Foresight for Education: Building the Future, Not Just Defending the Past: embracing the unknown.

In the twilight world of transition the unknown needs to be embraced.

This article was inspired by Robert C. Wolcott’s essay (Professor of Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management): Foresight for Business: Building the Future, Not Just Defending the Past //( . I found the discussion thought provoking – although initially it provoked thoughts of “Armageddon” 🙁

A world where customers get what they want, when they want, where they want – what does that mean for nationalistic ideologies and the demands of sovereign nations? Add drones and 3D printing into the mix – delivering all sorts of nasties – and apocalyptic scenarios were presenting themselves. This transitional thought platform quickly morphed into thought No 2: the institution that is the British Royal family – and their transitional business platform.

In 6 days in 1997 the institution that is the British Royal family transitioned from an image of institutionalised tradition and over arching bureaucracy to one of listening to their customers: the great British public. Delivering what they wanted, when whey wanted and how they wanted. This culminated in an event that – to date – drew one of the largest global TV audiences: the funeral of Princess Diana.

Was the Royal transition done “on the hoof” – excuse the pun; or was its genesis steeped in a business model grounded in tradition and history, rigorous in its attention to detail, structured to the nth degree – tried and tested for, literally, hundreds of years. It was a model, that until the death of Princess Diana – had worked.

The death of Princess Diana, or rather her life – demanded that that Royal business model change. The expedience with which this occurred was impressive – literally days – what an opportunity for a research project in transitional business platforms! And a poignant example of Wolcott’s point that while change might happen slowly – once momentum builds – it’s ON! So businesses, including the British Royals, need to be ready for it. This reflection took me to thought No 3 – the profoundly important relationship between business and education.

In short, the transitional business platforms Professor Wolcott explores – through his analysis of companies, such as, Uber, UPS, Netflix, are as relevant to the survival and evolution of educational institutions as they are to the worlds that education connects with, and services.

Why? because a transitional society requires populations able to morph, adapt, develop, create and excel in the unknown. In many ways, this is what Wolcott’s article was about: business platforms that can embrace the unknown, while minimising risk, maximising returns, and building financial and structural longevity into them.

Wolcott summaries 5 key aspects of good transitional business platforms.

  1. Transitional models are designed around what is best for customers.

What is best for education’s customers? Living a low stress, healthy, balanced lifestyle that allows for individual expression and offers opportunities to realise potential, find purpose and explore the possibility of finding one’s passion – would be on my list. Skills such as, highly adaptable, creative, self aware, collaborative, open to exploring opportunities and change – in every area of life and at any age, might be high on an employers’ list?

2. They tend to violate traditional constraints. This is often required to achieve radical improvements in performance. 

Traditional constraints in education can be viewed through the lens of a a business model founded in delivering information to its customers – knowledge delivery and acquisition. The fundamental currency of this model – information/knowledge – is negotiated through relationships with numerous, diverse, and often conflicting/competing stakeholders – governments, business, industry, not for profit organisations, NGO. social trends, research bodies, think tanks and so on.

In some instances, education is leading the charge in knowledge delivery, knowledge acquisition and procurement – in others, it is playing catch-up. So how can education “achieve radical improvements’ with such a plethora of stakeholders, competitors and interested parties in the mix? How about using the customer/learner as a source of knowledge – in their own right? Is this a radical departure from the notion of Student Centred Learning (SCL) and/or indigenous knowledge acquisition/ delivery practices?

SCL is a great theory – the problem, however, is that from primary school to post doc – most learners haven’t a clue ‘where THEY are’ in understanding how they know what they know, nor do they understand the relationship of this knowing to their interaction with knowledge acquisition per se: whether learning to ride a bicycle or exploring the implications of knowledge development, transference and delivery, on current and future generations.

3. They build brand presence before markets have been clearly defined.

Wolcott uses Amazon’s drone delivery service as an example of building brand presence before markets have been clearly defined.

Rebranding education as a wellness, including mental health, regime for humanity might be one way to build education’s brand presence before its future markets have been clearly defined? Such rebranding would require a framework for centring the knowledge of self knowing alongside e.g., reading, writing, arithmetic and transient knowledge forms, such as, coding and new language forums. This knowledge base would be grounded in an academic method – tried and tested and innately adaptable – from primary school onwards.

Such a method could assist in developing intuitive intelligence, building resilience through a structured exploration of the self, and fostering personal infrastructure that can articulate the difference between egotistical drive, and the very real fear or self destructive impulsiveness this can produce, and the genuine need to continually open to change, seek new experiences, work with and critique new knowledge bases, and re skill in the face of emerging and transient information sources and pathways.

Moreover, understanding the Self and its relationship to different knowledge bases provides a stable yet transient knowledge platform from which an individual can launch into new knowledge territory throughout their life cycle. In short, such an approach offers opportunities for trans-generational knowledge platforms: it makes life long learning a viable option for everyone who has had access to education from primary school onwards.

4. They enable adaptation as conditions change.

While information sources are becoming increasingly adaptable – humanity is becomingly increasingly less so.

Education needs to knowledge-up and provide learning pathways that enable humanity to change – individually and collectively; this needs to be a legitimate and central study pathway – throughout the learning life cycle. The alternative option? Humanity will continue to freeze like a rabbit in front of a diverse, and increasingly impressive, array of technologically driven headlights.

It is not so much being able to understand the non stop conveyer belt of each and every technological breakthrough that is important, rather it is the ability to:

  • be open to the wider ideas that surround them
  • decipher what is relevant information and what is not – to you
  • not be daunted or dazzled by the next greatest and latest, supposed innovation, that pops up.

It might sound prosaic, but change is hard studious qualitative work. It is work that traditional education institutions have been adept at avoiding – largely due to education’s perception of this work as qualitative and subjective. In reality, change is subjective and objective and technology can help bring that fact to life, but education needs to be much more adept at developing adaptation in itself and its client base – humanity, because like it or not, conditions have changed.

5. Most important, transitional models must be designed to adapt as offerings move closer to the time and location of customer demands

Who are the key providers of knowledge delivery? Who are the target markets for knowledge acquisition? Can formal education institutions deliver relevant information to their customers at a time, pace and place that customers require it?

Do education’s customers know what they want? Was Baudrillard’s exploration of postmodern society correct? Has humanity produced a society that delivers to itself only what it wants, when it wants? The use of AI and algorithms in social media and consumer technology would certainly appear to support this thesis.

Does humanity want information overload so we, myself included, can relay on good old fashioned irresponsibility – laziness, to define our learning capabilities and transitional, or not so transitional, life experiences by?

What is the knowledge offering that needs to be delivered to prepare humanity for life in the 21st Century? Because whether we embrace it or not – it will be a life in the unknown?

Customers and offerings meet at a time and place that suits the customer.

Transitional Education Platforms – a necessity for a life lived in the unknown. 

Humanity, certainly in the first world, rarely embraces the unknown with relish. It is a testing bedfellow that most of us would like to avoid, in one way or another, but few of us can. Yet is it is a knowledge base that:

  • is relevant to everyone and every ‘known’ knowledge base
  • is present locally and globally
  • impacts upon all stages of any life cycle – anywhere on the globe.
  • has an increasing presence as technology gathers pace and vast amounts of information and knowledge, careers, jobs, employment opportunities, play experiences, life experiences – become transient.

Do formal education institutions prepare humanity for the unknown? Do they prepare humanity to embrace the unknown in every area of their life – as a source of personal development, knowledge acquisition, knowledge delivery, fun, joy – and life long learning partner? I don’t think so.

Do non traditional education providers – such as, contemporary technology companies, provide humanity with opportunities to explore how we know what we know? And how this knowing impacts upon our lives – globally and locally? I don’t think so. Which is puzzling, as such a provocative and profoundly important dialogue – between provider and consumer – would surely build a firm nexus for customer loyalty – throughout the life cycle?

AI’s, technologies – in their myriad of forms – are designed, developed, coded, programmed, managed and manipulated by an array of human knowledge that – like each of us – has a history. It is a history that infiltrates our personal ‘unknown’ knowledge banks in ways that few of us can relate to, let alone change. Yet as a source of fundamentally viable knowledge that can serve each of us throughout our life times – our personal unknown is a powerful agent of change. Exploring it assists us to remain open to exploring the wider unknowns – that will be an everyday reality for us – whether we like them or not.

The more open we are to exploring the unknown, embracing it and working with it, the more open we will be to what technology can do with us, for us, and alongside us. Such an openness would support technological acceptance, and e.g., pressure governments to be more broad minded, and inclusive, in terms of technological, sociological, economic and environmental debates.

A population open to the unknown is a population open to learning – together. It is a population that:

  • sees change as an opportunity not a threat
  • does not react with traditional responses when confronted by information out of its comfort (knowledge) zone
  • constantly fosters resilience in itself – by its ability to question its knowledge base and those of others
  • wants to think, explore and question – in every setting, locally and globally
  • invites debate from the unknown and not just those that agree with its ‘known’ views
  • can play with a myriad of information sources and yet do so without losing touch of its own sense of vulnerability and frailty. After all, working with the unknown keeps us on our ethical toes and makes sure we view everything through glasses of compassion and empathy – somethings are too important to be transitional.

What might a transitional education platform, that can deliver the unknown as a source of knowledge in its own right, look like? It might combine the commercial power of the foremost technology companies with the traditional academic method.

A transitional education platform may, like the Phoenix, foster the new, not just out of the old, but with the old: the Phoenix didn’t disappear – its ashes were testament to its transient state.

Yes, AI could have a pivotal role in delivering resources to a learning demographic and population that far extends those currently reached by traditional education institutions; however, the traditional academic method has played, and continues to do so, a seminal role in the development of knowledge – across the spectrum of human development. It is the holy grail of failing fast, start ups, and transitional employment platforms – it has just never been recognised as such. Perhaps now is the time – another rebranding venture! Where are you Professor Jonathan A. J. Wilson?

The development of valuable learning resources – that can support humanity embrace transitional information platforms are as dependant upon the rigours of the academic method as they are on the sheer enormity of the R&D capacities, and marketing power, of key technology players; and, more importantly, the ability of these players to shape shift – transition – more fluidly than traditional educational platforms can.

Current ideas, future insights and energies, collaborating with established methods of knowledge construction and development – yield results. The British Royal Family and Princess Diana’s funeral are an example of history, tradition, social change and transitional business modelling colliding in the maelstrom of spontaneity that is the unknown: it worked.

Co-creation is the name of the game, but like any game – it is transitional. The teams are transitional, the development material is transitional. In order to keep developing, even transitional business platforms need a constant. This constant maybe another idea, another model, a stepping stone project – but there is a constant in their articulation. Education per se, needs a transitional business platform otherwise it cannot best serve the needs of humanity – it has a constant: the unknown.