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Future Studies: Preparing Learners for Success in the 21st Century

by Sandra Burchsted

Globalization and advancements in technology are driving changes the in the social, technological, economic, environmental and political landscapes at a rate and magnitude too great, too multiple to ignore. Learners equipped with skills and perspectives designed to help them anticipate change and plan accordingly will be better prepared to thrive in a world characterized by rapid continuous change. Futures Studies offers learners a unique set of tools and perspectives, which empowers them to anticipate and prepare for our change-ridden world.

How do you study the future?

Futures Studies aims to identify probable and preferred futures, which are embedded in the universe of possible futures. Once these are identified, plans and activities can be formed to increase the probability of the preferred future. The practice of studying the future is an ongoing process characterized by five essential elements. These elements are:

* Identifying and monitoring change: trends, emerging issues, events, cycles

* Exploring implications for the future: what are possible first, second, and third order implications likely to flow from an identified trend, issue, event, or cycle

* Identifying and describing the universe of possible futures: alternative futures scenarios

* Identifying and describing preferred futures: visions

* Planning and Implementing: identifying allies, stakeholders, resources, clarifying goals, devising strategies, organizing and creating change

When learners apply this systemic foresight process to discern the universe of possible futures, they gain a sense of empowerment about the future and the role they play in creating better futures for themselves and for future generations.

Why study the future?

Education has focused on past and present: learning needs to expand to include the future. After all, the future is the only time frame we have the power to influence. Integrating a futures dimension into education will help learners deal more effectively with long-range issues and will provide a framework to sift through the wide range of moral, ethical, and social issues they will surely face. The practice of studying the future:

* prepares learners for unexpected events
* develops an increased sense of responsibility toward the future and future generations
* helps learners connect present choices, actions, and decisions to long-term consequences or outcomes
* builds upon past understanding and present skills
* empowers learners to see they have the ability to shape their futures
* offers learners the opportunity to develop attitudes and tools necessary for navigating their rapidly changing world
* provides opportunity for generative research
* emphasizes research questions that require problem solving and decision-making
* helps learners see that many aspects of the future are knowable
* encourages learners to view the world systemically

The future is almost certain to be dramatically different from the present. Providing learners with tools and perspectives to study the future will enhance their ability to succeed in a rapidly changing world.

About the Author

Sandra is a professional futurist, educator, and founder of Prospectiva, an educational futures consulting firm. With a Master's degree in Studies of the Future from the University of Houston Clear Lake, a Bachelor's in Education from the University of Houston and years of experience as a classroom teacher and as a futurist Sandra enjoys a diverse practice serving educational, nonprofit and community-based clients.

Sandra's published works include: contributing to the recently released book, Youth Futures Comparative Research and Transformative Visions, 2002; co-authoring Shaping Our Future Facilitator's Guidebook; researching the effects of visioning and publishing the results in the professional journal FUTURES; and researching/co-authoring scenarios on "The Futures of Human Sexuality" featured on the BBC's "The Essential Guide to the 21st Century" Family, Sex and Society.

Please visit Prospectiva's Learning Expedition™ Map, which is a flexible project-based learning portal. The site equips users with an easy to follow foresight process supported by an array of foresight related resources. The Learning Expedition™ Map incorporates English, Language Arts, and Social Studies National Learning Standards. We invite you to explore the future with us!

© February 2003

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