Exploring Visions of Learning for the 21st Century
James L. Morrison, Facilitator

St. Louis 2004 Logo

A Working Session of the
St. Louis 2004 Learning Action Team

February 13, 1997

We are being bombarded by tumultuous forces for change as we go into the 21st century: Virtual classrooms, global communications, global economies, telecourses, distance learning, corporate classrooms, increased competition among social agencies for scarce resources, pressure for institutional mergers, state-wide program review and so on. In order to plan effectively in this environment, we must be able to anticipate and plan for new developments that will affect learning generally and the roles of schools, colleges, and other agencies and organizations in the St. Louis Region specifically.


This session is designed to assist citizens in the St. Louis Region to meet the learning challenges of the 21st century. The specific objectives are to:

  • identify potential developments (events) that could affect education and learning in the St. Louis Region in 2004.
  • derive implications and draft recommend actions vis--vis these potential developments


4:00 PM - 4:15 PM

Overview of St. Louis 2004 Learning Action Team

4:15 PM - 4:45 PM

Presentation: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century. This presentation identifies the driving forces that will affect the way we will live, work, and educate in the coming decade.

4:45 PM - 4:55 PM

Assignment of work group roles

4:55 PM - 5:30 PM

Identifying potential events that may affect the future of teaching and learning in St. Louis

5:30 PM - 5:45 PM

Prioritize events

5:45 PM - 6:05 PM

Boxed dinner

6:05 PM - 6:20 PM

Define signals of the most critical event

6:20 PM - 6:35 PM

Derive implications of the most critical event on life-long learning in the St. Louis Region

6:35 PM -7:00 PM

Formulate a draft action plan for the implications of that event

7:00 PM - 7:45 PM

Group report-backs

7:45 PM - 8:00 PM


Exercise: Potential Events That Can Change the Future of Learning in the 21st Century

Events are unambiguous and confirmable. When they occur, the future is different. External event identification and analysis is critical in planning.

It is important that an event statement be unambiguous; otherwise, it is not helpful in the planning process because (a) it is unclear what may be meant by the statement (i.e., different people may understand the statement differently) and (b) we have no clear target that allows us to derive implications and action steps. For example, consider the following event statement: There will be significant changes in political, social, and economic systems in the U.S. Each person on a planning team may agree with this statement, but may also interpret it differently. It would be far more useful in analysis for a statement like: In the next election, the political right gains control of Congress. Or Minorities become the majority in 10 states. Or The European Community incorporates Eastern Europe in a free trade zone. The latter statements are concrete, unambiguous, and signal significant change that could impact educational organizations.

Another point. We should not include an impact statement in the event statement. Consider the following event statement: Passage of welfare and immigration reform will negatively impact higher education. First, we need to specify each welfare reform idea and each immigration reform idea as an event. Second, it may well be that an event can have both a positive and a negative impact. For example, there may be signals that within five years 30% of college and university courses will use multimedia technologies in instruction. This event could have both positive and negative consequences on a college. If, for example, faculty members are not currently oriented to using multimedia technology, the event may adversely affect the competitive position of the institution. On the other hand, discussion of this event in a newsletter to the faculty may bring about an awareness of what is happening and assist in developing their desire to upgrade their set of teaching skills.

Beginning the Exercise

We will begin the exercise by selecting leadership roles in each group. Chairs and recorders for each group have already volunteered (and have been through a short training session for their roles). However, each group must quickly select a flip chart scribe, a reporter, and the very important paper hanger. The St. Louis 2004 Learning Team staff and I will meld your group's proceedings into a proceedings that will be placed on the St. Louis 2004 Web site for review. Thus, you may concentrate on the discussion, and not worry about taking notes.

The Nominal Group Process. We will use the Nominal Group Process (NGP) for this exercise. The NGP is an efficient tool that ensures balanced participation. It requires participants to first think about the question (i.e., what potential events can affect the future?) and write down their thoughts on a sheet of paper. After three or four minutes, the chair uses a round robin approach where each participant in turn is asked to nominate an event. Only one nomination is given by each participant. Participants are asked to nominate those events that could be most critical to learning in the 21st century. The flip chart scribe writes each statement on the flip chart so that all can see the nominations. The next person is asked to submit his or her "best" candidate. During this time the only person talking is the person nominating a statement; all others are requested to think about the statement to see if it stimulates an idea that they had not had before.

Under normal circumstances this process goes on until there are no more nominations, at which time the chair guides the group in a discussion of each nomination to clarify, discuss, edit, and remove redundancies. Of course the discussion may uncover more events, which will then be posted on the flip chart. (Given time limitations, we may have to curtail the nominations to two or three rounds.)


Task 1. The first task is to identify those potential events in the social, technological, economic, environmental, and political sectors, local through global, that would change the future of learning in the 21st century if they occurred. The group chair will pose the question: What are the potential events that would change the future of learning in the 21st century? Take three minutes to think about the question, remembering to think broadly, locally through globally. Then begin the round robin process to post nominations from individual group members to the flip chart. We will spend 15 minutes this part of the exercise. When I call time, you will go to the discussion/clarification phase, where the chair will ensure that group members understand and agree with the event statements (prepare for some rewriting!). We will have 30 minutes for this discussion, which should focus on clarifying the nominations (and perhaps coming up with new ones).

Task 2. When I call time for Task 1, you will prioritize the events by using paste-on dots. Vote for five of the most critical events that affect the future of learning in the St. Louis Region and that have some probability of occurrence within the next decade.

  • Do not be concerned about the event being high or low probability; be concerned only about the severity of the impact (positive or negative).
  • Do not put more than one dot on one event statement.
  • Put all dots by the beginning of the event statement (so that we can quickly see the frequency distribution of dots)

We have 10 minutes for this task.

Task 3. The next part of the exercise is to identify the signals that your top event (as indicated by the frequency distribution of votes) could occur. We have 15 minutes for this task.

Task 4. When you have identified the signals of the event, derive the implications of that event for the future of learning in the St. Louis Region. In other words, assume that this event occurs. What would happen to education and learning in the St. Louis Region as a result of its occurrence?

We have 15 minutes for this task.

Task 5. The next task is to develop recommendations as to what citizens in the St. Louis Region should do now in anticipation of this event occurring. Again, do not be concerned about the probability of occurrence of the event. Let's see what recommendations you invent, and then examine the recommendations to see if they make sense to implement regardless of whether the event occurs or not. One outcome is the creation of plans that we could not have conceived without going through the process, but, when we examine the plans, make sense to begin implementing now. We have 25 minutes for this task.

Task 6. The final task is a celebration: Reportback time. Group reporters will give a three minute presentation of the five most critical potential events identified by their groups, and for their most critical event, describe the signals they see that the event could occur, the implications of that event if it were to occur, and what they recommend that the community should do in anticipation of that event occurring.


We will use the remaining 15 minutes of the workshop to address what questions you have and to briefly describe next steps.

Recommended Readings

The following articles are short, and will inform our deliberations.

  1. James Ogilvy, The Information Revolution
  2. David Pearce Snyder, High Tech and Higher Education: A Wave of Creative Destruction is Rolling Toward the Halls of Academe, Parts I and II
  3. James L. Morrison, Paradigm Shifts
  4. Terry O'Banion, Schooling is Out—Learning is In
  5. Donald M. Norris, Perpetual Learning as a Revolutionary Creation
  6. Richard B. Heydinger, A Reinvented Model for Higher Education
  7. James S. Coleman, Redesigning American Public Education