9 Principles to Design the Future of Learning

12 min readDec 6, 2017

Technological tsunami will revolutionise our next 20 years at an exponential rate. The concept of a “100 year life” becoming the norm, and the majority of that spent studying and working, mean that learning will be a lot more important in an accelerating way. Most people will have at least 6 different careers, requiring fundamental reeducating, whilst the relentless speed of innovation will constantly demand new skills and knowledge to keep pace. A report by the World Economic Forum reveals that almost 65 per cent of the jobs elementary school students will be doing in the future do not even exist yet.

‘How can we prepare ourselves and our children for such future?

We need a radical shift and complete redesign; many concepts and practices of learning systems based on industrial age values are not only useless but also destructive, i.e. ‘Lecturing’ concept. As Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy states in his Ted Talk; ‘A fundamentally dehumanizing experience — 30 kids with their fingers on their lips, not allowed to interact with each other’, which takes 5 hours on average for children at school. Sir Ken Robinson’s video from 2010 unfortunately is even more relevant today, laying out the link between 3 troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools’ dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD.

On a massive scale, we are getting more addicted to technology and screens, and research shows that it has fundamental impact on how we learn, from deprivation of deep thinking, empathy and imagination to increased obesity and depression.

‘How can we organize learning to create meaningful futures?’

With $100-million startups like Kernel planning to put chips into our brains to enhance intelligence, rise of brain-machine interface companies like Elon Musk’s Neuralink, and Stephen Hawking’s warning to humanity about AI, we know that learning and understanding about new technologies is essential for all of us, maybe with a life-death significance. How we can expand our understanding about our learning, and design technologies to enhance it? Or as Douglas C. Engelbart himself preferred the notion of augmented intelligence in 1962, how can we use technology to advance our distinctly human capabilities?

Learning is not only a tool but also a permanent value in our personal, business and societal lives. As John Dewey said ― “Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.” It is crucial to develop new mind-sets, systems and tools according to these drastically different perspectives.

9 Principles to Design Future of Learning:

In Human Works Design, we use ‘9 Principles to Design Future of Learning’ to move from a centuries old Industrial age structural-model towards a more humanist, sustainable, dynamic, open and networked-model; 1-Meaning & Passion, 2-Exponential Learning, 3-Creativity & Authenticity, 4-Personalization, 5-Communal Learning, 6-Learning by Doing, 7-Assessment as Learning, 8-Empower, 9-Child-like Learning.

Photo by Alice Achterhof on Unsplash

1 Meaning & Passion: The endless possibilities of technology have the promise of the New Renaissance: the human designing herself. The goal of our life will be: reaching ever-deeper levels of wisdom and knowledge. The most important to know is why you need something, a knowledge or skill. As Human Works Design’s co-founder, Futurist Rudy de Waele and philosopher, Socratic Design model creator Humberto Schwab stated in their ‘Learning to Live (on the Future of Learning) article; “Learning to live meaningful” will become the deepest goals of all. We will want to “improve” ourselves, not to function as machines (they’ll do better anyway) but as aesthetic and ethical creative artists of life.

Valuable learning’s of each company can be guideline for other companies and communities to do a greater good such as Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists, Unicef and Lego’s Partnership for ‘Play’. These learning’s can help to apply best cases in our businesses too, such as Zappos Culture Camp, Google’s Employee to Employee Learning program: re:Work. Learning can also be a recruitment model of training new applicants to learn about the culture of the company,Zappos Hiring for Culture process. It can also be a social impact model like the example of Samasource Digital Basicslearning program, which aims to equip marginalized women and youth with the skills, confidence, and support they need to secure a living-wage job.

What to Do? Enable your communities to discover their passions and learn how to live meaningful lives with the impact we might be creating in their lives and environment. Companies and schools should take full responsibility in how they are shaping the lives of their communities, and forming ideas. Some example scenarios;

  • A social media company providing learning program about conscious posting (unlike Facebook, act before it becomes a crises!)
  • A bank enabling clients to redefine what is wealth beyond just money and grow themselves in areas such as physical health, quality time with loved ones, contribution.
  • A tourism agency/ flight company, creating awareness and education about carbon emissions and giving a chance to travel consciously with an online service like MyClimate.

Once you have your vision, design ways to use technology to make our impact more open, efficient, faster, cheaper and scalable.

2 Exponential Learning: We need to switch from ‘I know it all’ to ‘I can learn it all’ attitude. Human innovation starts with disrupting our own assumptions to move to a virginal thinking not individually but collectively. We need to break free from old assumptions and thought addictions in the organizations and schools. It is essential to realize and understand about our human coding, and recode ourselves for desired futures before we start coding AI. This requires a re-design of our way of thinking and self-awareness within both our interactions and our organisations.

We use Socratic Design, a practical philosophical method to innovate individual and collective thinking as an embodied experience, which leads to ‘collective emerging wisdom’ where the real human exponentiality occurs.

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

What to Do? Think of ways to remove the barriers in front of learning, they can be a wide set of things from company/school procedures, rituals to key performance indicators and even the language used. For example why do we still use ‘Human resources’ instead of naming them as ‘Human Innovation’ departments, which emphasizes humanity and deemphasizes people as a resource?

3 Creativity and Authenticity: Creativity will become one of the top three skills we need. As creativity is becoming the primary creator of economic value, we will jump from the paradigm of “knowledge transfer” to the makers’ paradigm of “creating knowledge in a new ecology of mind”.

Thanks to technology, we also no longer need memorizing most of the information we used to. Then why do we ask students to memorise, as Graham Brown-Martin suggests; why not to simply allow them take exams with their connected devices and ask them to focus on the creative challenges?

Language apps like Babbel and Dualingo demonstrate creative new ways of learning new languages. iCivics is an online learning platform for children to learn civics with play; they can run for president, pass new laws and argue real cases!

What to Do? Focus on multi-disciplinary thinking and encourage learners to be involved in creative processes as active doers and problem solvers. Offsetting the familiarity of learning programs try new environments and settings, nature is always inspiring and even changing temperature or lighting in the room can make a big difference. Try new ecosystem partnerships such as with artists, students, entrepreneurs and learn from nature (biomimicry). Apply methods like design thinking and gamification in designing your learning programs.

4 Personalization: Autonomy and self-control are increasing values especially for new generations. We want to learn according to our interest, on the channels, from the resources we chose and at our own pace. Existing services like social media created the expectation of similar experiences in other areas of our lives and businesses. That’s why we see the role of teachers shifting from ‘lecturing’ to ‘guiding’, and ‘curation’ of content for personalized needs becoming an essential need for all of us, as the number of content available online is increasing with more connectivity and users becoming content creators.

Full-personalized learning requires well-trained high number of educators and a flexible, non-linear curriculum to be idealized. Unlike today’s rigid solutions, new developments in design & technology generate promising new paths. Immersive education in conjunction with A.I. has the potential to supercharge education that pave the road for fully automated personalized learning. You can be taught by Socrates, Rumi, Marie Curie, Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Einstein himself — all while creating interactive lectures based on your personal profile. For now, with innovative projects like Newsela, which focuses on the reading engagement, or Panopto an all-in-one video platform, we are experimenting blocks of personalization.

What to Do? Understand the needs of your learners. Start designing blended programs with physical access to knowledge, existing online learning tools like Slack and Basecamp. Consider future technologies to evaluate and redirect learners’ personal progress and choice.

5 Communal Learning: Learning together and from each other — peer to peer learning will dominate, teachers’ role to be more as facilitators, of communities built around shared learning and aspiration. Every person can have a chance to dialogue with other community members and to create knowledge. Most of all one learns in a social and cultural context, it is about collective values in an empathetic sphere. Quick, Draw! is a great example of a simplified learning tool can trigger not only users but also Google employees to learn together in their experimentation with AI.

What to Do? Design for learners to learn from each other, from different locations, expertise, interests and skillsets, include your employees, users and other stakeholders in the learning processes. Provide new flexible roles to switch between being a learner and a facilitator. Bring in new experts, best cases and ways to share learning. Endorse communal learning into your culture with motivating factors and rituals.

6 Learning by Doing: We will be active in making our schools, businesses, societies and cities, not as comfort ends but as active playing fields for personal growth. Using the gifts of technology such as with start ups like The Body VR, Medivis, Universe Sandbox, or examples of tech giants like Microsoft Hololens and Oculus Rift, we can create new experiential learning experiences.

What to Do? Engage learners to join to your processes where learn and grow themselves. Encourage experimentation, embrace curiosity. Turn mistakes into a natural part of the learning process, rather than grounds for punishment.

7 Assessment as Learning: Most data collected about learning is indirect, inauthentic, lacking demonstrable reliability or validity, and reflecting unrealistic retention timelines. We need to move from ‘Assessment for/ of Learning’ to ‘Assessment as Learning’. Assessment as Learning is the use of on-going self-assessment by learners in order to monitor their own learning, which is “characterized by students reflecting on their own learning and making adjustments so that they achieve deeper understanding.

Do you assess your employees, students and communities with the aim of enabling learning? Or do you just focus on eliminating unsuccessful people and practices based on your rigid set assumptions and KPI’s for execution (not innovation)? If you start your assessment design with Why do we measure?’ and ‘How this measurement will help to learn better?’ it will not only make your process more effective and impactful but also it will increase the loyalty of your communities and attract new talents who want to set their own personal goals and advocate for their own learning.

Last year I lectured two classes in a Bilgi University’s MBA program about ‘Entrepreneurship’. In the year-end, I asked my students to evaluate themselves based on a guideline I designed for them, and prepare a roadmap for further their own learning. Many students struggled thinking for themselves without an authority telling them what to do, most of the students experienced taking their full responsibility in the class environment for the first time, as entrepreneurs should do! They gave their own marks and 10% failed themselves to repeat the course.

What to Do? Ask ‘What should ideal graduates know?’ ‘How should they be able to use what they know?’ ‘What will this knowledge do for them?’ Plan with the end in mind and design new assessments both for the learner’s performance and how effectively the learning community is allowing the learner to flourish. This assessment should be executed from the beginning and during the whole journey, to become more impactful. Keep it in mind that these are questions requiring human intelligence; AI can only provide answers to the questions we ask it and collect the information accordingly.

8 Empower: Future of learning is about empowering people, fostering autonomy and collaboration. Imagine a learning environment where ‘Learners chose what they want to learn and how, democratic self management, without comparison with others, tests or grades.’ A good education is now priced as a luxury, operating a societal winner-takes-all market economy. Free services like Khan Academy with 40 mio students and 2 mio teachers every month, and Duolingo with 200 mio users (25 mio monthly active), rise digital revolution to new heights. All the costs we face today slowly shift into the digital realm, where everything is cheap, knowledge is abundant and all learners can be universally and continuously connected in improved learning systems.

For highly debated new technologies like AI, there has been a rising concern questioning what Silicon Valley is planning for humanity. That’s why maybe this new collaboration is good news for us; Onnx (open Neural Network Exchange Format) is a new community project with the collaboration of Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, AMD, Huawei, Intel and Arm. With Onnx, AI developers to easily move models between state-of-the-art tools and choose the combination that is best for them.

What to Do? Encourage (design, code, use, work for, buy, vote for, invest on) learning programs and platforms, which empower people and aim for the sustainable wellbeing of humanity and the planet. Get involved in the experiments and learning of programs and technologies that matter to your business and communities.

9 ‘Child Like’ Learning: The basic assumption of most of the learning systems we design is ‘People learn when they are forced.’ That’s why we reward learning with good marks and punish failures. But the truth is just the opposite; we are all wired to enjoy learning naturally. Children are great role models for adults to save themselves from the following:

Photo by Austin Nicomedez on Unsplash

Due to years of toxication in the poorly designed learning and performance systems, many adults forget the joy of learning which costs us our creativity and the power of dreaming. Second, as we grow we have more beliefs, which can turn out to be prejudices clouding our observation and blocking our potential for innovation, losing our curiosity. Third, most of us have a tendency to be too cautious to try new things, which is the real risk in exponentially changing world.

These are some of the reasons why children -as natural born learners- can remind adults; learning is actually a joyous experience, dreaming freely, connecting to our own flow and our environment, noticing small details matter and we can jump feet-first into unknown waters.

What to Do? Question the basic assumptions of your learning programs; remove toxicity of forced or monitored learning and focus on the joy of learning. Practice learning with play, in your families and businesses, gamify your programs. Model (and design with) children to come up with joyful learning experiences. Dream more, find your passion and hold on to it.

Final Word:

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Sagan

Harness the brain’s and body’s joy of learning new things that will leave you with something of permanent value, in a way that neither drugs, money, social media nor video games ever could. Learning a lasting skill that is meaningful for you leaves you with a sense of fulfilment or Abraham Maslow’s self-actualization.

This is not crucial only for our personal and business lives but also for children; we are all responsible to inherit systems, services and products that will flourish the natural joy of learning of our children. It is time to create a new breeding ground so they may become true culture makers and change agents of technology in a human learning and design process.

‘Everyday, everywhere our children are spreading their dreams beneath our feet. We should tread gently.’ Ken Robinson

This is the time when we can take significant steps in releasing old patterns that have blocked our progress, take a detour from our usual rational routes that disappointed us and our children. Let’s be more open to higher level insights and synchronise with our true potential. With the unlimited richness of children’s dreams, we can use learning as a powerful tool to create sustainable human development and flourishing. As conscious leaders, in companies, schools, communities, governments, families, it’s our responsibility to design meaningful futures, for and together with children of this world, the game changers of tomorrow. Join our #ChildrenFirst movement, and let’s start designing together now!

With love and gratitude,

Canay Atalay, Co-Founder, Human Works Design




Founder of “TheHeroines.co ” & “Conscious Learning Tribe”. Cultural Innovation Strategist. Conscious Business Designer. Children First World Heartivist.