Global society: creating learning foresight?

A start to developing and sustaining learning foresight.

Of course , we now know that we now all live in a global society – some say a global ‘village’ – that distances have much less meaning and impact than even a decade or so ago, and emphasis is shifting towards the power for good of global communities on the huge challenges of the world in 21st century. What’s more some say that the 21st Century is a ‘make or break’ time for humanity (Slaughter 2006).

In the academic world, meaningful dialogue has always crossed the world, but perhaps we still have to understand and then exploit the full impact.  Perhaps the true power is only just now being recognised and is moving into the direction of preparation and policy.  The challenge of communicating and collaborating on a vast scale is at the heart of the success of releasing the enormous human  potential …freedom, justice and not the least education.

What we now know is that the world is NOT controllable, predictable and rationale (Ormerod 2010). Communities of practice, networks, and their enablers are slipping to the fore…let’s whisper…Web 2.0

Big corporations are already tapping into two way communications with their customers – a wave of corporate ‘friendship’ is coming our way  via Twitter, Facebook and like.  Education should also be THERE!

Working with others on a global scale is nothing less than creating new viable and desirable pathways to the future for learning.  Sharing and constructing knowledge in this way influences, both directly and subliminally, thoughts and feelings and ultimately life chances, attitudes and actions.  Working on a huge scale relies ultimately on viral communications (the ‘wow-wee’ so often heard about  when fairly non-descript lectures  on YouTube or I TunesU log a   million downloads!) .  In short social networks have the power to create a big impact for little input! Even though their power is a little unpredictable and more complex than old style transmissive approaches.

Professor Wellman and his colleague Keith Hampton at the University of Toronto have explored the relationship between online networks and civic participation (Krotoski 2010). Where is the understanding how networks within education are creating (rather than standing by and watching) productive and viable futures?  We already know that a conceptual sense of belonging drives community more than a tangible location (e.g. Goffman and Oldenburg’s work).

In practice, the Internet’s potential is to raise awareness; in the ‘weak ties’ between infrequent contacts or acquaintances, which, let’s face it, masquerade as ‘friends’ online.   Once a connection is made it requires proactive action to remove it (have you tried to ‘defriend’ people on Facebook?).  So essentially information – of whatever probity and quality – is broadcast to a much much wider network than ever before.

So…how can our community- education and technology combined in new and amazing ways – tap into these new networks to develop preferred and viable new insights and create positive social capital and directions for the learning of the future?

I say we need to work with new others on a global basis.  Not just by publishing a paper on it, not just by developing some better software, not just by monetising something we’ve found that ‘works’. No, we need to work together, learn from each other on a global scale and build quite new alliances.

So about ‘Follow the Sun’ – on   the basis that it’s much better to light a candle than curse the darkness – with the University I am leaving in December 2010, and the University I am joining in January 2011. We are running an across-the-world conference on the future for learning to test out full global networks in the service of learning futures …

Gilly Salmon


Ormerod, P. (2010) ‘Nudge plus networks’. RSA Journal Autumn

Slaughter, R. (2006) Pathways and Impediments to Social Foresight Swinburne Institute of Technology

Learning Futures Festival Online 2011, “Follow the Sun”, 13-15 April 2011, three countries, three time zones, a non-stop global conference

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