The Future of On the Horizon
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1998, 6(2), 2-4. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Last fall, Jossey-Bass Publishers issued a call for Horizon List subscribers to respond to a number of questions about On the Horizon (OTH). Respondents were selected on the basis of their position (administrative or faculty roles) and type of organization (community college, university, or public school). Respondents received all issues in volume four and were asked to comment on such aspects as the quality and usefulness of articles and which departments (lead articles, STEEP sector articles) were most valuable, and to suggest topics for future issues.

My colleagues at Jossey-Bass summarized the responses and made recommendations as follows:

  • The lead articles received the highest ratings. Those that elicited the most interest were lead articles by nationally recognized names (such as O'Banion and Keller). Recommendation: Include two lead articles.
  • The majority of reviewers did not value the environmental section. Recommendation: Although the environment is a vital sector of a comprehensive scan, make it an occasional instead of regular column, perhaps appearing twice a year or as important environmental issues arise. Alternatively, continue a regularly appearing column, but in a shortened format (for example, bulleted summaries of various environmental issues affecting education).
  • The technology, tools, and Net columns received mixed reviews. While some valued and enjoyed them, others said that they were too technical, and still others said they were not technical enough. Technology-literate people generally look elsewhere (for example, in trade journals) for details. Other readers tend to be interested in the larger issues that spark consideration and debate across the organization, not technical details. Recommendation: Articles must be reader-friendly enough for nontechnical readers, yet technical enough to facilitate discussion and action. It may be desirable to shift the format on one of the technology, tools, or Net columns to a reference list, instructing readers where to get more details (for example, specific trade journals or books).
  • The political column, although an important component of scanning, was not popular. Recommendation: Consider altering the thrust of the column, looking at particular events, legislation, trends (for example, backing away from affirmative action); connect specific political events with day-to-day educational practice. Identify the relationship of political events with specific institutions. Select contributors from diverse backgrounds, and diverse points of view.
  • The K–12 respondents did not think that OTH is providing information relevant to their work. Recommendation: Devote a specific section to this audience or have two lead articles, one geared to higher education and one to K–12.
  • With respect to content, reviewers requested more hard facts, statistics, case studies, and real-life examples of things that occurred in other educational organizations. Recommendation: Consider shaping the articles to emphasize the translation of theory into practice—ideas plus concrete solutions. Authors should discuss the implications and ramifications of an idea for different types of institutions (for example, four-year state college, community college, private university, and public school).

With respect to structure, my colleagues recommended that we consider shortening some of the STEEP sections and instead have two lead articles (a few panelists suggested this, and the lead articles definitely received the highest ratings).

I posted the complete set of survey questions, responses, and the analysis by my colleagues at Jossey-Bass to a Web page on the Horizon Web site and invited Horizon List subscribers to review and comment on this thoughtful and thorough review.

One of the first responses was by two editorial board members, David Snyder and Gregg Edwards, who proposed substantially revising the OTH scanning format to an in-depth forum discussing specific trends or issues affecting the future of education. Each issue would include three to five articles addressing a specific topic from different points of view, with several shorter articles critiquing the longer ones. Snyder and Edwards further proposed that the first issue of the volume year be organized around the STEEP sectors, with each column consisting of brief status reports on important trend developments and benchmark events in that sector. Thus the January–February issue would be headlined "RE-Viewing the Future," and would constitute a comprehensive punch-list of the important externalities that are on the horizon for education. This punch-list of issues could serve to designate the forum topics for the volume year. The actual topics would be selected after subscribers had an opportunity to provide their input via Horizon List. Having the topics designated well in advance would provide the basis for naturally evolving exploratory on-line dialogues. Snyder and Edwards felt that an on-line review and discussion of each issue would produce a higher quality and more useful publication.

Although they noted that the original STEEP format provided an appealing organizing logic for mobilizing OTH's writership and readership, they concluded, "If we are seriously interested in provoking leveraged individuals into taking action, the scanning format is less likely to entice the reader's intellectual engagement and insightful reflection than is a lively, thoughtfully articulated debate. Now is the time to move on!"

Other board members disagreed. Ian Wilson argued that there is still a need to fulfill the original intent of OTH to serve as a comprehensive scanning publication to provide individuals and institutions with "early warning signs" of developing trends and thus "prime the pump" of readers' own thinking and efforts to learn from, and act on, the future. He liked the idea of devoting one issue each year to a synoptic look at the future, but argued that the value of turning OTH into a debating forum for issues affecting education is questionable; OTH cannot be both a scanning periodical and a forum for debate. OTH can and should deal with different interpretations of trends, and with the interpretation of different (that is, conflicting) trends. We should not renege on our original commitment to provide educators with a greatly needed "early warning system."

Bill Halal suggested that we examine the response to the November–December 1997 special issue on virtual education and, perhaps, try another special issue on one specific topic during the current volume year. Halal suggested that the format evolve in response to demand, the needs of education, new technology, and all the other factors that will require change.

Rick Slaughter, a futurist based in Australia, argued that we should focus more on scanning with less emphasis on what is happening in (mainly U.S.-centered) educational systems. Although scanning is a methodology that plays a pivotal role in reorienting systems from the past toward the emerging future, few educational organizations use it. He stated: "There is a lot of work to do here and On the Horizon is well placed to help."

We appreciate the thought and concern expressed by the panel of reviewers and by Horizon List participants. We have archived the survey questions, responses, analysis of the responses, and the Horizon List discussion on the Inside Horizon page in OTH On-Line at

What does this discussion and analysis mean for the future of On the Horizon? For the immediate issues in this volume year, we will retain our format. The advent of OTH On-Line allows us to take advantage of the almost unlimited space provided by both the Internet and our new server to invite debate and discussion of the emerging trends and issues identified in the print publication since 1992. The software we use for OTH On-Line (Microsoft's FrontPage) contains a discussion forum option that allows browsers to make comments about each article, including those that have been submitted for publication consideration. These comments will be available not only to authors but to all subscribers for review and, if they wish, for adding their response and observations.

Through Microsoft’s NetMeeting we will sponsor synchronous chat rooms exclusively for subscribers. We will announce on the Horizon Web page and in On the Horizon print issues that on a certain date and time, particular authors will be available to respond to questions about the topics of their articles. This kind of interaction will go far in meeting the objectives that David Snyder and Gregg Edwards expressed in their post arguing that we change the format of On the Horizon. By the way, NetMeeting is free software available for downloading from Microsoft's home page at

We will also retain our focus on education as a social institution, and therefore will not restrict our commentary to any one segment (such as higher education or K–12 education). We need to view education as one system, as the parts of this system are so interconnected. Too, we need to view education in the context of the interconnected global village, not just education in the United States. Our authors, in describing the signals of change in the larger environment, will address their implications for all elements of the educational enterprise, including lifelong learning. Including educators and people concerned about education in all levels and segments of the enterprise discussing emerging trends and issues challenging education is a fruitful way for us to expend our time and resources. Too, On the Horizon fills a unique niche in the periodical literature by focusing on the external macroenvironment (instead of the market environment, which is well covered by association periodicals, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Education Week).

As always, we are interested in your ideas as to how we can do a better job. Please do not hesitate to write, phone, or e-mail me your questions and suggestions.

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