Insights from future workshops: Classroom of 2040


As part of the data collection for this project, four future workshops were performed during the fall of 2023 and spring 2024, two in Estonia (Tartu and Tallinn) and two in Sweden (both in Stockholm). The participants came from different ed tech companies, ranging from software developers to online services and more traditional publishing companies) as well as from industry organizations, research and government institutions and publishing companies. By bringing these people together, the workshops were also meant to facilitate networking and knowledge exchange between different actors in education.

Background and methodology

The guiding concept for the research project at hand are sociotechnical imaginaries, referring to shared visions of a preferred future and ideas about how this future is enabled by technology1. These visions are important to study as they are actively shaping the present, not least in policy processes where they are used both to motivate investment in science and technology and as a common goal for these investments.2 This means that sociotechnical imaginaries are always co-produced in collaboration between state, policy, and industry actors.

To understand this process, and to also allow for alternative imaginaries to appear, we arranged a series of future workshops where key actors could meet and discuss the future of education. Future workshops were first developed as a method for civic participation collaborative decision-making3 but has later also been used in development work within companies and organizations and as a data collection method in research. In short, a future workshop is about identifying problems or challenges in a certain area and coming up with possible solutions together with the other participants. Future workshops are performed in distinct phases and uses visual techniques to facilitate discussion45.

The theme of these workshops was “the classroom of 2040”, and the goal was to come up with a shared vision of what schools could look like 16 years from now.  The participants worked in smaller groups of 3-5 persons with one research present in each group.

In the first phase, the participants were invited to reflect upon the dominant imaginaries of the future classroom. As basis for discussion, we used 50 stock photo images of the future classroom and asked them to organize them to find some common themes regarding how the future classroom is usually represented. The images were the first recommendations on the search string “future classroom” from three main stock agencies (Getty, Shutterstock and Adobe) that included some kind of digital technology or device and were selected to represent the sociotechnical imaginaries of the future classroom and make it more concrete.

In the second phase, the participants used this mapping for a more critical analysis of the dominant sociotechnical imaginaries in education and compare this to their own view on the most important aspects of education by identifying what they thought were missing from the stock images.

In the third phase, each group created a prototype of an ideal future classroom in the form of a map, either of a physical classroom or more like a mind map. This was the main part of the workshop and ended with a presentation of each group.

In the fourth phase, we ended the session with a common reflection about how to reach this future and their role as stakeholders in making this happen.

Summary of workshop discussions

To read more detailed descriptions of the discussions and insights from each workshop, please use the following links:

Workshop 1: Tartu (Oct 6, 2023) – coming soon

Workshop 2: Stockholm (Nov 16, 2023) – coming soon

Workshop 3: Stockholm (Feb 15, 2024)

Workshop 4: Tallinn (March 12, 2024)

Key themes and insights

Changing education is known to be a slow process. Future visions are based on what we already know and on established ways of doing things and it can be difficult to imagine alternatives, especially since the future is uncertain and no one knows for sure what challenges we will face or what competences will be needed. Furthermore, education is a complex process that involves many actors who needs to collaborate to make change possible. The workshops described here is one attempt to try out new ways to facilitate such collaborations between industry, government, and academia that can be used to improve education. Below follows a short summary of recurring themes or patterns across the workshops as well as some national differences, condensed into a list of actionable takeaways.

A common theme for all workshops was the insistence that technology is not a goal in itself but means to reach certain objectives. This might come across as self-evident but is very different from the hype that surrounded school digitalization a few years back. In connection to this non media-centric approach, there is a clear emphasis on embodied learning, including outdoor education, arts and crafts.

To facilitate this kind of learning, most groups advocated a blended learning environment, combining online learning with classroom actives and learning in places and institutions outside the school. This would also make possible a more flexible and personalized learning path, based on the students’ motivation, interests and capabilities rather than on standardized categories such as age or specific subjects.

At the same time, schools are important sites for social interaction, a function that must be guarded if education becomes more hybrid. Collaboration, civic skills and critical thinking are highlighted as the most important aspects of future education since it prepares the students for an uncertain future and labor market.

A last common theme raised by several groups is the learning data that that is generated by students in their use use of digital systems, and that could be used to improve education and pinpoint the learning path of each student.

The above themes are common for the workshops in both Estonia and Sweden, but there are also some differences that can be related to the organization of education in each respective country. At the time when the workshops were conducted, the Swedish government expressed their concerns regarding what they consider an overuse of digital media among children, not least in schools. This turn in politics and rhetoric when it comes to educational technologies have created a somewhat tense relation between state representatives and the ed tech-industry in Sweden. This debate is not present in Estonia where state and privat actors already collaborate to a greater extent. The smaller population of Estonia also makes changes in national policy and institutions easier to maneuver, which might serve as an explanation to why the Estonian participants in general envisioned more comprehensive changes than the Swedish ones.

Actionable takeaways

  1. Customize education. Tailor education to individual student needs by abandoning age grouping and integrating online and offline teaching methods.
  2. Preserve social interaction: Safeguard the social function of schools as important spaces for interaction, particularly in hybrid learning environments.
  3. Diversify the teacher role: Allow different kinds and of teachers with expertise in specifics aspects of teaching. Invest in teacher education as well as in the professional development of in-service teachers.
  4. Broaden curriculum: Increase emphasis on practical, aesthetic subjects, outdoor education, and utilize data generated in schools to inform curriculum improvements.
  5. Foster collaboration and adaptability: Encourage peer-learning, student-led initiatives, and flexible curriculum structures to nurture motivation, curiosity, and collaborative skills.

References and further reading

  1. Jasanoff, S. & Kim, S.-H. (2015). Dreamscapes of modernity : sociotechnical imaginaries and the fabrication of power. The University of Chicago Press. ↩︎
  2. Harvard STS Platform (2015), The Sociotechnical Imaginaries Project ↩︎
  3. Jungk, R. & Mullert, Norbert. (1987). Future workshops : how to create desirable futures. Institute for Social Inventions. ↩︎
  4. Danish Board of Technology, Future workshop. ↩︎
  5. Participedia, Method: Future workshop. ↩︎