LEALA World Futures Learning Lab

Objectives of the LEALA Project

The project develops global blended learning in futures studies, by creating an online teaching and learning environment guided by the needs of the three pilot courses. A substantial portion of the project involves live / on the ground courses. Three courses twine local and online learning of futures studies, piloting the effectiveness of the online educational environment. These three use-cases in LEALA serve to demonstrate how low-cost high-value local (but internationally oriented) courses can be set up in the developing and under-developed world.

While the WFSF has run many courses around the world, it has not yet twined local/face-to-face learning with newer types of global on-line engagement. The incorporation of the LEALA online functions and capacities is the ‘pilot’ aspect of the three pilot courses. This will develop the WFSF’s capacity to:

1. Enrich local courses by live streaming global experts at low costs;
2. Allow a global audience to participate in a local course at low costs;
3. Allow interaction between local participants and global on-line participants;
4. Enable ongoing futures projects through a local-global interactive platform.


Project Context

Futures Thinking

Our world is characterised by rapid change, growing uncertainty and increased complexity. Factors of change touch many dimensions of society, reordering previous relationships between economic, political and socio-cultural systems. Changes taking place in one dimension have repercussions for other areas. This dynamic situation has become a characteristics of our present world. Policy and decision-makers, both in public and private bodies, as well as ordinary members of society face the challenge of making decisions about the future.

Over recent decades, the futures studies field has been developed as a response to the growing need for a systematic examination of our assumptions about our possible and preferable futures. The call for such structured future-oriented thinking has emerged across all sectors of society, governmental, economic and cultural. The membership of the WFSF reflects this diversity, with foresight practitioners working within governments, NGO’s, businesses, and even social movements. International organisations, such as the UN, the European Commission, and, of course, UNESCO, have been at the forefront of developing futures oriented programs.

Futures thinking is not just about a societal need in a time of accelerating and
interrelated future change, it is also about individual choice in the present, and an awareness of the impact and consequences of current actions on future conditions. While thinking about the future is an intrinsic aspect of being human, explicit conceptual and methodological forms of futures thinking and foresight are needed.

Rationale for Futures Education

One of the essential ways of promoting, supporting and spreading futures thinking is through futures education. Educators in the WFSF are involved in embedding systematic futures thinking in the curriculum at all education levels, from primary schools, through secondary schools to colleges and universities.

• Humans, by their behaviour, constantly shape their natural and social environments and, in doing so, shape their own future, although not always in ways that they intend or understand;
• Disciplined and rigorous futures thinking can help people to shape their environments and their future more effectively and responsibly;
• Explicit and objective analysis of values can help people responsibly to create desirable futures.

As human beings’ responsibility increases in situations of uncertainty, futures education is especially required for at risk populations, such as women, youth and those in under developed regions. Futures education can assist these groups in the development of a greater understanding of the existing elements of their lives, such as education, peace and economic and environmental sustainability. It can also foster future-oriented policy and decision making that impacts at risk populations and/or operates in situations of high risk, such as conflicts, tense geopolitical circumstances, and social tensions. Futures education helps decision-makers to understand more clearly the complex and interconnected environment, in which they make decisions and anticipate possible future consequences of their choices. This, in turn, would lead to the reduction of risks and negative consequences. Future studies discipline is unique in its multidisciplinary approach that allows looking at a very broad spectrum of issues involving a wide range of people.

Futures studies, in relation to education, can be considered in two ways. It can be either treated as a new subject or as a dimension of all educational work. Teaching futures as an individual subject is crucial for generating the necessary body of futures professionals, both educators and practitioners. However, incorporating a futures dimension to mainstream education is equally important. Firstly, because self-conscious futures thinking helps people to become more responsible for their actions. And secondly, any understanding of contemporary change is incomplete without the insights provided by studies of possible, probable, plausible and preferable futures.

It can be argued that futures education is underpinned by four basic notions that constitute its rationale:

1. Rapid structural change tends to make any past assumptions, meanings and purposes redundant. The meanings of concepts, such as growth, progress, health, defence, have dramatically changed in the post-industrial world. The aims that were motivation in the past, such as the conquest of nature, erecting national boundaries, defending exclusive cultures, are no longer adequate. Consequently, past experiences become less reliable and less authoritative, and a desire to establish new meanings and fresh purposes to guide the future becomes stronger than ever;
2. Careful forward thinking – or foresight – is preferable to crisis management. In a world that is physically and socially interconnected, many consequences are displaced in space and time. Future-oriented thinking helps to anticipate and prepare for the negative consequences of trends and events taking place in some parts of the system that may affect its other parts;
3. Images of futures profoundly condition the present and affect what people consider to be worth doing. Individuals have their own images which help them to define their present role and future ambitions. The analysis of future images can give insights into social and cultural change. These images can be also evaluated as desirable or not desirable and be used as an inspiration or a warning;
4. Most young people are already interested in futures. All human beings are interested in the future course of their lives. Future-oriented thinking can help people to reveal and address their aspirations and fears and act about their future in a more informed and responsible way.

Futures Education and the UNESCO Agenda

UNESCO has emphasised the importance of futures education and foresight since the early 1990s. One of the three main activities promoted under the ‘future-oriented studies’ programme created in 1992 involved the development of education and training with special emphasis on disseminating futures methodologies.

“Education for All”, life skills: The WFSF recognises that futures thinking, although undoubtedly useful in most disciplines and areas around the world, is more than ever required by youth, women and in less developed countries. Futures education plays an important role in ’empowering’ young people through exposing and exploring their aspirations, ambitions and fears and providing approaches that help them to understand and address their needs. Knowledge and understanding of futures thinking is extremely useful for young people in making their life choices, both personal and professional. It generates awareness about the short to long-term consequences of their decisions as well as helping to anticipate the opportunities and difficulties ahead.

Youth and global citizenship: The intrinsic link of futures studies with the
well-being of humanity directs youth’s attention towards their role and place in society and encourages young people to realise their full potential within society. The understanding of the fact that peoples’ futures are inherently linked to societal futures helps to develop a more ‘collective’ rather than ‘individualistic’ mindset and leads to a greater awareness about the importance of peace and dialogue between civilisations.

Gender equality: Futures education is also essential in ’empowering’ women, especially in countries where their rights and opportunities are limited. It is widely recognised that women’s visions of the future are somewhat different from those created by men, placing greater emphasis on peace, inclusion, social justice and equality. Several reasons can be listed to explain why futures education is crucial in addressing women’s needs and gender issues. Firstly, as in the case of young people, futures education helps women to make more informed decisions about their personal, educational and professional futures. Secondly, it helps decision-makers to recognise the importance of gender equality and assists in developing means for greater integration of women in society, education and employment. And finally, it encourages women to be more involved in futures studies and policy and decision-making.

Priority Africa and least developed countries: Futures thinking and education is especially required in less developed countries. This has been recognised and addressed in the past, for example by the study Rethinking the Future: A Manual of Futures Studies for African Planners (1986) prepared by World Futures Studies Federation and the United Nations Development Programme. Futures education is crucial for developing long-term views, exploring alternative visions of the future that are based on a comprehensive understanding of historical context and political and cultural linkages that form the context for a given nation or community. Futures thinking is particularly useful in encouraging sustainable development, and through careful analysis of the present situation and possible future alternatives, it helps to manage limited resources (e.g. water) in a more effective and efficient way. It promotes innovative and creative thinking and action, and supports collaboration and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Current State of Futures Education

At present, a number of courses in futures studies are taught in universities around the world. The WFSF hosts the most up to date and comprehensive list of courses. The most up-to-date database (2005) includes more than 20 postgraduate programmes in foresight/futures studies, 12 programmes that incorporate foresight/futures studies, 18 individual courses in foresight/futures studies, and 2 university short courses in 25 countries around the world. In some countries, futures education extends also to primary and secondary schools. For those privileged few in developed countries, the desire to study futures can be satisfied by enrolling in a post-graduate certificate, Masters Degree or PhD. But for those in the under developed or developing world, it is not as easy or accessible, with the exception of Bogota, Colombia.

Discussions among WFSF members have highlighted the genuine need to extend the capabilities for running courses to more people around the world. This includes the need to extend teaching resources to more places. An on-line learning environment would support the practical operation of courses in the Global South, with a particular focus on Africa, SE Asia and Latin America

The creation of such a platform is important not only because it aims to protect the intellectual legacy of futures educators, but also, when completed, will provide access to futures education materials for people (teachers and ‘self learners’) who would not otherwise have access to these resources for a variety of reasons (lack of courses in a country of residence, financial constraints). Enabling access to education in futures studies, moreover, is very important for people in developing countries, as already outlined. The innovative teaching methods (e.g. games and collective thinking processes), developed especially for teaching futures studies, can be easily adopted into unconventional educational settings, such as teaching of illiterate people.