Anticipating the Future
James L. Morrison
Program in Educational Leadership
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
A major purpose of On the
Horizon is to identify signals of change in the external environment that could affect
educational organizations, examine implications of these signals, and derive
recommendations for educational leaders in light of this analysis. The value of this
approach to anticipating the future is to provide lead time to prepare for the
consequences of potential changes in the external environment. The value of On the
Horizon is to serve as a pump primer to generate discussion about
potential developments that could affect your organization, be it a college, university,
or public school.
Last summer I facilitated an
Anticipating the Future workshop for fifty community college presidents at the
American Association of Community College Summer Experience in Breckenridge, Colorado. The
design of the workshop was simple. Participants were given past issues of On the
Horizon to read several weeks prior to traveling to Breckenridge. The first exercise
focused on identifying events, the ones that--if they occurred--would affect the future of
community colleges. This exercise generated a number of potential developments. Working in
small groups, participants selected one of the most salient events and in a sequence of
exercises attempted to identify the signals that such an event could occur within the next
ten years and to derive the implications for community colleges if the event were to
occur. They also drafted recommendations for action in light of this analysis. These
exercises serve as a model that you can use in your organization to anticipate the future
and use the information generated by the model to shape your future.
To illustrate, here is the result of one
groups analysis of a potential event (assisted with some of my editing). The
potential event they identified was that of a major software company (such as Microsoft)
joining with a provider of educational materials (say, Disney) and a telecommunications
company (such as AT&T) to produce and sell educational training modules.
The indicators that signal such a
possibility are as follows:
- Educational courses and programs are being produced by corporations. For example, the
League for Innovation in Community Colleges and Jones International provide educational
programming for distance learning.
- Cable and phone companies are consolidating to provide interactive multimedia
programming. Some cable companies are experimenting with offering high speed access to the
Internet via cable.
- Distance education is becoming accepted practice. There is increasing evidence that much
instruction can be provided effectively by interactive instructional software.
Telecommunications, software, and the Internet eliminate walls and boundaries.
- Investors recognize that the younger generation is quickly adapting to
- An increasing number of students want and need nontraditional, flexible schedules.
- The prices of computers and modems are decreasing.
- A third of Americans have a computer in the home; 40 percent of these computers have
- The use of the Internet is expanding exponentially, and more in the business sector than
in the education sector. For example, consider the alliance between Netscape
Communications Corporation (maker of the successful Internet browser, Netscape Navigator)
and VeriFone (maker of the credit card swipers that verify purchases for three-fourths of
the credit card purchases in the United States). These companies claim (as do several
others) that they will provide competent security (that is, encryption) for financial
transactions on the Internet, thus making business transactions, including small ones
(less than a dollar), on the Internet feasible. When successful this kind of security will
accelerate use of the Internet and will make the for-profit distribution of specialized
information commercially practicable.
- State legislative leaders are disgruntled with public higher education; some are
advocating that the private sector can design and implement instruction better than public
or independent colleges and universities.
- Outcomes assessment is still not established in the educational sector. Employers show
more regard for experience than for transcripts or school recommendations in making
employment decisions. Their concern focuses on workers having the skills that make them
useful in the workplace, not on having academic credentials. Consequently, the
certification monopoly by educational organizations is at risk.
What are the implications of these
signals for educators? Seminar participants saw the following:
- Accreditation as currently structured would be threatened; educational organizations
could lose their monopoly to certify training.
- Curriculums must become more responsive to market demands.
- Faculty will focus on developing and using technical software rather than writing or
- Place-bound students such as women who work primarily in the home and rural students
will have equal access to instructional materials.
What should educational leaders do?
- Develop the technological competency of faculty and staff so that they can offer
instruction using interactive video-disks, CD-ROM, and telecommunications.
- Provide faculty development activities not only for enhancing technological competency,
but for integrating technology in their instruction. Faculty roles may have to change from
instructional providers to instructional managers and facilitators.
- Employ faculty who are flexible and who have the competency to integrate technology into
- Revise a reward system in higher education that currently undervalues community service
and teaching, activities essential to garnering public support of educational
- Seek partnerships with other educational organizations as well as private-sector
organizations to offer instructional programming via telecommunications.
- Demonstrate accountability to the public at large by highlighting the competency of
graduates and the social benefits of a broad range of services that educational
- Invest in technology on campus, and also consider providing technological services to
the community at large via evening courses and use of file servers.
- Lobby legislatures to provide appropriations for infrastructures (for example, fiber
optics), and assure them that your organization will effectively educate, not just train,
the workers for the twenty-first century.
The world is changing quickly. In the
United States, prisons and roads vie effectively with education for public funds. The
government is reducing its support for the research infrastructure of the country.
Colleges and universities are becoming less relevant in the mind of the public. The chance
of a Microsoft/AT&T/Disney conglomerate delivering educational and occupational
training via telecommunications is not as far out as one would initially think; indeed,
the probability of this high-impact, low-probability event is increasing.
The purpose of the exercise described
here is to stimulate thinking about possibilities so that we can take action to shape our
future. If you wish to see other potential events identified by the participants at the
AACC meeting as well as those by participants in similar workshops, visit the Workshops
and Seminars section of Welcome to Horizon Home Page (/projects/seminars).
You can contribute to the dialogue on these issues via Horizon List. To subscribe to
Horizon List, send the following message to firstname.lastname@example.org: subscribe horizon .
|Bibliographic citation for
the paper copy of this article:
Morrison, J. L.
"Anticipating the Future." On the Horizon, 1996, 4(3), 2-3.