll be adding computers to our brains and building machines as smart as ourselves.

What does this mean for schools today? Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity is criticized for being technologically deterministic. But, are there relevant social and cultural aspects related to the human experience? At the Horizon Forum’s next open roundtable, will explore what changes could take place in our schools and learning institutions within the next 35 years as technology transforms the human mind and human potential… and what we can start doing today!

Lunch and validated parking will be provided. Please RSVP your attendance by 10am on January 25 to Carole MacLean at or call 612-625-5060.

The Horizon Forum is sponsored by the Preparation to Practice Group in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. For for information about the Horizon Forum, contact John Moravec at or call 612-625-3517.

The Education Futures timeline of education

Education Futures celebrates its first five years of exploring new futures in human capital development with a timeline of the history of education from 1657-2045. This timeline provides not only a glimpse into modern education, but plots out a plausible future history for human capital development. The future history presented is intended to be edgy, but also as a conversation starter on futures for education and future thinking in human capital development.

As always, we invite your feedback and suggestions for further development! We expect many enhancements and updates to this resource in the near future.