The future of education – what will it look like?

I’ve read another book relatively recently, by Kerri Facer, called Learning Futures which I’d highly recommend. Below I have summarised the main ideas and reflected a bit about the ideas in the book.



Keri Facer paints quite a different picture of what schools should be, what purpose they should have and how they should operate. Her goals for thinking about a new education system are outlined in the first chapter:

“We need to start thinking now about how schools can act as resources for fairness if children bring highly diverse digital, social and pharmacological resources into the classroom. We need to start thinking now about how schools can equip students for democracy when technologies of surveillance are expanding and new networked public spaces are emerging. And we need to start thinking now about how schools can act as resources for building sustainable economic futures when networked globalization promises increased polarization, radical inequality and environmental degradation.”

She says that we run the risk of becoming more impersonal and fragmented as we look towards personalized learning when instead we need local, physical, community based organisations. We also base our current ideas about the future of education around two key ideas:

  • Technology is advancing, population is increasing, global economies are shifting so we need to prepare kids for that.
  • Technology is changing incredibly quickly but schools aren’t keeping up.

These are incorrect, Facer says, because they are based on the assumptions that we have no influence on shaping what the future will look like, technology will only change the economy and education’s sole job is to prepare kids for the economy. Instead, Facer introduces the idea of ‘socio-technological change’ whereby the focus is to move away from technology influencing the future alone to technology is “co-produced through social, material and epistemological practices.”

Facer offers some different assumptions about socio-technological change:

  • Computers will become more powerful and cheaper.
  • Computers will be found everywhere and digital and physical artefacts will merge.
  • Communication over a distance using rich audio-visual technology will be commonplace
  • Working alongside sophisticated machines will be taken for granted.
  • Networks will still be important for us to work in and adapt to change.
  • Bioscience will have a big influence on our lives.
  • We have an aging population.
  • “Energy, mineral resources and climate warming” will still be important issues for us.
  • We live in a world of great inequality.

Based on these assumptions, Facer looks at a future where the school is not ‘future-proof’ but, rather, ‘future-building’. This would mean looking at how learning happens inside and outside of schools as well as how communities can shape the future. Facer believes that the school remains important, and we should avoid breaking up into highly personalised pockets of learning because schools are a local institutions we can use to have democratic, critical conversations about the future, learn important things (as adults and children) in a network and create a sustainable future.

Facer sees schools as a place for a merging of older and younger generations’ ideas and experiences and a breaking down of the boundaries between these groups. In addition to this, schools will need to learn how to deal with students who bring diverse biological and technical enhancements to the school with them – “The educational encounter between networked individuals becomes one of understanding how best these resources can be mobilized, and where they need to be extended…” Facer goes on to discuss information and our ease of access to this. She highlights the need for ‘multi-modal’ literacies as we enter an age where machines will have the capacity to work out what to do, rather than just follow directives and our digital media will be more integrated into the physical world. We are, therefore, going to need to become more discerning with the information we find, and what we do with it. Facer says that “this means that there won’t be universal laws about what counts as valuable information and that critical questions we may need to learn to ask will be: “‘what am I interested in’ ‘what am I working on?’ ‘what matters to me?’” Schools would then move towards becoming knowledge producing institutions. On top of this, schools will need to be places where students experience and learn how to operate in a democracy.

My reflection on this book:

I’m glad I took the time to read this as it stands in stark contrast to some of the current ideas we throw around in education. I don’t know how many times I have attended a conference or spoken myself about the very ideas Facer seems to abhor. I guess it is all too easy to feel buffeted in the winds of change and caught up in the hype/depression/hysteria (depending on who you talk to) of discussion about the future.

Facer draws form many of the same trends but looks at the situation in a different (and perhaps more positive) way – how do we construct the future we want? This is where it got tricky for me. Although I appreciated the story at the end about a vision of a school in 2035, I found it difficult to understand what exactly would be happening on a day to day basis. I also found it challenging to think about how we bridge the gap between the current situation and day to day reality, and this vision of the future school. I also wonder if it is so black and white – either disconnected personalised learning OR community learning and co-construction of the future. Why can’t you have both?


4 thoughts on “The future of education – what will it look like?

  1. This was great, thanks Emma. I’ve read a few things of Keri’s but didn’t realise she had something new out, so it was great to catch this. I think in general, the thrust of the argument about needing to develop a stronger critical lens about technology and the school are very welcome. We’ve perhaps come through a phase where the ideas of the ‘networked individual’ and the ‘networked economy’ have been everywhere. Much of it is hype, as you say. Problematising the notion of ‘individualised’ or ‘personalised’ learning is also welcome I think, as these are quite strong devices of rhetoric I think, that come loaded with a certain set of presuppositions about what education should be. Most educators have a strong sense of where they stand on issues like sustainability, consumerism, communitarianism – which I think is one of the things Keri is pointing at here, and if we remain clear headed about sticking to those things then we shouldn’t go far wrong. Thank you, you’re into some great stuff 😀

    1. Thanks for the comment Chris. We are certainly in a very interesting time in education and I know I feel like I’m grappling with some tricky stuff. The more I read, the more uncertain I am about what education and school should look like…

      1. Agree, it is tough to know. We have to go forward, that much is certain, but charting a way forward that stays true to those values is probably a useful starting point. I’m trying to ask 3 questions more and more of everything I encounter in education in this space:
        1. Who REALLY benefits from this if we do this?
        2. Who is going to bear the costs?
        3. What will be the outcomes from this and, based on what has happened in the past, what makes us so certain the outcomes we intend are the ones we’ll get?

        Happy to talk more as always 😀

  2. Yes, those a great questions to use as a filter. This tends to be fairly similar to my thinking process but I have been challenged recently to think a bit differently. I have been learning about ‘safe to fail probes’ and making small probes to a system then watching what happens. So you would have a broad idea of the direction you want to head in, but not a specific goal. This is so different to my linear way of thinking where you would think of an end goal, then back map from there, implement ideas and review the success of the idea you have implemented.

    Would love to chat further. Flick me an email or a tweet if you like, and we can arrange a time.

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