The Future of Learning Isn’t About “Knowing”


learning leader, leadership future, learning future,

By Linda Fisher Thornton

If we want to prepare leaders to handle complex challenges, we need to move beyond shallow approaches that focus on knowledge building. 

We need to help people learn to think deeply (beyond symptoms to complex, systemic causes) and broadly across disciplines as they work to meet the needs of multiple stakeholders. To accomplish this, the way we approach learning must change.  

It is becoming increasingly important to develop learning experiences that lead to real change – experiences that change mindsets, stretch capabilities, and prepare people for good citizenship and successful futures.

Why Does Learning Need to Change?

“The transformation from teacher-led learning to self-directed learning to self-determined learning will provide learners with a range of competencies and skills needed to succeed in the modern global economy… Education should prepare learners to tackle collaborative problem-solving scenarios that are persistent and lack clear solutions. Real-world challenges are highly complex, often ill-defined and interdisciplinary in nature, spanning multiple domains (social, economic, political, environmental, legal and ethical). Learners must have opportunities to reflect on their ideas, hone their analytical skills, strengthen their critical and creative thinking capacities, and demonstrate initiative.”

Cynthia Luna Scott. THE FUTURES of LEARNING 1: Why must learning content and methods change in the 21st century? UNESCO Education Research and Foresight, Paris. [ERF Working Papers Series, No. 13]

How Does Learning Need to Change?

“Globally competent learners are careful to consider previous approaches and the perspectives of others, they act ethically and collaboratively – in creative ways – to contribute to local, regional or global development. Globally competent learners do not presume they are equipped to handle complex challenges alone. They reflect candidly on their capacity to complete an assigned task and seek out collaborative opportunities to join with others whose strengths complement their own.”

Cynthia Luna Scott. THE FUTURES of LEARNING 2: What kind of learning for the 21st century? UNESCO Education Research and Foresight, Paris. [ERF Working Papers Series, No. 14].

Knowledge is wonderful, but it isn’t the key to success in a global society. It definitely shouldn’t be the central focus of learning in a world where information is literally at our fingertips. Instead of focusing on KNOWING, we need to be encouraging DISCOVERY, CONNECTION, ETHICAL THINKING and ADAPTATION. 


The Future of Learning, Dr. Miriam Leis, Foresight Researcher

12 Trends Shaping the (Responsible, Human) Future of Learning, Leading in Context Blog

Teaching and Learning For a Sustainable Future, UNESCO

Imagining the Future of Leadership, Leading in Context Blog


Top 100 Leadership Blog

CMOE Top 100 Socially Shared Leadership Blogs 2015




Prepare Your Leaders For Ethical Leadership Future – Help Them Learn To See Through The 7 Lenses®. 

Includes how ethical expectations are increasing, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve.

Click the cover to read a free preview!  

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©2016 Leading in Context LLC


  1. Linda, my only fear with this is that we are moving towards a world where knowledge and facts are overlooked or ignored (especially when seen as inconvenient), and connections to fantasy become an approach that drives us towards political, economic and social chaos. Thus I agree that we must expand learning and focus on the arenas you mention, but I do think we must also retain a solid grounding in empirical evidence as well (as a base). Thanks again for another thoughtful posting – I truly look forward to your blog!


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