Future Learning will be about PREPARING to be SURPISED


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Something we can probably all remember is that time in school when we knew we were preparing for the exam at the end of the course. We had a great time during the semester, we enjoyed the interesting different challenges and pieces of information, but ultimately we knew that if we didn’t pass this exam, the whole thing would have been deemed a waste of time in terms of getting employment.

So what did we do? We as students would study as much as we could to try to make sure that we were able to answer any question that came our way. The reason we were scared was because we were hoping that this exam would hold no surprises. Duh!  And of course, we would sit the exam, and sometimes there were no surprises and we’d feel very confident when we walked out, or we would find a few surprises, sometimes even some real big ones that would totally throw us. We would answer it how we thought it could be done with what we knew but we were the most scared of what the examiner would think of our answer. The results would only show the true answer to the question.

The teacher on the other hand also felt some responsibility. The were enjoying their teaching and the students involvement and motivation in the class during the semester but always knew that at the end of the time the exam would come, and they would always wonder ‘had I managed to prepare them well enough for any surprises?’. The results would only show the true answer to the question.

It all now seems like madness. We were learning so much but so afraid of surprises, both from the student and teacher side. This has raised the biggest issue with exams. Should exams hold surprises? The answer is – yes of course, because the world out there (particularly today) is full of surprises, and it is the person who can handle the surprises the best, who is the person who will achieve the most in their life.

So, what can we do to deal with the problem of surprises.

The answer – to teach from 3 important points:

  1. Abolish exams altogether and create internal assessment and team based project evaluations
  2. To present the curriculum to the students from the start and get them to consider every single possible surprise that could come from there.
  3. To build into the curriculum modules on managing risk
    1. Within themselves as human beings (emotional risk)
    2. Within tasks – create ‘what if’ scenarios.

The first two options above are clear and are even adopted in some learning centres, but it is the third one that I believe is the real future long term solution.

To manage emotional risk generally means this:

  1. Do a self evaluation of what you believe you can handle first (plus a little bit more)

This is something we naturally do anyway. Generally we don’t take on a subject at school or university unless we already have an interest in it, which is a good start, and secondly if we are interested in something, we will decide early on that though we enjoy being a nurse we don’t think we want to be a doctor. This doesn’t mean you need to cut yourself short. You just need to be very self aware that aspiring to reach your dreams is totally based on not only what you want, but also what you think you can handle.

‘Plus a little bit more’, means allow yourself to have a small amount of unknown there just so you can push yourself further.

But always remember that this can change over time. Somehow you may discover that you are far more capable than you thought, and perhaps you can achieve more. You are allowed to do this. No decision when you are 20-30-40-50-60….. should be fixed in stone.

  1. If risk presents itself, what strategies do you have to handle the situation?

This is the core of managing risk. There are all kinds of things that can go wrong in any situation, but there are some key ingredients that will help you to get through whatever has occurred and even propel you even further than you expected or worse case scenario, survive it. These strategies are as follows.

You need to identify these things first:

  • methodically identify the risks involved in the content you are covering
    • what questions could be asked – who, what, where, when, and most importantly why
  • assess the likelihood of a surprise occurring
    • is it 50/50, is it 20/80 etc
  • understanding how to respond to these surprises
    • are you going to cry, have increased heart rate, have a heart attack, laugh, break out in a cold sweat …..(physical reactions)
    • what starting point strategically would you go through to get into the deeper side of solving these problems.
  • put systems into place in your mind to help you deal with the consequences of the actions you take with these strategies
    • ask yourself, ‘if I do this, then that happens, how can I make sure that is dealt with too’
  • monitor the effectiveness of the risk management strategies for the surprises, and do an internal assessment of the possible outcomes from it. You could pass the exam, you could fail the exam, or you could get an A! If you are looking for these outcomes, make sure your strategies target these. Never just ‘stab in the dark’, you will be wrong.


Life is full of surprises, and even more so today than ever before. The rate of growth in all areas is exponential, so you will be constantly facing obstacles all along the way. Managing your reaction to these risk factors will be the key ingredient to your success or failure in any system.  Therefore to handle the growth of the future, today schools need to introduce a whole new curriculum area, right from preschool to university level – this subject area should be called ‘managing risk’.

One thought on “Future Learning will be about PREPARING to be SURPISED

  1. Pingback: Future Learning will be about PREPARING to be SURPISED — The FUTURE of Learning – "Teacher Joseph", English Teacher & Voice Coach

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