n March 2020 I attended a conference where Education 4.0 was the workshop topic.  It was hosted for the University of Derby by the influential researcher Gilly Salmon.  Salmon introduced and scaffolded the workshop with the image above relating to Education 4.0 and aspects of a recent paper (see below) about this topic and added that we should be exploring future trends to try to ‘see’ where we as educators and educational researchers should be responding to and “mapping alternatives” and, ”shaping desired futures.”

It was a really welcome sentiment.  My discipline is product design where future forecasting of humans ‘wants and needs’ is a fundamental part of everyday product development.  In product design and fashion, the prediction of future trends is a valuable commodity and big business.  Artists and designers have been active in providing ideas and visions for future scenarios.  I would like to share a couple of examples of artistic foresight around education.

Issac Asimov – The Fun They Had in 1954

I am an unapologetic sci-fi fan with examples of sci-fi writing, filmmaking and art predicting the future with unsettling accuracy.  I have been reading short stories by writer and professor of biochemistry, Issac Asimov.  One particular story, ’The fun they had” provides a stark reflection on the current direction of flow of the future of education given our sudden need to deploy remote delivery of teaching and assessment.

The story was written by Asimov in 1951 for a children’s newspaper.  The story is set in 2157 and focusses on the discussions between of an eleven-year-old girl and her neighbour after they discover a ‘real book’ in the attic of his house. The children recall stories told to them by their grandparents of days when children used to enjoy learning together in groups of similar age and attend schools, rather than study at home on their own with a dedicated automated tutor.  There is a fantastic line, “A man, how could a man be a teacher?”, the reply was, “well, he just told the boys and girls things and gave them homework and asked them questions.”

Foresight from 1899

Another example of foresight from the artistic community, this time from over a century ago providing a futuristic vision of the year 2000, now twenty years in the past.  Asimov was involved in the reprint of postcards painted by French artists between 1899 and 1910 in book called, ‘Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000’. It was reprinted in 1986 with commentary from Asimov.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has accelerated online delivery with many of us as educators trying out shiny new platforms, video conferencing apps and software.  As I reflect on these artistic predictions of the future I see that it is easiest to create exactly the systematic, remote, robotic, MCQ, impersonal form of education depicted.  Let’s all keep it as human as possible.  We are often required to deliver through screens, one to many, but let’s keep one to one in mind as we connect human to human, not interface to interface.

So how do we respond as educators?  It occurs to me as we grapple for, and with, technology that to some degree we respond by delivering what technology offers and we can easily become constrained by those boundaries.  To protect the future experience of learning (and teaching) perhaps now is the time to start influencing EdTech to deliver what we would ideally use in future learning scenarios.

As an educator who really enjoys the craft, art and joy teaching, I truly hope we can keep some of the fun we used to have.


Asimov, I. and Côté, J.M., 1986. Futuredays: A nineteenth-century vision of the year 2000. H. Holt.

Image 1 From Gilly Salmon’s World Café slides, Online Learning Summit. March 2020. “Growing your university online; routes to student success. Explore ‘what’s next’ rather than ‘what’s now’ for students, graduates, staff, curriculum, technology”

Image 2 ‘At School’ from Futuredays: A nineteenth-century vision of the year 2000, available at https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/a-19th-century-vision-of-the-year-2000


Link to the short story, ‘The Fun They Had’, on the Internet Archive https://bit.ly/34gWEQ5

People Mentioned:

  • Isaac Asimov
  • Gilly Salmon
Online Summit Derby University
Induction Symposium