Futures thinking workshop: The future of learning with AI in 2033

My colleague Joann Kozyrev from Western Governors University and I ran a futures thinking workshop with her colleagues as part of our course work in the MetaFuture Becoming a Futurist course.

Question about the future

Because of the current hype around generative AI, such as ChatGPT, and its impact on learning, we decided to look into the question:

What the future of learning might look like with generative AI in ten years.

As future thinking was new to the fifteen participants, we started with a brief introduction.

7 Steps to your preferred future

Because we only had three hours (4 would be a minimum), we used a workshop format based on seven questions that is relatively easy to explain and follow while still leading everyone through all the necessary steps.

  1. Looking into the history of the issue, 
  2. Making an initial forecast
  3. Looking at the assumptions made in the forecast
  4. Creating four scenarios for alternative futures 
  5. Deciding on the preferred future
  6. Tracing back the developments from the future to the present, and
  7. Coming up with a transformative metaphor. 

In order to reduce the time to explain the seven steps, I provided an example for each from futures thinking work I had done previously on the future of language learning.

Metaphors in futures thinking

I can’t share the scenarios, unfortunately, but my co-facilitator, Joan, wrote up the metaphors participants came up with for the future:

The first metaphor: Generative AI has made education like the #WildWest” which I interpret as “A place where you meet both pioneers and outlaws, who must be managed by a sheriff.” A preferred future metaphor might be the Modern West, where there is still wilderness to be explored but the various contributors to the ecosystem and history are respected and valued.

Another metaphor my colleagues shared was “AI as #BigBrother.” Orwell’s 1984 with its dystopian 2-minute hates, ever changing archetypal enemies with the difference that Winston Smith has been replaced in the Ministry of Truth by a generative AI model. A preferred future metaphor could be that of Little Brother, a sidekick that we trust and is loyal to us and can be counted on to help fill out the team when asked.

Several groups and colleagues shared a GPS or #Mapquest metaphor for Generative AI. In the current state, the maps are in their early days, and only major roads are shown. This metaphor doesn’t need to change to describe the preferred future so much as mature. For the future metaphor, in addition to showing major roads, all communities will be represented by the model reducing bias and increasing exposure. Various “modes” (satellite, street view) can be chosen as well as routing choices (avoid bridges) can also be selected.

How did it go?

It was refreshing that we didn’t have to prepare a lot of content because this came from the participants. Because the participants were experienced instructional designers and assessment specialists, we didn’t have to provide any prep material on the topic. 

As Sohail Inayatullah says in the Become a Futurist course, the workshop facilitator doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room. I learned so much from the sharing that happened in this workshop by all the very smart people who participated.

A small technical issue aside, the workshop went remarkably well even though it was a bit rushed. The participants said they enjoyed the workshop because it gave everyone an outlet to express their thoughts on this timely topic. One participant said it was the best workshop experience they had in years.

I am happy about the positive feedback, but more than that…

It feels good to give people a positive outlook and a feeling of agency, as well as providing them with a framework that can help them think through a particular issue and its potential future impact in a more strategic way.