Avainsana-arkisto: futures literacy

IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY – NOR TOO LATE – TO START LEARNING FUTURES THINKING

Sirkka Heinonen:

We are living in a rapidly changing world, and the future holds more and more uncertainties, risks and surprises. In order to understand the complexity of the world and its futures, we need foresight at all levels of society – from basic education to universities, from businesses to whole industries, especially for decision-making, in public administration and government, as well as in the private sector. When considering, for example, the futures of education, it is necessary to evaluate how other sectors are changing and how the whole society will evolve.

The best thing about futures thinking is that anybody can develop his or her skills – anywhere and at any age! You can either explore the futures yourself or choose to study the field of Futures Studies. The foundation of the academic university-level Futures Studies lies in systematic thinking and complexity approach. Futures thinking, on the other hand, is a universal human attribute that has always existed in us. Only the time horizon, principles and methods of futures thinking have changed and developed over time. However, as an academic discipline, Futures Studies is based on completely different futures thinking than what was practiced in ancient times in Rome, Greece, and other civilizations such as Babylon, India and Mexico. Nevertheless, there are multiple commonalities between the two, such as the burning desire to learn more about the future and all information and insights related to it.

In fact, I wrote my licentiate thesis about time and future – in the light of the ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca’s production (Heinonen 1990). There were already over a hundred different specific techniques for exploring the future in ancient Rome – from bird watching to the observation of internals and the interpretation of futuristic signals and omens. The scientific study of the future is of more recent inception and originated in the United States and Europe in the 1940s. The most distinctive difference to the ancient futures thinking is that in contemporary futures studies the future is anticipated, not predicted. The future is no longer seen as a deterministic cloud that hovers over us, but rather as different development scenarios, stages of future drama, the plot and elements of which may be affected and adapted. Nowadays, more than thirty scientific methods are being used, of which there are methodological manuals published by both the international think tank, Millennium Project, (Glenn & Gordon 2009) and the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (Heinonen, Kuusi & Salminen 2017 [1]). The field of Futures Studies spread to Finland in the second half of the 1970s and the 1980s, and has since then developed into an active Society for Futures Studies with over 700 members, many of which work in the field of education.

The basic principles, approaches, tools and methods of futures thinking should be incorporated into our education system at all levels. This could be accomplished through combining futures thinking and learning into almost any subject. History, social studies, geography, biology and psychology are examples of subjects that fit particularly well for futures thinking. Brain researchers have interestingly indicated that the human brain uses the same part of the organ when remembering the past and when perceiving the future. In fact, my German Futures Research colleague Kerstin Cuhls uses mental time travel as a method to allow people to immerse themselves in the future by closing their eyes and observing the details and phenomena of the future through their thoughts and silence (Atance & Mahy 2016).

As stated, futures thinking can be incorporated into all school subjects, to varying degrees. In arts, portrayed themes may for example be about the future of housing, transportation or technologies. In music, students may learn about future-oriented productions or discuss the production and role of music in the future. In literature, the writing topics may be related to the future. In drama class, the students may write and perform a play or produce a short film about the future. Furthermore, it is possible to arrange Futures Study courses or a whole new subject on futures thinking itself, from primary school to high school. As has been done in some parts of Finland, it is particularly advisable to organize a future-oriented event on the International Future Day, which has been celebrated for several years, on the first day of March. The Finland Futures Research Centre has prepared educational materials to University, University of Applied Sciences, and High Schools levels. The materials include a lecture package with exercises for small groups (45 min + 45 min) as well as the main principles of future thinking and recommended reflections about scenarios on renewable energy and peer-to-peer society (Heinonen & Karjalainen 2018 [2]). The ultimate goal might be presenting scenarios as videos, which would require co-operation of futures researchers with video artists.

Future thinking can be systematically strengthened by everyone – resulting in futures literacy. Futures thinking empowers individuals, communities, as well as entire societies to steer the future, by creating desired futures through concrete action. UNESCO Foresight Expert Riel Miller often talks about futures literacy – the ability to use the future in the present. In other words, this means making use of future scenarios in decision-making. Furthermore, I have been recently developing the concept of futures resilience, which can be defined as the ability to cope with the uncertainties, challenges, threats, and surprises of the future. How important would it be to include such futures resilience as one of the comprehensive learning goals of our entire school system? This is an element that needs to be heavily featured in early childhood education. We have a longing for a wholesome human being – the fragmented present-day way of life must be replaced by a holistic approach and long-term thinking. Children should be educated in an environment that combines humans, nature, technology, physical and virtual worlds, learning from the past, as well as responsible, ubiquitous and proactive futures-oriented education. Especially in early childhood education, futures learning can and should take place in the form of play, exercise and enjoyment. On the other hand, it is never too late to start futures learning. Futures thinking is an age-neutral capacity and skill.

Sirkka Heinonen
Professor Emerita
Finland Futures Research Centre, Helsinki Office
sirkka.heinonen@utu.fi

 

© Picture: Maria Heinonen

 

References

Atance, Cristina M. & Mahy, Caitlin E.V. (2016). Episodic Future Thinking in Children. Methodological and Theoretical Approaches. In: Michaelian, K., Klein, S.B. & Szpunar, K.K. (eds) Seeing the Future. Theoretical Perspectives on Future-Oriented Mental Time Travel. Oxford University Press, 449 p.

Cuhls, Kerstin (2017). Mental time travel in foresight processes – cases and applications. Futures 86 (2017), pp.118-135. DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2016.05.008

Glenn, Jerome & Gordon, Theodore (2009). Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0, Millennium Project. Washington D.C., cd.

Heinonen, Sirkka (2018). Futures thinking empowers us towards making the futures (In Finnish, Tulevaisuusajattelu voimaistaa tulevaisuuksien tekemiseen). Rihveli 2/2018. Helsinki teachers’ association, 16-25.

Heinonen, Sirkka (1990). Time and Future in Seneca (In Finnish, Aika ja tulevaisuus Senecan tuotannossa). Acta Futura Fennica No 1. Finnish Society for Futures Studies. Valtion Painatuskeskus, 153 p.

Heinonen, Sirkka & Karjalainen, Joni (2018). Electrification in Peer-to-Peer Society – New Narrative for Finland’s Futures, (In Finnish, Sähköistyminen vertaisyhteiskunnassa – uusi tarina Suomen tulevaisuudelle). TUTU-Publications 1/2018, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku. Forthcoming in English.

Heinonen, Sirkka & Ruotsalainen, Juho (2013). Futures Clinique – method for promoting futures learning and provoking radical futures. European Journal of Futures Research (2013) 15:7, DOI 10.1007/s40309-013-0007-4, 11 p.

Heinonen, Sirkka, Kuusi, Osmo & Salminen, Hazel (eds.) (2017). How Do We Explore Our Futures? Acta Futura Fennica no 10, Finland Futures Research Centre. Helsinki.

Kuusi, Osmo, Bergman, Timo & Salminen, Hazel (toim.) (2013). How Do We Explore Our Futures? (In Finnish, Miten tutkimme tulevaisuuksia? Acta Futura Fennica no 5, Finland Futures Research Centre. Helsinki.

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[1] The original methods book was published in Finnish (Kuusi, Bergman & Salminen 2013).

[2] This teaching material will be published in English as well.

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From schools to peer-to-peer -learning. How to live in Learning Intensive Society?

Laura Pouru & Markku Wilenius:

About 40 representatives from academia, education administration and schools gathered to a morning session on the Future of Futures Literacy in Finland organized by UNESCO, Finnish National Board of Education and Finland Futures Research Centre on June 15th, 2018. The session explored futures of learning and ways of bringing futures literacy into the curriculum of Finnish education system.

What is Futures Literacy and Futures Literacy Laboratory?

Futures literacy refers to individual’s capability to use the future in the present. This is an increasingly valuable skill for people living in our complex and dynamic world. The capacity to observe and reflect upon how oneself and others “use the future” in the present can unlock great potentials for individuals, organizations, and society.

Futures literacy laboratory (FLL) is a learning experiment that aims at making participants more aware of their own anticipatory assumptions and their ways of using the future. Therefore the main goal is not to produce new knowledge to decision-making, but to inspire participants to become more conscious about the future. However, as the participants are guided through the Lab and offered kind of ‘sandbox’ where to play with new framings and anticipatory assumptions about the future, interesting new ideas are often produced as a by-product. In this blog post we are introducing some of the interesting themes that were brought up at the FLL sandbox, where the play material consisted of futures of futures literacy and learning in Finland.

Peer-to-peer learning in local communities

Firstly, the importance of local communities was strongly brought up in the discussions. Local communities were seen as the core unit where people live, communicate and learn. What are these communities and how are they formed, was a question raised during the lab. Are they “bubbles” of like-minded people or more heterogeneous fractals? Inhabitants of these local communities have well-being in physical, emotional and spiritual sense as their life’s core value. This means that, for example, “work is organized for life” instead of “life being organized for work”.

The local communities were also seen as the core setting where learning takes place, not anymore so much in schools but more in peer-to-peer networks. People can learn, for example, in heterarchical mentor-mentor –relationships, where both parties learn equally from each other instead of more traditional mentor-actor or master-apprentice relationships.

It was also noted that this kind of learning intensive society requires new kind of agency from the learners; everyone is responsible for their own learning and individual development. The question “Who owns the learning?” was emphasized in a sense that motivation and ownership of learning should always originate from inside the learner instead of outside from the teacher or other external motivations. In many visions school buildings had disappeared but teachers had not. In the learning intensive society teachers act as learning facilitators supporting individual learning. Teachers’ role as change agents was also seen crucial in the process of transforming our current learning system towards this new learning intensive society.

Future of futures literacy?

How about the future of futures literacy? Some participants believed that futures literacy will still be too abstract to integrate it to the national education curriculum, while others were optimistic that futures literacy would become a basic skill for everyone. The main concern seemed to be polarization: what if futures literacy becomes a skill that helps those who have it to succeed and those who don’t have it to be condemned to be less successful.

What we conclude is that if we are heading towards this kind of learning intensive society, where we own the responsibility of our own learning, futures literacy becomes even more essential. In this peer-to-peer-learning society futures literacy is like a compass that helps us to navigate and decide the direction we should focus our learning next. This is why we need to start building our individual, organizational and societal futures literacy skills today. This is something in which Finland can be a global forerunner, because we already have exceptionally strong tradition and institutions of futures studies and foresight in our country. Now we just need to mobilize this futures know-how and make it our shared capacity.

In practice we can start mobilizing our futures know-how by embedding futures literacy in all the levels of our current education system. Futures literacy can be taught in schools as phenomenon-based multidisciplinary courses, or elements of it can be integrated in the existing study topics, such as history, geography or the language studies. This way we can make “futures” more approachable as a topic that everybody knows is important but few have capacity to comprehend. Thinking of Finland, futures literacy could indeed become the new competitive edge for our learning institutions.

Conclusion

Futures literacy refers to a space of potential freedom inside our minds and hearts. Indeed, we can decide what kind of assumptions of the future we hold. Our hopes and our fears about future are very important vehicles in our journey towards future. Moreover, it is that mental space that creates opportunities for personal development and transformation. Simply put, our assumptions about future are the ways future exists in the present.

For the young people in particular, going through their formative years, it is critically important that they learn to discover their futures through their assumptions. To build a positive and constructive vision of future on personal, local and global level is by far the best asset they can have in our complex and fast changing world. By facilitating these discoveries we can make a great contribution to their lives. This is what futures literacy is all about.

The FLL was led by Head of Foresight Riel Miller from UNESCO and UNESCO Chair Markku Wilenius from Finland Futures Research Centre. Laura Pouru, Nicolas Balcom Raleigh, Ellinoora Leino-Richert, Marianna B. Ferreira-Aulu and Amos Taylor from the Finland Futures Research Centre organized and facilitated the group work sessions during the Lab. The session was organized as part of the research, development and education agenda of the UNESCO Chair in Learning Society & Futures of Education at the University of Turku.

Interested in Futures Literacy and Futures Literacy Laboratory as a learning method? See these:

Balcom Raleigh, N.A. – Pouru, L. – Leino-Richert, E. – Parkkinen, M. – Wilenus, M. (2018) Futures Literacy Lab for education – Imagining Complex Futures of Human Settlements at Finland Futures Academy Summer School 2017. FFRC eBOOK 3/2018.

Miller, R. (ed.) (2018) Transforming the Future: Anticipation in the 21st Century. Routledge. 

Laura Pouru
Project Manager, Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku

Markku Wilenius
Professor, UNESCO Chair, Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku

From the left: Ellinoora Leino-Richert, Amos Taylor, Laura Pouru, Riel Miller, Marianna B. Ferreira-Aulu, Markku Wilenius and Nicolas Balcom Raleigh. (photo: Katariina Heikkilä)