Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Future of Education - the Horizon Project Retreat

During this past week about one hundred past members of Horizon Report Advisory Boards from approximately 20 countries gathered to examine the future of education to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Horizon Report. As you can imagine a staggering number of perpectives were shared and documented over the 2 days and much of it will be publicly available soon. I just need to get down my thoughts on this event before too much time passes.


On the second day the group spent some time sharing what trends we thought were operating on the current educational landscape. Just a glance at some of these trends tells me it is obvious that most of them (I'd say about 80%) fundamentally challenge the current structures and processes of educational organisations. For example,

  1. emphasis on openness – open resources, open styles of management, open processes, open courses – the list goes on. Most organisations are a far cry from being open in any of these senses of openness, and in fact are positively threatened by the notion of openness.
  2. Collective and collaborative (networked) approaches to decision making, lesson planning, resource creation, professional development, etc that reach out beyond the borders of organisations as opposed to the in-house, closed, top down method of management and teaching that characterises many workplaces.
  3. Personalisation of learning: the growth of informal learning, students planning their own suite of courses/skills, decreased emphasis on whole qualifications, proliferation of tech devices and desire to use them on campus.

I could go on but the point is this:


It is educational management and administrators who need to be made aware of these trends as a group. (Not only teaching staff.) People who make the decisions (as Bryan Alexander put it – those with power) should be given the chance of discussing the implications of these trends, and consider their response. This is what to me is OVERWHELMINGLY OBVIOUS – these people must see this information.

In my own work context, I have grave doubts if it is even possible to assemble all the stakeholders at one time, but nonetheless this information needs to be disseminated so managers and bureaucrats are informed at least. (Knowledge is power.)


On the first evening of the retreat we were asked to share what aspects of working on previous Horizon Report Advisory Boards we had found valuable. I said that I had been surprised, pleasantly, that the approach in assembling the reports was a neutral one. It was not a compilation of technologies and trends that has been pushed or advocated by anyone – it was simply a report on what a particular advisory board had thought to be true at the time.

There seemed to be a feeling from some present at the retreat that HR advisory boards, as a result of their deliberations and discussions on technologies of the future, should be advocates of change in their educational communities in the name of the Horizon Report. I'm not sure if this would be wise. Such a 'political' leaning towards a position of advocating change could compromise the results of the HRs. It may compromise its neutrality.

Making recommendations that change may be needed in the light of the data from HRs makes perfect sense. That is, educators can be urged, sensibly, to prepare for the changes ahead, but any activity that sniffs of a HR advisory board being advocates of wholesale systemic change runs the risk of them being seen as a group that finds trends to support beliefs they already have.

The Process

It was always going to be difficult to get the voices of all participants heard. The facilitation was excellent – David Sibbet's graphic facilitation was superb – but as one who felt unable to contribute to the whole group sessions I feel compelled to comment. I'd venture that about 30% of participants did not offer any comment in the whole group sessions, and there were many of them. Without going into the reasons why, I learnt years ago that in groups of more than 4 or 5 I become a passive listener. This is classic introvert behaviour. I am not shy. I will quite happily do a conference presentation to 200 people, but ways need to be explored to give the introverts more say. I was a lot more vocal in smaller group discussions, but these too sometimes became too large for meaningful input from everyone.

The following may help:

  • More sticky notes types of activities where ideas are written down then shared. (Thiagi is a wonderful resource for such strategies.)
  • more smaller group activities
  • identified and/or trained facilitators in the group discussions

Still, a wonderful event, and it was a great privilege to be part of it. Stay tuned for more as the data shared at this retreat gets posted in the coming days.


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