2020 is on the Horizon

Horizon Project 2007
Keynote by Karl Fisch


Listen to Karl's podcast of the keynote

We live in a rapidly changing world, a world that is “flattening” and “shifting” before our very eyes. While this is exciting, it is also a big problem for schools and teachers. How do we prepare our students for a world that we can’t envision?

Like your teachers, the teachers at my school are working hard at trying to figure out what skills and abilities and habits of mind our students will need to be successful in the 21st century. We are meeting regularly to read about the latest research into how people learn, to explore the educational uses of the latest technologies, and to discuss how best to implement those into our classrooms. We’ve been learning, discussing, and even arguing passionately about what a 21st century education should look like for several years now.

The good news is that they’re definitely paying attention. The bad news is that they were becoming more and more frustrated – mostly with me. As the leader of this staff development, and as the “technology guy” for my high school, they wanted me to be the “visionary,” the one who could tell them what things were going to look like down the road. If I could just tell them what the world was going to look like, they would do their best to prepare their students. The only problem is – I can’t do that. Nobody really can, because things are changing too quickly. No matter how many times they asked, I still had to give them the same answer, “I don’t know.” It’s tough to be the visionary when you don’t know what the future holds.

In the United States, students typically start school by attending kindergarten when they are five years old. They usually graduate high school thirteen years later when they are eighteen. When a child starts kindergarten, the school district is making an implicit promise – a promise that over the course of the next thirteen years they will prepare that child to be successful when they graduate. That’s why this is such a huge problem for schools – we are making a promise that we are providing our students the skills and abilities and habits of minds that will be necessary thirteen years in the future – and throughout their adult lives. That’s never been easy, but when the world was changing at a relatively sedate, linear pace, schools could change slowly and still be successful. But in the rapidly changing world we live in, in exponential times, it is next to impossible.

So since I couldn’t tell my teachers exactly what the world was going to look like, I decided to make up the future (“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”). Even though nobody can see the future (at least not yet), I was fairly confident of the general direction that the world and technology was heading and had some ideas about how we should be preparing our students to be successful in such a world. I felt like if I could give them one possible vision of the future, maybe I could help them. Of course it wouldn’t be 100% accurate, but it didn’t need to be. It only needed to get the general trends correct, to be enough on the right track that it could help my teachers start moving – both themselves and their students – in the right direction. And even though it won’t be 100% accurate, I imagine that this will be a case where the truth will be much stranger than my fiction.

The kindergartners that start school in the United States this fall will graduate in the year 2020. I think we need a 2020 Vision. Here was one vision to get the conversation started:

Note: For those who do not get Google Video, 2020 Vision is available for download
2020 Vision WMV requires Windows Media Player
2020 Vision QT smaller, not as high quality, requires Quicktime

With the Horizon Project, you now have the chance to improve on my vision. In some ways, your task is easier than mine was, because you have the Horizon Report to use as your basis. But in other ways, your task is much harder. While I could make up the future, your vision has to be much more grounded in current reality. And your vision has much more potential to impact people around the world, because what you guys create will be seen by students, teachers and schools around the world. They really want to know what you think the future of education looks like – your ideas really matter. While that might be a little bit daunting in some respects, I hope you also find it exciting. Because just like I was trying to do, you can help all those students, teachers and schools - you can help change the world.

I look forward to seeing your vision and participating in the conversations you are going to help start. If you have any questions along the way, or ideas you’d like to bounce off of somebody, I’d love to help.

Karl Fisch
Centennial, Colorado, United States
April 26, 2007
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