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Learn How To Think Like A Futurist In Seven Simple Steps. | Part 1




How many edtech buzzwords can you list in a minute? How often have you been told you are falling behind and need to catch up with the latest emerging technology or risk being left behind or losing your job or school? How will you cope with an ever-faster developing technology landscape and make sure you stay relevant in the future?
Maybe to keep up you have been reading all the trends in language education articles and blog posts. The problem with this is that once a technology or teaching approach becomes a trend, you do not have enough time to carefully and thoughtfully plan and strategically implement relevant, necessary changes. You will always feel you are running behind and trying to catch up. You need to see what is coming before it trends. But how do you do this? This is where future thinking comes in.
Futures literacy has been promoted by the UNESCO since 2012 because they see it as ‘an essential competency for the 21st century’ that ‘empowers the imagination’ and ‘enhances our ability to prepare, recover and invent in the face of change.’ Futures thinking is not yet used commonly by language educators or institutions. But recently, the term ‘future’ has been coming up increasingly in conference talks, webinars and articles. The British Council has recently published a book titled ‘The Future of English: Global Perspectives’ for which they used futures thinking methods for the first time. So clearly there is an interest in what the future holds for language learning and teaching.

What is futures thinking and how can it help language educators?

Futures thinking is a methodological way to systematically think about and come up with plausible, possible and probable future scenarios. Then you use these to strategically plan towards the future that you would prefer. It is not about predicting the future but more about becoming aware that there is not just one future but multiple possible futures, and that you have agency in shaping it. It can also help you see potential risks and opportunities, innovate and transform yourself or your business. Futures thinking also enhances critical thinking skills and creativity.
In futures thinking you look ahead further into the future, at least 5, but often 10, 15, 20 and even longer, depending on the context, topic and purpose. This gives you enough time to act strategically. Even more importantly, a longer time frame frees your thinking from the present, and prevents you from just extrapolating what we have now into the future. We can think more creatively about the future, and this can lead to a truly transformative future.
Futures thinking can be used by language schools, publishers, and teachers. You can also use it with language learners in class to teach them future literacies while engaging them in motivating and fun futures thinking activities in their target language.
Usually, we use futures thinking when we have a question about the future. This can be broad, such as ‘What is the future of language learning?’, or it can be more specific, and even personal, such as ‘What will our language school look like in fifteen years?’ or ‘Where do I see myself working in ten years?’
The best results from futures thinking work is achieved if all stakeholders are involved. If you can, do futuring together with other schools, publishers, your colleagues, employees, learners, and their parents.

In 7 Steps to your preferred future

There are many frameworks, techniques and tools you can use for futures thinking, depending on the context and needs. In this section, I will walk you through a method we can call the 7 questions technique. It is a simplified version of the futures thinking approach called ‘Six Pillars’ by Sohail Inayatullah, one of the foremost futurists and UNESCO chair for futures studies.

Step 1: How did we get here?

Looking back at the history of the issue you are interested in and at its present state can help you detect patterns that might continue into the future. Think of three developments that led to today.
For example where learning takes place: from classroom to online, to hybrid.
Or the role of the teacher: from lecturer to facilitator, to coach.
Or books: from stone tablets to scrolls, to bound books, to ebook readers, (back to print books?).

Step 2: Where are we headed?

Having looked at the past and present, we can attempt a first forecast. Remember that you are not trying to predict the future. The forecast can even be fantastical, but should still be plausible and there should be some evidence for this, such as an article about a new technology that is being trialled.
For example, ‘By 2038, language learning will be possible through brain-computer interfacing (BCI), which will lead to teacher mass unemployment.’
Or ‘By 2043, frequent, long-lasting power cuts will make online learning impossible, leading to learners returning to physical schools.’

Step 3: What assumptions have you made?

Forecasts are based on past developments and present signals, drivers and trends. However, the future is not a fact as it has not happened yet, it is based on assumptions you make. It is very important that we are clear about these assumptions as it helps to think about them and write them down.
For example, for the BCI forecasts above, some of the assumptions could be:
  • Brain-computer interfaces will be available cheaply and widely.
  • Language learners will prefer BCIs to learning with a teacher.
  • BCIs will be safe and companies will adhere to ethical guidelines not misusing access to people’s brains.

What’s next?

Have you been doing the exercises in Step 1–3? If not, take time to do them, and make notes for yourself. Share the article with your colleagues at school or online. You could make this part of a professional development session at your school or with your online community. In Part 2 of this article, you will learn how to come up with multiple probable or possible future scenarios, decide what your preferred future is, and learn about and use tools that help you transform the future.
Nergiz Kern is a consultant and foresight practitioner on emerging technologies and learning futures. She has an MA EdTech and TESOL, 20+ years of language teaching background, experience as head of research for an edtech startup, and qualifications in immersive language learning and futurism. She works with edtech companies and learning organisations on pedagogically sound implementations of edtech, and provides futures thinking courses and workshops. https://nergizkern.com

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