Seeing in Multiples

Image by Stanford d.School

In the ever-changing landscape of the future, it is essential for educators to equip young learners with the skills of “seeing in multiples.” This concept, part of the Futures Thinking Approaches developed at the Stanford d.School, emphasizes the need to embrace the dynamic and pluralistic nature of the future, where multiple trajectories, scenarios, and possibilities coexist.

By fostering an environment that values diverse viewpoints and open dialogue, educators can guide students to explore various outcomes and understand the impact of their actions on shaping the future.

Teaching “seeing in multiples” is not about creating confusion, but rather about preparing students for a future that is fluid and full of possibilities. Engaging in debates, discussions, and activities that introduce paradoxes and highlight different perspectives can cultivate critical thinking, cognitive flexibility, and empathy in students. As a result, students develop the intellectual flexibility to navigate and shape the complex world they are building.

The Future is a Narrative

The future isn’t a distant, abstract concept, nor is it a mirror reflecting the past. The future is being written in the here and now with each decision we make and the threads we pull on. It is an unfolding narrative that is being written by all of us acting as agents in its story. Each system that we reinvent is the building block of this future. As educators, we are uniquely positioned to shape this narrative, to help foster a world where every learner has the opportunity to flourish.

To truly see in multiples is to embrace the dynamic, pluralistic nature of the future. It’s a recognition of the various trajectories that lie ahead, the different scenarios that could play out, and the vast array of possibilities that our actions today could help bring into reality. It’s about cultivating a mindset that values flexibility, adaptability, and resilience, and encouraging our learners to do the same.

Instructing to See in Multiples

Fostering an environment that values diverse viewpoints is the first step in teaching students the concept of “seeing in multiples.” As educators, it is vital that we guide young people to express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. The use of open dialogue in the classroom allows students to learn from each other’s perspectives and understand that there is more than one way to approach a problem or interpret a situation.

Let’s look at some ways in which we can design activities and lessons that allow for multiple possible outcomes. Be mindful of the value of scaffolding learning so students can consider the impact of each scenario and discuss the ways that we can influence the outcome. This helps students realize that the future isn’t predetermined, and our actions today can result in a variety of possible futures.

Holding Two Truths in Harmony

Debates and discussions can be powerful tools to nurture this thinking. Pose complex, real-world questions or dilemmas that don’t have clear-cut right or wrong answers. For instance, discussions around ethical dilemmas in science and technology, such as the use of artificial intelligence in decision-making or the implications of genetic engineering, can present opportunities for students to grapple with multiple, often conflicting, truths.

A well-structured debate allows students to experience firsthand the tension and harmony of holding opposing viewpoints. By preparing arguments for both sides, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand and learn to appreciate and respect differing viewpoints. An activity of this type demands that students use imagination not just as a tool for creativity, but as a pathway towards complexity.

Introduce Paradoxes

We can lean on subjects that foster creative thinking like mathematics or philosophy to introduce paradoxes. Paradoxes can be puzzling and fascinating for students and they challenge the conventional belief in a single truth. Take Zeno’s paradoxes for example which argue that motion is an illusion. They contradict our daily experience and understanding of the world. Working through such paradoxes can foster the ability to hold conflicting truths.

You can explore this paradox in more detail with this lesson from TEDEd. Use the provided discussion prompts to engage with the concept of paradoxes, but also practice the skill of holding two truths in harmony. Over time, this exercise can foster a mindset that is comfortable with ambiguity and complexity, a necessary trait for a future where multiple possibilities coexist.

Encourage Reflection and Self-awareness

One final tool to employ is leveraging reflective activities and self-awareness. The prompting of students to explore their beliefs and assumptions can challenge them to investigate alternative perspectives. This process fosters cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift our thinking as we encounter new information or experiences.

Invite students to reflect on what assumptions underpin different future scenarios, and how changing those assumptions might lead to different outcomes. These exercises allow students to practice navigating between alternate scenarios and to understand that future outcomes are not predestined but shaped by actions taken in the present.

These activities can be guided using artificial intelligence. For example, consider the use of Riff, an AI chatbot created by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro, an adjunct professor at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. This tool is “designed to augment individual reflection with questions that invite the learner to go deeper in the initial exploration of their experience.”

Final Thoughts

We play a vital role in preparing young people for the uncertainties and opportunities that lie ahead. By embracing this concept and nurturing the skill of seeing in multiples, we empower students to become future-ready individuals who can shape a more inclusive, sustainable, and adaptable world.

In the words of Amy Webb, CEO of the Future Today Institute, “The goal isn’t to predict; it is to be prepared for alternative outcomes. Leaders and their teams must rehearse plausible futures, which means being flexible on how to accomplish transformation.” This quote communicates the significance of empowering students to become future-ready individuals who can shape a more inclusive, sustainable, and adaptable world.

The Futures Thinking Approaches were developed at the Stanford d.School and can be explored in more depth at this link.