Viewing posts tagged futures

A theory for invisible learning

Note: This is the second of a three-part series on a new theory for invisible learning.

Theory for Invisible Learning

When Cristóbal Cobo and I set out to write the book Aprendizaje Invisible (“Invisible learning”) five years ago, we sought to take a 360° and 3D view of the educational landscape—with an eye toward the future. We found the gap between formal learning and informal and non-formal modes of learning is becoming increasingly apparent.

We initially structured invisible learning as a metatheory, which recognizes that most of the learning we do is “invisible” —that is, it is through informal, non-formal, and serendipitous experiences rather than through formal instruction. We learn alone, or in a group, through individual and shared experiences. We learn more through experimentation, exploration, and through the consequences of enabling serendipity. Even though we cannot measure the knowledge in our heads, the consensus is that the vast majority of our knowledge is developed through invisible or informal means (see esp. this classic article by Jay Cross).

Invisible learning is not a theory for learning, itself. It is an end point or state of learning that emerges when we remove structures that control or direct our experiences. Therefore:

The Theory for Invisible Learning is that we learn more, and do so invisibly, when we separate structures of control that restrict freedom and self-determination from learning experiences.

The purpose of controlling an educational experience is to make learning visible. It is built on distrust of the learner – the false assumption that students will not learn unless they are told what to learn. In this sense, invisible learning is the end product of a theory which predicts that learning may blossom when we eliminate authoritarian control or direction of a learning experience by an “other” (i.e., teacher).

Removing structures of control opens possibilities. The end outcomes or goals of an experience are neither dictated nor determined from the start, but instead emerge as learning develops. Such experiences include free play, self-organized learning communities, authentic problem-based learning, and experimentation to acquire new knowledge.

Theory for Invisible Learning is focused on the development of personal knowledge: blends of tacit and explicit elements that embrace a portfolio of skills such as cooperation, empathy, and critical thinking as much as retaining facts. The implication is that there is no master template for enabling invisible learning, but rather we need to attend to the formation of an ecology of options for individuals to find their own ways. This suggests a growing need for bottom-up approaches to learning. By removing the rigidity of top-down control, and placing trust in learners, invisible learning can be made visible.

Posts in this series

  1. The need for invisible learning
  2. A theory for invisible learning
  3. Approaches for enabling invisible learning

Matt Novak takes us on a Paleofuture look into our hopes and fears

This interview is available as a mp3 download.

“I firmly believe that by studying yesterday’s futures we can get the most honest look at any given generation’s greatest hopes and darkest fears.”

Matt Novak began his blog Paleofuture in 2007 as part of his work in a college writing course. Since then, Novak’s analyses and critiques of technological and social retrofutures have been featured in numerous publications including BBC Future, Slate, The, and Smithsonian. On May 17th, 2013 Novak announced Paleofuture is  moving to Gizmodo.

Novak describes Paleofuture as a blog that, “takes a look at past visions of the future. Everything from flying cars, jet packs, and meal pills, to social futures like utopias and dystopias, primarily from the second half of the 19th century onward to the year 2000.” When Novak explains his work he often leads with examples of technological retrofutures but he has also “tried with [his] blog to explore other aspects of futurism that aren’t just gee whiz flying car stuff.”

Through his work the most important lesson Novak has learned, “is to remain skeptical at all times of trying to classify an entire generation.” For example, Novak researched the Apollo Space Program and discovered that in the 1960s the program was not very popular. In fact, “public approval of the program only once breached 51% of adult Americans and that was right after we landed on the Moon.” Novak theorizes that because the people who are telling the story now of what the space program was like then are baby boomers who were children at the time of the Apollo program, their nostalgia has helped to spread the incorrect narrative that at the time, “everyone was behind it.”

Novak has a talent for gleaning historical insights from futuristic inventions. For example, meal pills, a complete meal in pill form, according to Novak, “have their roots in late 19th century feminist novels.” They were designed to help “liberate women from the drudgery of the kitchen.” Novak describes meal pills as an example of how futures thinking can be used to talk about hard issues in a more lighthearted way.

This year, Novak gave a talk at SXSW on “Edison vs. Tesla & the myth of the lone inventor.” Novak said his talk was inspired by a Nikola Tesla cartoon by The Oatmeal, which Novak recalled, “was pretty entertaining, but it was filled with all kinds of errors.” During our conversation, Novak often returned to the importance of remaining skeptical to avoid oversimplifying historical narratives. Referring to the Tesla cartoon Novak noted, “anytime anyone makes the claim that a single man, or single person, invented something so broad as our entire world, or our entire electrical system, you obviously have to be quite skeptical.”

As part of a Paleofuture special series, The Jetsons at 50, Novak examined the concept of robot teachers. The idea of robot teachers was so prevalent and concerning at the time that the Oakland Tribune wrote an article in 1960 titled the “NEA allays parent fears on robot teacher,” in which the National Education Association said “it is true that teaching machines are on their way into the modern classroom and today’s youngsters will have a lot more mechanical aids than his parents. But the emphasis will still be on aid — not primary instruction.” Novak explained that a similar conversation happening now with online learning, “it seems that every broadcast medium has gone through a really wide-eyed techno-optimist stage… the Internet is obviously the next step in that.” Novak is partially interested in how people can be so optimistic about a new technology, but then, “it disappoints in a lot of ways […] it turns out you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, you take what works and implement that as a tool, just as all technology is a tool.”

Knowmad Society is now available!

Last December, we celebrated the completion of the Knowmad Society project by launching it at in Utrecht. Now, we are pleased to launch the website, and offer the book as a free download, a free iPhone app, or a $0.99 Kindle purchase.

Full details about book is available at

Photo by Rene Wouters

Knowmad Society launch – Photo by Rene Wouters

A collaboration between John Moravec, Cristóbal Cobo, Thieu Besselink, Christel Hartkamp, Pieter Spinder, Edwin de Bree, Bianca Stokman, Christine Renaud, and Ronald van den Hoff, Knowmad Society explores the future of learning, work and how we relate with each other in a world where we are now asked to design our own futures. These nine authors from three continents, ranging from academics to business leaders, share their visions for the future of learning and work, and provide insight into what they are doing now to help drive positive outcomes. Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart provides an afterword on his take on how to best support a knowmad society in the international arena.

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers –creative, imaginative, and innovative people 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 concerning task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work within a broader options of space, including “real,” virtual, or many blended. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities.

The authors explore knowmad society in terms of socioeconomic evolution from industrial, information-based society to knowledge-based society, to a creative, context-driven Knowmad Society. Educational and organizational implications are explored, experiences are shared, and the book concludes with a powerful message of “what’s it going to take” for nations and cultures to succeed in Knowmad Society.

Key topics covered include: reframing learning and human development; required skills and competencies; rethinking schooling; flattening organizations; co-creating learning; and new value creation in organizations.

Knowmad Society is published by Education Futures LLC with additional support from

Learning in Knowmad Society: Making invisible learning visible

Preface: Today, the Waag Society (institute for art, science and technology) released a new publication, Spelen leren, lerend spelen (“Playing games, learning games”). I have a short article article in the magazine, which was published in Dutch. Here’s an English translation:

In 1980, Seymour Papert predicted that computers would fundamentally transform education –and ultimately make schools, themselves, redundant. 30 years later, computers in schools are the norm, but we are still teaching the old way. Why?

In education, we have a hard time disentangling technologies from our conversations about innovations in learning. Too often, we place technologies in the forefront, which end up obscuring authentic knowledge formation. We often take the best technologies and squander the opportunities they afford us. Our knowledge-based societies demand a deeper change in our culture of teaching, and, particularly, in the ways in which we learn (and unlearn).

Moreover: 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. We need to rethink and explore all the “invisible” (non-formal, non-certified, but equally relevant) ways of learning in a world where personal knowledge development, comprised of both tacit and explicit elements, is rapidly becoming more valuable than commodified, industrial-style information delivery. How can we create innovators, capable of leveraging their unique imaginations and creativity?

In the Invisible Learning project, we sought to research and share experiences and innovative perspectives, focused on rethinking strategies and innovative approaches to learn and unlearn continuously. We highlighted the importance of critical thinking of the roles of formal, informal, non-formal and serendipitous education at all levels – which can contribute to the creation of sustainable processes of learning, innovating and designing new cultures for a global society.

In the Invisible Learning paradigm, “just in case,” rote 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 so-called “facts.”

Education in 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 regimes (i.e., standardized testing).

The purposive application of technologies can help. Our questions around educational improvement should therefore not be around what to learn, but rather about how we can learn. And, how we can make what we learned invisibly visible.

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.”

Proudly presenting "StoryTech: A personalized guide to the 21st century"

Education Futures is proud to present the second edition of StoryTech: A personalized guide to the 21st century, written by Arthur Harkins and George Kubik. The book is offered as a free download through Education Futures.

The guidebook offers a dynamic 21st century approach for integrating the power of your personal stories with the collective wisdom of groups, organizations, and societies. This book introduces readers to a very old process that could enhance strategic abilities to deal with change and opportunity.

To learn more about StoryTech, and to download a free copy, visit

EF contributors receive Emerald Literati Network Award for Excellence

Education Futures contributors Arthur Harkins and John Moravec have been chosen as “highly commended” award winners at the Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence 2012 for their article entitled Systemic Approaches to Knowledge Development and Application published in the journal, On the Horizon.

To highlight the paper further, the publisher has made the article free for download for the next three months. In the piece, Harkins and Moravec introduce systemic approaches to knowledge development and application — that is, a framework which provides a systems-language descriptive means for understanding and engaging in an expanding ecology of knowledge development options. We call this “MET” : mechanical (conservatively repetitive), evolutionary (self-organizing), and teleogenic (purposively creative). Many of the characteristics of the MET framework are summarized in this table (click to enlarge):

The MET knowledge development framework

From the article:

American preK-12 schooling systems may be primarily mechanical, but some of their students may learn at home or on the internet in parallel evolutionary and teleological ways. The question is how such students can survive the conservative impacts of the outdated majority culture mechanical model, especially if it is delivered in unsophisticated and undemanding ways. They may have to depend upon self-education, the help of their parents, and luck to avoid becoming the casualties of a declining knowledge-resistant culture. We believe that the MET archetypes, buttressed by [augmented reality], can help such people, beginning immediately.

Exploring the "3rd space" of co-working and co-learning

Last week, I traveled to Utrecht, The Netherlands, to participate in the 3rd Space World Conference, hosted by, a co-working enterprise that is establishing locations throughout the world. The event was designed to introduce people to sustainable co-working, and to also connect co-working centers and thought leaders together. Knowledge sharing, the enabling of serendipity and Society 3.0 are some of the other key elements that were covered.

I provided an update on the Knowmad Society project, which really looks at how third space people — knowmads — build and interact with the third space through education, working, and living:

Reflecting on the day, our moderator, Sebastian Olma, noted:

Obviously, the people populating 3rd spaces need a set of skills, attitudes and craftsmanship that is different form the one their industrial ancestors had. So education is an enormously important topic in this context and also one that “knowmad” John Moravec could only broach at the conference. It is true that we need to be rather imaginative in this area. However, and somewhat paradoxically, we also need to be very clear about the specific parameters that we want to use in order to set up a 3rd space of education as one of imagination, one that facilitates the formation of individuals able to navigate their tech-saturated environment as active contributors rather than passive consumers.

Other important talks recorded from the event:

The livestream of the event attracted over 1000 viewers from 31 countries, and nearly 125,000 people were reached by Twitter with approximately 1.8 million impressions. The topic trended in the Dutch twittersphere, and I’m sure it trended in other countries as well. From this initial success, plans to create a global platform to connect co-working spaces from around the world. Stay tuned!

Are you a knowmad or are you just lost?

Knowmads differentiate their jobs from work. Jobs are positions, gigs, or other forms of employment. Work is longer term in scope, and relates toward creating meaningful outcomes. One’s work differs from a career in Knowmad Society. Whereas a career is something that “carries” a person throughout life, an individual’s work is a collection of activities that are backed with elements that are purposive at the personal level. In other words, the results of a knowmad’s work are their responsibility alone.

Knowmads strive to continually define and refine their work. This can be expressed through occupying various jobs, apprenticeships, entrepreneurship, social activities, etc. If the knowmad makes a difference at their job, but there is little opportunity for creating change, then it’s time to move on. Without having a purposive direction to herd one’s various jobs into work, we must question if that person has found his or her way.

As we look to co-invent our futures of work, we need to look hard into what we are doing, and ask each other, are you a knowmad, or are you just lost?

Looking into 2012 – what's hot, what's not

In what has evolved into a sort of annual tradition, I again peered into my crystal ball (well, actually a truckload of reports, news articles, and a healthy dose of my own speculation) to see what we can expect in 2012. This time, however, I spoke with David Raths at Campus Technology magazine, and joined Michael Horn, Christopher Rice, and Kenneth Green in advising a “What’s hot, what’s not” list for 2012. A supplemental IT trends to watch in 2012 article is also posted on the Campus Technology website.

Read the article at Campus Technology.

Looking back: How did I do last year? In the article Five predictions for 2011 that will rock the education world, I said:

  1. “2011 will be the Year of the Tablet, but schools still will not know what to do with them.” Yup. That’s pretty much how it went.
  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.” The trend in this direction continues, and will likely become more apparent when Apple (and others) make strong pushes into our living rooms (i.e., an Apple television).
  3. “The New Normal: The recession is officially over, but many people are left unemployed or significantly underemployed.” Indeed, we now have a human capital crisis where talents that used to support a middle class lifestyle are now obsolete. Our education systems need to lead the way in navigating this “new normal.”
  4. “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.” Upgrade yourself or buckle in. 2012 could be rough.
  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.” Vivek Wadhwa, Tom Friedman, and others have been outspoken on the need to retain skilled knowledge workers (in the United States). So far, I can’t tell if anybody’s been listening…