HomeUncategorizedFutures Thinking For Language Educators: The Future Is Plural | Part 2

Futures Thinking For Language Educators: The Future Is Plural | Part 2




Have you encountered articles, blog posts or social media posts that tell you about the future of language learning? Did you notice that the future is always singular? It makes it sound as if there is only one future. In this part of the article, you will learn that there isn’t just one possible future and that you have agency in shaping it.
Before you continue reading, remind yourself of your question about the future you chose in Part 1. If you haven’t worked through Steps 1–3, stop and do that now.

Step 4: What are some alternative futures?

Once you have come up with your first forecast and noted down your assumptions, you can think about three to four alternative futures and create scenarios for these. Scenarios can take many forms, for example, a newspaper headline, a day in the life story, a simple one-paragraph description, or a video. Science-fiction stories are often extended scenarios.
Scenarios can help you think of different possible outcomes of an issue. They can help avoid blindspots and see future risks and opportunities. They are also a great way to present vast amounts and varied information on a topic coherently and creatively.
It is not always easy to develop alternatives once you have one future in your head. One simple way of doing this is to take the opposite of the first forecast and the assumptions you made above. For example, electricity will be ubiquitous and reliable in the future. BCIs will be unaffordable for most people or BCIs will not be safe. If you take the middle way between your original and the opposite forecast, you already have three futures. Finally, you can think of a fourth scenario that would be completely different from the others and unexpected. Here’s what this could look like if we use future newspaper headlines:
Scenario 1 – ‘BCI finally ends tedious language learning’
Scenario 2 – ‘BCI scandal – users’ brain access sold’
Scenario 3 – ‘BCI restricted for helping people with learning difficulties only’
Scenario 4 – ‘BCI error wipes user’s language knowledge from brain’
Ideally, you would write at least a short paragraph for each headline that describes this future in more detail. You could also create a visual (e.g. a drawing, collage, etc.) that represents this future.

Step 5. What is your preferred future?

We often either think we know which future is preferable or are told by others why a certain future is good or bad for us. But once you systematically work through a futures thinking exercise, you will often find that your view about which future is preferred has changed. So now you know what you prefer, you want to go deeper and add detail.
In this step, write down what characteristics your desired future has. For example, in 2038…
?quality language learning will be accessible and affordable to all
?language teachers will be highly regarded professionals with knowledge in language education and technology
?language teachers will be materials curators, facilitators and mentors
?language learning will be personalised
?There will be regulations in place that technology, incl. AI and BCI, will only be used when their benefits have been proven and guardrails against harmful effects are in place.

Step 6: How did you get to the preferred future?

If you stop your futures thinking work after you have decided what your preferred future is, you might be inspired and motivated, but this might easily fizzle away and, feeling overwhelmed, you might go back to your day-to-day operation. This is because you do not know what to do to get there and where to start. This is where another futures thinking tool – backcasting – is very useful.
When backcasting you assume your preferred future has already happened. Now you look back at the main steps that you have taken that got you from the present to the  preferred future. These steps can be short-, medium-, and long-term actions. Let’s illustrate this with the BCI topic, assuming that Scenario 3 is the preferred future.
You have read about the first human trials with BCI technology and how some edtech companies are sharing visions of learning happen without effort through directly uploading knowledge into people’s brains. As a teacher you are worried of becoming redundant in the future. You are also worried about risks this could pose to learners. You have developed various scenarios, decided on your preferred future and now you want to take action. You come up with the following four steps.

Step 7: What is a supportive metaphor for your preferred future?

Congratulations! You have gone through this future thinking exercise. You have also decided on concrete steps you will take to achieve your preferred future. But it can still seem too distant and unreal. This is where visualising and creating a new metaphor for your preferred future can help you transform your story to the preferred vision.
Ask yourself what your vision of the future – personal, in your job, or field – is. Imagine yourself or your school in 15, 20 years. Think of a metaphor for how things are now or in the undesirable future. Then do the same for your desirable future. Find visuals for the metaphors or draw them yourself. For example, here are old and new metaphors and images I created in an exercise for the future of language learning in the metaverse.

Concluding remarks

Futures thinking is an indispensable tool for language educators in an ever faster changing technology landscape with increasingly shorter hype cycles. There is a lot more to futures thinking, of course, but this seven-questions approach is a good starting point to developing and employing a futures mindset for yourself, your learners or your language school. It can help you keep your cool when the next hype arrives as you will have played through different scenarios and planned ahead.
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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