- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0258
- LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2020
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0258
‘Future-focused education’ is not an easily definable or coherent body of knowledge. It is best described as an emerging cluster of ideas, beliefs, theories, and practices drawn from many sources, within and outside education, that are mobilized in different ways to support different purposes. The unifying idea, if there is one, is the contention that major change is needed in education if it is to meet future needs. However, there is little consensus on what these needs are or how they are best met. Educationists started to talk about future-focused education thirty or forty years ago, but although we use many new words, our education systems have not changed very much. In today’s context, future-focused education work has several very different strands. In one influential strand, education’s links to work and the economy are foregrounded. This work emphasizes the skills people need to participate—and drive economic growth—in today’s knowledge-based, networked economies, and argues that education’s purpose is to develop them. These skills are many and varied. In some work they are called the “4Cs”: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. But references to a range of other ‘soft’ skills— for example, innovation, agility, entrepreneurship, digital literacy, and design thinking—are common. Learning is also emphasized: Education’s primary purpose is to foster ‘learning skills’ and the ‘disposition’ for independent, lifelong learning. Other strands of future-focused education work are strongly critical of the focus on work skills and learning. For some educationists, this focus is linked with, and driven by, the demands of global capitalism, not by educational considerations. Others say that it is based on impoverished views of both education and the future. Educational futurists argue that major change is needed to build the higher-order, more ‘evolved’ forms of thinking everyone needs to function well in a world characterized by uncertainty and complexity. In other strands, educationists explore how changes in the meaning and use of knowledge, increased cultural diversity, and the sustainability movement strongly challenge prevailing notions of curriculum. Others have worked on reorienting traditional curriculum content to be not an end in itself but a context for building “learning power” and the “C-skills” of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, innovation, and so on. In policy contexts, future-focused education is rhetorically linked to many other concepts, including personalization, inclusion, school-community partnerships, sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, digital literacies, computational thinking, innovative learning environments, and competencies. For space reasons, not all of these concepts are covered here.
Futures Studies and Education
The future-focused education literature references concepts drawn from the broader academic field of futures studies. Some of the citations below are introductions to this field’s key ideas. Others discuss the implications of these ideas for education’s future. Futures studies is a well-established (50-plus years) body of work that distinguishes itself from approaches designed to forecast, react to, or “proof against” future trends (Dator 2014; Gidley 2017). Instead, a key idea is that, by definition, the future cannot be known in advance. We cannot assume that current processes and assumptions will continue much as they are now: rather we should be assuming, and preparing to work with, uncertainty and a multiplicity of different possible futures (Sardar 2013; Gidley 2017). This view considers our futures as something created through the thinking, actions, and choices an entire population is making now, in the present (Facer 2011). A major subgroup of futures studies develops methodologies for decolonizing the assumptions, epistemologies, and cultural biases that inform prevailing notions of ‘the’ future (called in Inayatullah 2008 “used futures”) to make space for new choices and new capacities to emerge (Inayatullah 2008; Milojević 2005). Concepts from futures studies literature have been picked up in scholarly work on future-focused education. Keri Facer’s work is a strong example: her 2011 book makes the case for education’s role in fostering our collective capacity to imagine—and build—our preferred futures. Gidley 2016 combines work from futures studies thinking and adult cognitive development theory to set out a new framework for education designed to foster the kind of higher-order, more ‘evolved’ thinking needed for working in uncertainty, multiplicity, and complexity. Gidley, et al. 2004 reviews work in three broad areas: exploring new concepts of education (and critiquing the old); developing new approaches to teaching for or about different futures; and exploring young people’s ideas about their futures. However, because this is still an emerging field, it is fair to say that the uptake of futures studies concepts in education is patchy and sometimes superficial, at the level of what Slaughter 2002 refers to as ‘pop’ futures. Change is overstated or undertheorized, obvious external trends are referenced, and technological ‘solutions’ are emphasized. Similarly, the analysis of futures thinking in education in Gough 1990 shows the prevalence of superficial understandings of futures concepts and tacit or taken-for-granted assumptions of the future as a more-of-the-same version of the present.
Dator, J. 2014. Four images of the future. Set—Research Information for Teachers 1:61–63.
This short paper outlines Dator’s four generic “images of the future” (components of the Manoa Method of alternative futures visioning). The four images are: "continued growth" (the dominant image, assumed by governments and other organizations); "collapse"; "disciplined society" (often associated with sustainability); and "transformation" (deep, abrupt, unpredictable change, precipitated by human-induced processes that are now well under way). Dator argues that education should be preparing people for all four futures.
Facer, K. 2011. Learning futures: Education, technology and social change. London: Routledge.
This book questions prevailing stories about education’s future as bound up with the need to adapt to an increasingly high-tech, globally competitive world; instead it takes the view that these stories originate in narrow views of technology, the economy, education, and society, and are likely to amplify existing inequalities. Argues that education needs not to “react” to outside developments, but to be able to build our collective capacity to create the future we want.
Gidley, J. 2016. Postformal education: A philosophy for complex futures. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
This book maps out a radically new educational philosophy designed to prepare young people for uncertainty, accelerating change, and complexity. Integrating work from adult cognitive development theory, futures studies work on “mega-trends of the mind,” and philosophy with various “evolutionary” pedagogies, Gidley sets out a framework for fostering a new, higher-order, more evolved form of thinking which, because it transcends Piaget’s “formal operations” stage, is known as post-formal reasoning.
Gidley, J. 2017. The future: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
This book synthesises developments in the academic field of future studies over 50-plus years. A key theme is the development of concepts and tools, not for forecasting or proofing against the future, but for working with uncertainty and multiplicity. The case is made for more human-centered (as opposed to “techno-utopian”) approaches to futures thinking, and for evolution of our consciousness as a necessary precondition for our collective survival.
Gidley, J., D. Bateman, and C. Smith. 2004. Futures in Education: Principles, practice and potential. AFI Monograph Series 5. Hawthorn VIC: Australian Foresight Institute at Swinburne Univ. of Technology.
This monograph consists of two long papers. The first, by Jennifer Gidley, reviews research on futures thinking in education in three areas: research exploring young people’s ideas about the future, research on futures teaching in schools, and scholarly work that uses futures tools to explore new models of education. The second paper, by Bateman and Smith, maps the uptake of futures concepts in the practices of Australian schools.
Gough, N. 1990. Futures in Australian education – tacit, token and taken for granted. Futures 22.3:298–310.
This paper critically discusses the way ‘the future’ is represented in educational contexts. Three patterns are identified: references to tacit futures, in which assumptions about the future are unstated and unexplained, but nevertheless present; token futures, which invoke futures concepts rhetorically to rationalize decisions made on other grounds; and taken-for-granted futures which describe ‘the future’ as if there were no alternatives. This severely limits our capacity to imagine—and create—different futures.
Inayatullah, S. 2008. Six pillars: Futures thinking for transforming. Foresight 10.1:4–21.
Sets out the framework for Inayatullah’s futures thinking methodology, a process designed to deconstruct the assumptions, epistemologies, and cultural biases that underpin prevailing images of the future. Inayatullah calls these “used futures”: ideas about the future that have been borrowed, repeated, or recycled from elsewhere or the past. The aim is to decolonize current thinking, to create the conditions within which new choices can emerge and new capacities can develop.
Milojević, I. 2005. Educational futures: Dominant and contesting visions. London: Routledge.
This book is a deconstruction of the way ‘future’ ideas circulate in discussions of the demise of industrial-age education. It argues that futures thinking in education is underdeveloped, tokenistic, and overly linked with notions of technology that privilege […] which are effectively colonizing our futures. The book poses various alternative frameworks for education’s future, drawing in particular from feminist and Indigenous scholarship.
Sardar, Z. 2013. Future. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
This book is an accessible overview of the major concepts and methods used in the field of futures studies. It explores the shift from the older, unidirectional model of ‘a’ singular future to a focus on pluralities of futures and on thinking aimed at envisioning, inventing, or creating new possibilities for alternative and preferred futures outside current assumptions and constraints. An extensive list of key texts and other useful resources is provided.
Slaughter, R. 2002. Beyond the mundane: Reconciling breadth and depth in futures enquiry. Futures 34.6:493–507.
In this paper Slaughter outlines his three-layer typology of futures work. The first layer he calls “pop” futurism: superficial, undertheorized, media-friendly work, usually emphasizing scientific and/or technological “solutions” to current problems. The second layer is problem-oriented futures work: serious investigation of how organizations should be responding to the near future’s challenges. His third layer, critical/epistemological futures work, looks beneath current thinking to deconstruct deeper processes of meaning-making and paradigm formation.
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- Academic Achievement
- Academic Audit for Universities
- Academic Freedom and Tenure in the United States
- Action Research in Education
- Adjuncts in Higher Education in the United States
- Administrator Preparation
- Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Courses
- Advocacy and Activism in Early Childhood
- African American Racial Identity and Learning
- Alaska Native Education
- Alternative Certification Programs for Educators
- Alternative Schools
- American Indian Education
- Art Education
- Artificial Intelligence and Learning
- Assessing School Leader Effectiveness
- Assessment, Behavioral
- Assessment, Educational
- Assessment in Early Childhood Education
- Assistive Technology
- Augmented Reality in Education
- Beginning-Teacher Induction
- Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
- Blended Learning
- Case Study in Education Research
- Changing Professional and Academic Identities
- Character Education
- Children’s and Young Adult Literature
- Children's Beliefs about Intelligence
- Children's Rights in Early Childhood Education
- Citizenship Education
- Civic and Social Engagement of Higher Education
- Classroom Learning Environments: Assessing and Investigati...
- Classroom Management
- Coherent Instructional Systems at the School and School Sy...
- College Admissions in the United States
- College Athletics in the United States
- Community Relations
- Comparative Education
- Computer-Based Testing
- Conceptualizing, Measuring, and Evaluating Improvement Net...
- Continuous Improvement and "High Leverage" Educational Pro...
- Counseling in Schools
- Critical Perspectives on Educational Innovation and Improv...
- Critical Race Theory
- Crossborder and Transnational Higher Education
- Cross-National Research on Continuous Improvement
- Cross-Sector Research on Continuous Learning and Improveme...
- Cultural Diversity in Early Childhood Education
- Culturally Responsive Leadership
- Culturally Responsive Pedagogies
- Culturally Responsive Teacher Education in the United Stat...
- Curriculum Design
- Data Collection in Educational Research
- Data-driven Decision Making in the United States
- Deaf Education
- Desegregation and Integration
- Design Thinking and the Learning Sciences: Theoretical, Pr...
- Development, Moral
- Dialogic Pedagogy
- Digital Age Teacher, The
- Digital Citizenship
- Digital Divides
- Distance Learning
- Distributed Leadership
- Doctoral Education and Training
- Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) in Denmark
- Early Childhood Education and Development in Mexico
- Early Childhood Education in Aotearoa New Zealand
- Early Childhood Education in Australia
- Early Childhood Education in China
- Early Childhood Education in Europe
- Early Childhood Education in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Early Childhood Education in Sweden
- Early Childhood Education Pedagogy
- Early Childhood Education Policy
- Early Childhood Education, The Arts in
- Early Childhood Mathematics
- Early Childhood Science
- Early Childhood Teacher Education
- Early Childhood Teachers in Aotearoa New Zealand
- Early Years Professionalism and Professionalization Polici...
- Economics of Education
- Education For Children with Autism
- Education for Sustainable Development
- Education Leadership, Empirical Perspectives in
- Education of Native Hawaiian Students
- Education Reform and School Change
- Educational Statistics for Longitudinal Research
- Educator Partnerships with Parents and Families with a Foc...
- Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
- Epistemic Beliefs
- Equity and Improvement: Engaging Communities in Educationa...
- Equity, Ethnicity, Diversity, and Excellence in Education
- Ethical Research with Young Children
- Ethics and Education
- Ethics of Teaching
- Ethnic Studies
- Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention
- Family and Community Partnerships in Education
- Family Day Care
- Federal Government Programs and Issues
- Feminization of Labor in Academia
- Finance, Education
- Financial Aid
- Formative Assessment
- Future-Focused Education
- Gender and Achievement
- Gender and Alternative Education
- Gifted Education
- Global Mindedness and Global Citizenship Education
- Global University Rankings
- Governance, Education
- Grounded Theory
- Growth of Effective Mental Health Services in Schools in t...
- Higher Education and Globalization
- Higher Education and the Developing World
- Higher Education Faculty Characteristics and Trends in the...
- Higher Education Finance
- Higher Education Governance
- Higher Education Graduate Outcomes and Destinations
- Higher Education in Africa
- Higher Education in China
- Higher Education in Latin America
- Higher Education in the United States, Historical Evolutio...
- Higher Education, International Issues in
- Higher Education Management
- Higher Education Policy
- Higher Education Research
- Higher Education Student Assessment
- High-stakes Testing
- History of Early Childhood Education in the United States
- History of Education in the United States
- History of Technology Integration in Education
- Inclusion in Early Childhood: Difference, Disability, and ...
- Inclusive Education
- Indigenous Education in a Global Context
- Indigenous Learning Environments
- Indigenous Students in Higher Education in the United Stat...
- Infant and Toddler Pedagogy
- Inservice Teacher Education
- Integrating Art across the Curriculum
- Intensive Interventions for Children and Adolescents with ...
- International Perspectives on Academic Freedom
- Intersectionality and Education
- Knowledge Development in Early Childhood
- Leadership Development, Coaching and Feedback for
- Leadership in Early Childhood Education
- Leadership Training with an Emphasis on the United States
- Learning Analytics in Higher Education
- Learning Difficulties
- Learning, Lifelong
- Learning, Multimedia
- Learning Strategies
- Legal Matters and Education Law
- LGBT Youth in Schools
- Linguistic Diversity
- Linguistically Inclusive Pedagogy
- Literacy Development and Language Acquisition
- Literature Reviews
- Mathematics Identity
- Mathematics Instruction and Interventions for Students wit...
- Mathematics Teacher Education
- Measurement for Improvement in Education
- Measurement in Education in the United States
- Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis in Education
- Methodological Approaches for Impact Evaluation in Educati...
- Methodologies for Conducting Education Research
- Mindfulness, Learning, and Education
- Mixed Methods Research
- Multiliteracies in Early Childhood Education
- Multiple Documents Literacy: Theory, Research, and Applica...
- Multivariate Research Methodology
- Museums, Education, and Curriculum
- Music Education
- Narrative Research in Education
- Native American Studies
- Numeracy Education
- One-to-One Technology in the K-12 Classroom
- Online Education
- Open Education
- Organizing for Continuous Improvement in Education
- Organizing Schools for the Inclusion of Students with Disa...
- Outdoor Play and Learning
- Outdoor Play and Learning in Early Childhood Education
- Pedagogical Leadership
- Pedagogy of Teacher Education, A
- Performance Objectives and Measurement
- Performance-based Research Assessment in Higher Education
- Performance-based Research Funding
- Phenomenology in Educational Research
- Philosophy of Education
- Physical Education
- Podcasts in Education
- Policy Context of United States Educational Innovation and...
- Politics of Education
- Portable Technology Use in Special Education Programs and ...
- Pre-Service Teacher Education
- Problem Solving
- Productivity and Higher Education
- Professional Development
- Professional Learning Communities
- Program Evaluation
- Programs and Services for Students with Emotional or Behav...
- Psychology Learning and Teaching
- Psychometric Issues in the Assessment of English Language ...
- Qualitative Data Analysis Techniques
- Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Research Samp...
- Qualitative Research Design
- Quantitative Research Designs in Educational Research
- Race and Affirmative Action in Higher Education
- Reading Education
- Refugee and New Immigrant Learners
- Relational and Developmental Trauma and Schools
- Relational Pedagogies in Early Childhood Education
- Reliability in Educational Assessments
- Religion in Elementary and Secondary Education in the Unit...
- Researcher Development and Skills Training within the Cont...
- Research-Practice Partnerships in Education within the Uni...
- Response to Intervention
- Restorative Practices
- Scale and Sustainability of Education Innovation and Impro...
- Scaling Up Research-based Educational Practices
- School Accreditation
- School Choice
- School Culture
- School District Budgeting and Financial Management in the ...
- School Improvement through Inclusive Education
- School Reform
- Schools, Private and Independent
- School-Wide Positive Behavior Support
- Science Education
- Secondary to Postsecondary Transition Issues
- Self-Regulated Learning
- Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices
- Severe Disabilities
- Single Salary Schedule
- Single-sex Education
- Single-Subject Research Design
- Social Context of Education
- Social Justice
- Social Network Analysis
- Social Pedagogy
- Social Science and Education Research
- Social Studies Education
- Sociology of Education
- Standards-Based Education
- Statistical Assumptions
- Student Access, Equity, and Diversity in Higher Education
- Student Assignment Policy
- Student Engagement in Tertiary Education
- Student Learning, Development, Engagement, and Motivation ...
- Student Participation
- Student Voice in Teacher Development
- Sustainability Education in Early Childhood Education
- Sustainability in Early Childhood Education
- Sustainability in Higher Education
- Teacher Beliefs and Epistemologies
- Teacher Collaboration in School Improvement
- Teacher Evaluation and Teacher Effectiveness
- Teacher Preparation
- Teacher Training and Development
- Teacher Unions and Associations
- Teacher-Student Relationships
- Teaching Critical Thinking
- Technologies, Teaching, and Learning in Higher Education
- Technology Education in Early Childhood
- Technology, Educational
- Technology-based Assessment
- The Bologna Process
- The Regulation of Standards in Higher Education
- Theories of Educational Leadership
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- Tracking and Detracking
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- Transformative Learning
- Transitions in Early Childhood Education
- Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities in the Unite...
- Understanding the Psycho-Social Dimensions of Schools and ...
- University Faculty Roles and Responsibilities in the Unite...
- Using Ethnography in Educational Research
- Value of Higher Education for Students and Other Stakehold...
- Virtual Learning Environments
- Vocational and Technical Education
- Wellness and Well-Being in Education
- Women's and Gender Studies
- Young Children and Spirituality
- Young Children's Learning Dispositions
- Young Children's Working Theories