Strategic Foresight in Education Planning: A Guideline

This guideline will provide you some ideas on how you can introduce strategic foresight in classrooms or in strategic planning for educational institutions.

August 6, 2020, Gökce Sandal

What will the school curriculums, learning tools and environments of the future look like? With several key drivers of change underway, it may seem a near impossible task for education planners to navigate the uncertainties surrounding the field of education. Strategic foresight can help them future-proof strategies and ensure future generations’ success.

Why should educational institutions practice strategic foresight?


The field of education is facing several disruptions. While technology and digitalization are the usual suspects that tend to take centre stage in discussions about the future of education, there are numerous equally important yet overlooked societal, organizational, and cultural changes that may present critical changes to educational environments.

With the ever-increasing pace of such changes and uncertainties, education planners are working in increasingly complex landscapes that require flexibility. On the other hand, lengthy decision-making processes, multiple stakeholders, and slow bureaucracies make an agile approach difficult in educational strategy contexts.


Remote learning is the future of education
Education needs to evolve to prepare children for the future of changes - ​​​Source: Stem.T4L (Unsplash)

Strategic foresight is a well-suited methodology that can allow flexibility in these complex ecosystems. Using strategic foresight in education planning will help engage key stakeholders, such as policymakers, ministries, and funding agencies, to form a shared vision of the future and to strive towards that future together.

As a field that is right at the heart of shaping future societies, business as usual is no longer an option in education planning. By using strategic foresight in education planning, education professionals can keep on the pulse of emerging trends, identify innovative opportunities to prepare students for future changes, and ensure future generations’ healthy development and success.

If you are interested to incorporate foresight and futures thinking into your educational activities, see how Futures Platform can support you with that. Read more about Futures Platform's solutions for educational institutions.


How to identify the drivers of change: Horizon scanning


Horizon scanning is one of the strategic foresight methodologies that involves a systematic and continuous examination of both one’s operating environment and also other industries. It helps one make sense of the changes and identify early signs of potentially important future developments. Practising continuous horizon scanning can help education planners identify critical changes, opportunities and threats shaping education futures.

Some of the forces shaping education futures are, for example, new skills and types of knowledge being in demand, changing learning structures and environments, personalization and commodification of education, and non-traditional players entering the field. Continuously scanning the horizon for these trends as well as the other, lesser-known weak signals will give education planners the much-needed agility to continually revise and readapt plans.


Horizon Scanning helps you identify the driver of changes in a time horizon
Horizon Scanning helps you identify the driver of changes in a time horizon - Source: Key Success Factor of A Foresight Program eBook

In the horizon scanning stage, education planners can first identify trends, weak signals and changes, and then go on to explore their potential impacts through discussions and brainstorming sessions.

For example, the trends of digitalization and personalization of education may bring forth questions such as: How will the virtualization of schools change learning environments, methods and tools? How will learning change with new tools such as neuro-enhancers? How can curriculums and assignments be diversified to take into account different learners? What will be the role of teachers if AI teachers take over?


Do you want to learn best foresight practices for educational institutions? Book a free consultation with an educational foresight expert.


How to respond to changes: Scenario building


After scanning the horizon and identifying critical forces of change that may potentially disrupt the field of education, scenario building allows one to explore multiple scenarios on how these forces may push the future into different directions. Through the exploration of strategic possibilities and potential turning points along the way, scenario building can equip education planners with the capacity to prepare for future uncertainties.

As a method with a fine balance between systemic thinking and creativity, scenario building will also help education planners think out-of-the-box, look beyond the obvious, and question even their most fundamental assumptions about schools, learning and teaching.

For example, what if there would be neither brick-and-mortar schools nor teachers in the school of the future? What if the concept of a school could be repurposed to something entirely different than teaching?

Here is one possible scenario based on the trends of e-learning and commodification of knowledge: In a scenario where these trends continue to develop unchecked, schools may become mega-corporations that offer entirely personalized study packages where the learners could choose the content, pace, learning style and tools. One could, for example, opt to learn one hour a day or go on ‘study retreats’ for short, intensive phases of learning. This would, in turn, cause public institutions to lose value, and could even render the lengthy university degrees obsolete.

After this scenario building session, education planners can accordingly take strategic steps to include more flexible, customizable curriculums and blended modes of learning in public institutions. Moreover, building scenarios will also give education planners and the collaborating stakeholders the agency to form their desired futures.

In this scenario, for example, they could take steps to prevent the commodification of education from causing further social inequalities in the future.


If you want to learn more about other foresight methods, read our blog article 9 Foresight Methodologies Successful Companies Use to Stay Ahead


How can you future-proof your school’s strategy? Using foresight tools for education planning


As the upcoming decades present both new opportunities and challenges, practising continuous strategic foresight will be crucial for education planners in designing the ideal learning programs, environments and tools to prepare students for future changes. This requires constant updating of strategies and plans to keep schools at the heart of these changes. While this may seem daunting at first, digital foresight tools can make this work significantly more manageable.

Using digital foresight tools for education planning is particularly useful when looking across industries, engaging with changes in different fields, and crowdsourcing insights from other experts.

Foresight tools enable holistic thinking by allowing one to see how forces of change are interconnected, and how seemingly unrelated trends in order industries can have major impacts on education. Visualizing trends on 360-degree radars can also help education planners comprehend the changing landscape and the pull of the future more clearly.

Moreover, as new players are increasingly becoming involved in the education scene, digital foresight tools for education planning are particularly useful in terms of collaborative action and smooth communications. They enable teams to deliver insights in the form of presentations and have collaborative horizon scanning and scenario building workshops.

Such features will significantly help break down silos, build bridges between established players and new enterprises in the sector, and facilitate a productive environment where they can all collaborate towards innovating for the future.



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