Viewing posts tagged trends

The university of the future: Marching toward obsolescence?

A couple weeks ago, Carlos Scolari interviewed me for a project on pedagogical innovation and disruptive practices in higher education at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). The aim of the project is to produce a document on the “university of the future,” including diagnosis, trends, and proposals for moving forward.

With his permission, I am sharing my responses to his questions:

CS: How do you see the situation of the universities from a pedagogical point view? I’m thinking in the situation of teaching-learning processes inside these big institutions.

JM: From a pedagogical viewpoint, universities have invested too much in a monocultural approach to education. Most universities are using the same methods to teach all the same stuff. This is very dangerous as the world is changing so quickly that entire fields and bodies of knowledge risk being outdated/outmoded very quickly.

I believe that we need to start to expand the ecology of options that we have in higher education, including pedagogical approaches. Otherwise, we run the risk of failing universally.

CS: Why do you think it’s so difficult to change the teaching-learning practices in the universities?

JM: I think change is difficult within universities because we rely heavily on academic “traditions” that are built on faulty assumptions of teaching and learning. Some of most troubling assumptions (which are not based on science) include:

  • Motivation: We assume students must be externally motivated to learn, otherwise they would not learn anything. This is akin to assuming the natural state of humans is laziness and non-curious.
  • Age segregation: We assume people learn best when segregated by age or ability. We tend to compartmentalize education into certain discrete levels (i.e., primary, secondary, and tertiary education), and further segregate students by age. There is very little reason to support this practice, and evidence suggests that cross age/ability integration enhances students’ learning.
  • Power structures: We assume that the only “qualified” knowledge generators are the teachers at the head of the classroom, who download knowledge into students’ heads. In today’s world where the magnitude of change is accelerating at an exponential pace, information and knowledge is always in flux. Rather than relying on static “experts,” we need to start recognizing and attending to new power structures where we all serve as co-learners and co-teachers.

The good news is that “traditions” are things that we invent all the time. I am optimistic that we can create new traditions that are relevant to modern society.

CS: How can we improve the teaching-learning processes in the universities?

JM: I think we should look at new uses for software and social technologies to enable all participants at universities to become life-long co-teachers as well as co-learners. This means that students (and teachers) need to stop behaving as consumers of education, but become creators, producers, and prosumers. At the same time, learning needs to become more immersive and personally-meaningful (subjective experiences) to each learner. This means that we are likely to not have one master narrative for learning at universities, but we may have many different ones, enabling students and faculty to express themselves as postdisciplinary knowledge experts (possessing unique knowledge at the individual level).

CS: Could you please indicate three (3) innovative/disruptive teaching-learning experiences? They could be single practices (i.e. flip teaching) or institutional ones (i.e. Coursera).


  1. Democratic education: Educational institutions tend to run as dictatorships, and are structured to preserve themselves. By horizontalizing our relationships, and making sure to give each stakeholder an equal voice, we could see significant, positive disruption as students and faculty become co-responsible for attending to all aspects of the educational experience.
  2. Quest-based learning: Thieu Besselink wrote an excellent chapter on this in Knowmad Society:
  3. Co-teaching: This is best expressed by what E-180 and the Shibuya University Network already engage in.

CS: How do you imagine the university of the future? Please indicate three (3) characteristics.

JM: This question is perhaps faulty in that it assumes that we will have universities in the future. Maybe you should start with the question: Does the future need universities?

Let’s assume that the future does need universities. In that case, I envision near-future institutions will operate in an environment where…

  1. Any form of information delivery that can be commodified, will be. We see this today with the emergence of MOOCs, Udemy, Coursera, etc. Any non-unique content delivery (especially through download-style pedagogies) will be provided through these platforms, and through a small group of providers. This is particularly threatening to junior colleges, general education courses at mainstream universities, and perhaps also to secondary education.
  2. The gap between top tier schools and everybody else will widen. The top schools may not have superior educational offerings, but they have powerful brands. Why pay to take a course at the University of Minnesota when you can participate in a free, online experience that is affiliated with a top school, such as Stanford or MIT? My take is that the top-tier schools with powerful brand identities will “own” higher education; and, in many respects, other universities will become subscribers to their products and services.
  3. Smaller, “boutique” programs outside the formal, accredited system will boom in presence and market share. Small, but highly specialized, programs such as KaosPilots, Knowmads, YIP, Hyper Island, and the Shibuya University Network operate outside of formal education, and have each developed their own approaches to teaching and learning. In an era where mainstream society are beginning to question the value of a university degree, these programs offer alternatives, and employers will become much, much more receptive to the “graduates” of these alternative education/credentialing programs.

I think that, apart from the very few elite institutions, universities are marching themselves toward obsolescence, and they may be the last to figure it out. Remember, as Anya Kamentz pointed out in her interview at Education Futures, the Roman Senate continued to meet for several centuries after the collapse of the empire.

Teacher 3.0: Sharing, creating, and connecting knowledge

In this year’s issue of Villa Onderwijs by APS, Erno Mijland and Rob Mioch present their views of what “Teacher 3.0” might look like (extended from the 3.0 paradigm shared at Education Futures previously). With the authors’ permission, we provide their translation of the original Dutch text into English.

Teacher 3.0

Authors: Erno Mijland and Rob Mioch

Share knowledge, create and connect

Teaching is one of the finest professions you can find. Teachers play a crucial part in preparing new generations for the future. Never before has there been so much uncertainty about what that future will look like.

An invitation to the dialogue about the consequences of these developments for the role of the teacher.

Moores law isn’t just about transistors anymore. The developments in scientifical research, the introduction of new technologies and the expansion of new ideas is going increasingly faster. Digitisation, globalisation, new knowledge about the working of the brain… all matters that run deep into the way we live, learn and work together. Also, the appeal to take responsibility for sustainable development and the reinforcement of our society, accentuate the central role that education has in equipping young people. Professional competences are currently recalibrated.


In this theoretical experiment, we combine several inspiring angles. Following the linear way of thinking, we could have chosen for 2.0. However, that might give the impression of a ‘next version’, an upgrade of the former version like we know from the world of technology.

3.0 focuses on the very core of the profession of teaching in the first part of the 21st century. With this magazine ‘Villa Onderwijs’ (trans.: Villa Education) we would like to give individual teachers and teams at schools the opportunity to engage in conversation about this topic.

Where we refer to the teacher as “he”, we also mean to include the female teacher.

1. The teacher 3.0 has an eye for the future

Children will have to find a place for themselves in a society with increasing risks and uncertainties. The teacher 3.0 will go into trends and scenarios and will weigh the consequences. In case it is relevant, he will make a translation of his findings to knowledge and skills in his professional area and the world of professions for which he prepares his students.

2. The teacher 3.0 offers students a home base

The teacher 3.0 views the school as a society that connects with the surrounding world. He teaches his students to take responsibility for their own lives and the environment they are part of. He teaches them a flexible attitude. That way, he gives shape to the ambition to create – through education – an environment fit to live in.

3. The teacher 3.0 establishes dialogue

Children of today have access to the same sources as their teachers do. Apparently professional knowledge is significant but above all, the teacher 3.0 makes his students go through the experience of learning from each other. The traditional division of roles (the omniscient teacher vs the unlearned student) is no longer relevant. He will initiate the dialogue with his students. Pedagogic skills will be an important tool for the teacher. He will learn more about the experience, the way of thinking and the behaviour of young people. Conversation with colleagues, parents and the world around him, will give him access to a diversity of information, inspiration and ideas.

4. The teacher 3.0 is a catalyst for student talents

Students live in a competitive society. There seem to be plenty of opportunities but there is a risk of ‘unwanted inequality’. The teacher 3.0 will look for possibilities to bring all children to great achievements. He pays attention to the complete child and its total development. He views the intrinsic motivation of the child as the base of his guidance. By working together with his collueges and his peer, he will be able to adjust his actions in order to match the abilities of the students.

5. The teacher 3.0 explores

Through his exploring attitude, the teacher 3.0 tries to get a grip on the unsteady reality around him. Where ever needed and if possible with the help of others, he will search for creative solutions for the – occasionally tough – everyday practice. He will continually work on the effectiveness and efficiency of his teaching. He is not afraid to experiment with innovative methods, technologies and different sources. He will connect these experiments to practice-based research. He will translate the findings of this research to distinct improvements which will be tested and evaluated.

6. The teacher 3.0 is a role model for ‘life long learning’

The half-life of knowledge becomes increasingly short. Knowledge and learning is more and more about the ability to find solutions for new issues. That’s why the teacher 3.0 will have to actively keep learning. This will partly be done in a self-taught manner. It is easy to have access to countless high quality sources through the internet. The teacher 3.0 studies, reflects and arranges to get feedback on his work, for instance through supervision and group intervision. He will remain working on his personal development in a self-steering and enterprising manner. This way he can excel in view of his own professional career, but also for the benefit of his students and the organization he works for. This also makes him a role model for his students.

7. The teacher 3.0 is not afraid to share ánd to ask

Developments go fast. It is impossible to do and to invent everything by yourself and to keep up with everything. That is why the teacher 3.0 actively uses his network where he can ask questions, shares his knowledge and contributes to joint projects. The present times offer unprecedented opportunities to make our knowledge and ideas accessible, for instance through networks and the Internet. Where ever relevant, the teacher 3.0 will contribute to joint products for education. This makes him an active member of a co-creating society. That is the power of being connected.

8. The teacher 3.0 uses technology based on his vision on learning

New technologies and media (like digital black boards, games and social media) offer a lot of learning facilities. However, the teacher 3.0 will not be directed by hypes. With his vision on learning as a starting point, he will critically assess the possibilities and will creatively translate them to the goals he wants to achieve with his teaching. When ever technology doesn’t actually add anything valuable, he is not afraid to say “no” to it. This will not always be easy, because you cannot always know in advance what it is exactly that you are turning down. To make conscious, deliberate choices may well be one of the most important new competences of today’s teacher.

9. The teacher 3.0 works smartly

Technology should make your job easier. The teacher 3.0 uses opportunities to computerize his tasks in order to be able to spend as much time as possible on activities that really matter: direct contact with students. Whenever possible he will use digital testing methods or video recordings of his lessons as a reference work for his students.

10. The teacher 3.0 focuses on his passion and his talent

The life of a teacher 3.0 uses up a lot of energy. There is so much to keep up with, to think about, to try out… and you are never done. Never done? You can only keep that up when you are motivated by passion. The teacher 3.0 is genuine and credible, an important criterion for working with today’s students. He realises that external influences may constantly distract him from his passion. For instance by new regulations, protocols, shifting in activities. Sometimes he will have to stand up for himself and set limits. He will look for the meaning of his work, and will question himself about his true motive. He is aware of which activities he truly enjoys. He finds happiness in his work, in working with students and collueges and in sharing his passion with his peer.

11. The teacher 3.0 is not afraid to be unique

In every school there is a need for wide oriented specialists, ánd specialized generalists. The teacher 3.0 views his profile as a capital T: imagine the specialism to be the vertical line going into the deep and the horizontal line being the widening. The teacher takes authority from his specialism, his expertise. One can get unique, profound knowledge from him. He will think cross curricular. He knows how to make the wide connection between his expertise and the developments in his environment. With his ‘T-profile’ he will contribute to his school in a unique way.

12. The teacher 3.0 takes pride in his profession

As a teacher, you may sometimes feel like a drop in the ocean. But even Einstein, Gandhi and Picasso at one time started out as little boys at a random school, somewhere in this world. Society can have high expectations of education. It is time to stop the blame and shame. The teacher 3.0 knows he makes a difference. He takes pride in his profession.

Erno Mijland is a journalist/writer, and trainer/speaker on learning and technology. Rob Mioch is managing director of professional education at APS national center for innovation and school improvement, the Netherlands.

The future of academic libraries: An interview with Steven J Bell

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

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Steven J. Bell, the Associate University Librarian for Research and Instruction at Temple University, and current Vice President and President Elect of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). Steven received his Doctorate in Education from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Steven’s most recent book, coauthored with John Shank, Academic Librarianship by Design: A Blended Librarian’s Guide to the Tools and Techniques lays out a new vision for designing the future of academic libraries enabling librarians to become indispensable partners in the college teaching endeavor by integrating themselves into the instructional process.

“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.”

I first met Steven a few years ago when I contacted him after reading his excellent Inside Higher Ed article on design thinking and higher education leadership.  Steven is a thoughtful leader who constantly experiments with new ways to improve Temple’s Libraries and the profession of academic librarianship.  Our conversation focused on the future and emerging roles of academic libraries, specifically: Blended Librarians, collections, user experience, Massive Open Online Courses, the ARL 2030 Scenarios Report, and change leadership.  Below I’ve summarized some of the projects and articles Steven mentioned during our interview.

Unbundling of Higher Education

Steven thinks new learning initiatives like MITx and Udacity’s massive open online courses are an opportunity for academic libraries to serve non-traditional, potentially unaffiliated students, who he refers to as higher education’s new majority learners. In a recent article from his From the Bell Tower Library Journal column he suggested two possible scenarios for academic libraries within this emerging unbundled higher education landscape.

Scenario 1: “It seems likely that the providers of unbundled degrees, whether primarily OER like MITx or profit-driven like StraighterLine, would have little need for physical libraries. For one thing, no library means significant cost saving which helps keep tuition low or non-existent. These organizations have no research agendas nor do they seek grants, so there would be no faculty needing huge book and journal collections. Just as the case is now with some online higher education providers, library services, if available, are marginal. They can always purchase access to a set of resources that would adequately qualify for whatever passes as accreditation. They might even go to the trouble to pay a librarian to look after all of it for them.”

Scenario 2: “Another scenario might involve unbundled academic libraries that would offer different types of resources and services. A student might connect with one library for help with a question on ancient Rome, but contact another depending on the subject matter or the service needed. This might involve some extended version of resource sharing where academic libraries would serve more than their own local community. We do that now, but think of it on a much larger scale and for much more than just content sharing. Who pays for it? Perhaps the students, who might pay a fee to access the services and content on a per-use basis, or they might get “library credits” from the institution providing their unbundled course that could be used to obtain service at a participating library. An unbundled system of higher education might require academic librarians to think more entrepreneurially about how they operate.”

Some in the press have suggested these initiatives will topple the ivory tower, knock down campus walls, crumble higher education’s monopoly, and start an Arab Spring of free online learning.

Steven has a more nuanced prediction:

Am I painting a scenario in which traditional higher education and their academic libraries have no future? If it reads that way that’s certainly not the intent. I believe many traditional colleges and universities will continue to thrive and provide the type of experience that many students still want, although the number of families who can afford the tuition is likely to decline. Just anticipate fewer traditional institutions,  and fewer academic libraries supporting them.

Rising costs are a major factor forcing change in academic libraries.  Steven is working to address these issues directly through a new textbook project at Temple University.

Alt-Textbook Project

College students are spending on average $1,100 a year on books and supplies. Temple’s new Alt-Textbook Project is trying to change that. The initiative provides faculty members with a $1,000 grant to create new original digital learning materials with the goal of creating free, timely, high-quality resources for students. Steven recently spoke to Temple’s student radio WHIP about the project. Steven discusses the Alt-Textbook project as part of a larger Alt-Higher Education movement.

Blended Librarians

Steven, with his colleague John D. Shank, developed the concept of the Blended Librarian, a new form of academic librarianship that integrates instructional design and technology skills into the traditional librarian skill set. The goal is to better serve faculty and students through deeper engagement in teaching and learning.

Idea Book

The “Capture an Idea” project encouraged Temple University Library staff to record their ideas to improve the library’s user experience.  Photo Credit: Steven J. Bell 

User Experience

Steven’s recent work has focused on improving the user experience at the Temple University Libraries through researching the needs of students, and by gathering ideas from Library staff. Using the Study of Great Retail Shopping Experiences in North America Steven surveyed students on their expectations to “gain insight into what would comprise a “WOW” experience for student members of the academic library’s user community, and better understand in what ways and which areas academic librarians are succeeding or failing to provide the WOW experience”. In 2011, Steven presented his findings at ACRL’s national conference in this recorded presentation, “Delivering a WOW User Experience: Do Academic Libraries Measure Up?”.

Steven also launched a staff initiative called Capture an Idea and gave every staff member a notebook to carry with them suggesting they record community member’s user behavior, things that are broken, complaints and compliments, and general ideas about the library. The notebook’s cover read “Every decision we make affects how people experience the library. Let’s make sure we’re creating improvements”. After several months of collecting ideas the staff discussed them at a retreat and implemented a few their suggestions including a Fix-It Team to address broken things quickly.

Academic Library Roles

In a previous post I discussed ARL’s 2030 Scenarios Project and ACRL’s “Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025″ report. Drawing on those projects, and my conversation with Steven Bell, I created this chart to summarize my current thoughts on the historical, emerging, and future roles of academic libraries across several topics. I’d appreciate your feedback in the comments section below. View a larger version of the image.

The Roles of Academic Libraries

For more information on Steven’s work please see his From the Bell Tower column, Designing Better Libraries blog, and Learning Times Blended Librarian Community.  You can also find him on Twitter.

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…

Review: 2011 state of the future

Book: 2011 state of the future
Authors: Jerome C. Glenn, Theodore J. Gordon, and Elizabeth Florescu
Publisher: The Millennium Project (August, 2011)

Released last week, the Millennium Project’s 2011 state of the future report contains a sobering warning that:

The world is getting richer, healthier, better educated, more peaceful, and better connected and people are living longer, yet half the world is potentially unstable. Food prices are rising, water tables are falling, corruption and organized crime are increasing, environmental viability for our life support is diminishing, debt and economic insecurity are increasing, climate change continues, and the gap between the rich and poor continues to widen dangerously.

The annual State of the future series taps into an expert panel of 40 “nodes” (groups of futurists or organizations), and engages them in a modified Delphi process to identify trends, challenges, and consequences that impact our planet’s future. This year’s report includes special focus on:

  • Egypt 2020
  • Future arts, media, and entertainment
  • Latin America 2030
  • Environmental security

The authors wrap-up with a cautious assessment that the consequences of the tremendous transformations we are experiencing in the 21st century require new leadership:

Ridiculing idealism is shortsighted, but idealism untested by the rigors of pessimism can be misleading. The world needs hardheaded idealists who can look into the worst and best of humanity to create and implement strategies of success. (p. 106)

While the authors produce their own conclusions, they also encourage readers to create and share their own ideas about the future. As in previous editions, the accompanying CD-ROM contains a treasure trove of thousands of pages of outputs from the Millennium Project since it began in 1996. Spread over 8,500+ pages, the digital supplement reflects the spread and depth of the Millennium Project’s ambitions with forecasts and discussions that span from near-term to ultra-long-term futures. This rich resource in itself makes the book’s $49.95 purchase price a bargain, and a necessitates inclusion in any trend watcher, policymaker or futurist’s library.

Note: The authors provided a copy of this book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

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 secrets futurists don't want you to know

Professional futurists continue to make outstanding contributions toward the development of understandings of the future, but is futures thought limited to this select group? Definitely not! With a do-it-yourself attitude, and leverage of the right resources, anybody can become an effective futurist. Here’s why:

  1. Nobody knows the future – don’t trust anybody who says otherwise. The world is changing at an accelerating pace, and it’s simply getting harder and harder to imagine what will happen next, let alone 20 years from now. We are all white belts when it comes to approaching the future. We have never been there before, and it is hard to model a world that does not exist yet. What futurists provide is their “best guess” — hopefully supported by quality research and trends analyses.
  2. Futuring is easier than you think. While some futures research methodologies, such as the Delphi method, require an element of professional experience and expertise, many others are easily done — and should be done — by just about anybody. Environmental scanning, for example, involves simply exposing yourself to as much data and information on a broad range as possible (i.e., reading as many newspapers as you can, daily). The futures wheel is related to mindmapping, and can be easily done within individual or group settings. Jerome Glenn and Theodore Gordon wrote an excellent volume on methodologies used by futurists, Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0 (Available at For do-it-yourself futurists or those wishing to explore the field, it is an excellent resource that will get you going.
  3. We are all futurists. Few activities are as natural and universal among humans and human cultures are storytelling. We use stories to share our memories and imaginations of events that have happened or will happen. We use stories to share histories, fables and myths of the past. We also use stories to share visions of and for the future — including goal setting, promises of change, narratives of how we improve ourselves, and even apocalyptic nightmares. Even in our sleep, we often dream about future scenarios. Futurists explicitly tap into our stories and the power of storytelling to share their visions and dreams. So can everybody else.
  4. You can access the same information as professional futurists can. Unless if you’re divining knowledge from an isolated and highly controlled information source, the ubiquitous availability of data and information in today’s networked society mean that you can easily and cost-effectively build up your knowledge base of future trends. Moreover, you are welcome to join the same professional societies that professional futurists participate in, such as the World Future Society, providing you with the same connections and access to professional society-level knowledge they have.
  5. We all create the future. Futurists do not create the future, everybody does. Time may move forward, but the future does not just “happen.” Rather we share a responsibility to ensure that the futures we create are positive (ideal outcomes for humanity, the world, etc.). Moreover, in our interconnected world, we cannot disconnect from our futures. We cannot “futureproof” an organization. Nor can we find ways to fight it as individuals. Rather we can harness our inner futurists and lead in the creation of futures of our own design.

2009 in review: Results from the annual prediction game

[Photo by darkmatter]

Keeping with Education Futures’ annual tradition, I released five predictions for global education in 2009 early last year.

How did I do?

Much better than my predictions for 2008! Let’s look:

  1. No Child Left Behind won’t get left behind. Contrary to all the data that shows that NCLB is a miserable failure, it still has too many fans within the Washington Beltway to disappear. Besides, would the Obama administration want to send a message that they’re giving up on the noble quest of educating all children? NCLB is here to stay, but it will evolve into something else. Would we recognize it by 2010? — Yes, NCLB is still here, but it hasn’t changed a bit. Perhaps there’s hope for 2010?
  2. The economic downturn will get much worse before it gets better, but the international impact will be greater than within the U.S. Expect economic tragedies in China and elsewhere that depend on exports to the U.S. and other highly industrialized nations. — The jury’s still out on this one. We’ll have to wait until the recession is over for hindsight … especially the impact on China.
  3. With limits in available venture capital and new development funds within corporations, technological innovation will slow in the United States. Companies will focus on improving their core products and services at the expense of research and development. What does this mean for education, which is in desperate need of transformative, innovative technologies? — The effect on schools, which are dependent on tax revenue, was much worse in 2009 than I could imagine. Many institutions are abandoning thinking about innovative ideas to focus instead on how they will pay for basic services such as bussing and utilities.
  4. The footprint of open source software will increase, but development will slow down. Unless if a business is committing code to the OSS community, individuals and corporations have fewer time resources available to contribute to projects. However, OSS adoption will increase as a cost-saving measure in homes, offices and schools. (This contrasts with last year’s prediction, where I said “education-oriented open source development will boom.”) — The real growth in 2009 was centered around social technologies and social media. Many of these can translate into the education sector well.
  5. I’m keeping my money on India, and repeating last year’s prediction: India is the place to be. As more U.S. companies quietly continue to offshore their creative work to India, India’s knowledge economy will boom. The world will take notice of this in 2008 2009. — India continues to develop its human capital resources. I’m keeping my money here through 2010 as well.

Friedman: U.S. education system endangering global competitiveness

New York times columnist Tom Friedman speaks out:

A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education.

Citing Dan Pink, Friedman continues to conclude that, to be competitive in a global marketplace, the U.S. needs to infuse its schools with “entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.” As we stated before, there are many obstacles for schools that wish to produce creatives. Most importantly:

  1. No Child Left Behind. NCLB is producing exactly the wrong products for the 21st Century, but is right on for the 1850’s through 1950. NCLB’s fractured memorization model opposes the creative, synthetic thinking required for new work and effective citizenship.
  2. Schools are merging with prisons. As soon as students enter schools, they lose many of their fundamental rights, including the right to free speech. Students who do not wish to conform to prison-like, automaton production must develop individual creativity to survive… often at a price.
  3. Inadequate teacher preparation, recruitment and retention. The U.S. public schools have always been lemmings, but are now failing to produce teachers who are savvy to the contemporary trends their students must learn and respond to in times of accelerating change. The other half of the picture is teacher-modeled creativity, something the public schools have never seriously attempted.
  4. Insufficient adoption of technology. The squeeze is on from both ends: Student-purchased technology is usually derided, suppressed, and sometimes confiscated. These tools are part of the technology spectrum kids know they will have to master. On the other end, technology in the schools is dated, the Internet is firewalled, and there isn’t enough equipment to go around.
  5. Focusing on information retention as opposed to new knowledge production. Disk-drive learning is for computers. Knowledge production and innovation are for humans. The first requires fast recall and low error rates from dumb systems; the second, driven by intelligent people, builds the economy and keeps America competitive.
  6. Innovation is eschewed. Most U.S. teachers think innovation is something that requires them to suffer the discomforts and pains of adaptation. They don’t accept change as a necessary function of expanding national competitiveness. Many U.S. teachers might be more comfortable in industrial world economies and societies represented by China and South Korea, or 1950’s America.
  7. Continuous reorganization of school leadership and priorities, particularly in urban schools. Serious questions can be raised whether schools are the organizations required to cope with semi-permanent underclasses, violent youth, incompetent, irresponsible parenting and negative adult role models. What institutional substitutions would you make for the schools?
  8. National education priorities are built on an idealized past, not on emergent and designed futures. Blends of applied imagination, creativity, and innovation are required to visualize preferred futures, to render them proximal and grounded, and to forge them into empirical realities. On the other hand, it is quite possible that Secretary Spellings and other highly placed education “leaders” have never had an original thought in their entire lives.
  9. Social class and cultural problems in schools and communities suggest that the schools live in a Norman Rockwell past. Bright kids capable of novel thought and new culture creation have never fit into the industrially modeled American schools, and lower-middle class teachers have little respect for working- and poverty-class art, music, and culture. It appears that the schools are populated by timid, unimaginative, lower-middle class professional placeholders who crave convention (spelling bees, car washes, exceptional sports performances) over invention.
  10. Failing to invest resources in education, both financially and socially. Education is formal, informal, and non-formal in structure and function. It is possible that formal education will be recognized as the least powerful of this trio, in part because it is so dated, and in part because it occurs in such a small percentage of life compared with the other two types. Perhaps new funding algorithms and decisions must follow this ratio.

Where do we begin?

Farewell to the Average American

Looking at demographic trends across the United States, Advertising Age came to a conclusion that will be stunning for most people:

“The concept of an ‘average American’ is gone, probably forever,” demographics expert Peter Francese writes in 2010 America, a new Ad Age white paper. “The average American has been replaced by a complex, multidimensional society that defies simplistic labeling.”

For $249, you can download their white paper on the topic, or you can review these posts on related topics from Education Futures: