Thoughts on the Future of Learning Part 1/3


CanopyLAB co-founder Sahra-Josephine Hjorth was invited to give a speech on the future of learning by SingularityU Denmark. We will publish her thoughts on the future of learning in two blog posts. We welcome any feedback and thoughts on the future of learning from you.


When SingularityU Denmark invited us to this salon, the small introductory text for todays event said:


The world’s largest media has no content, the world’s largest hotel has no rooms, and the world’s largest transportation company has no vehicles. Facebook, AirBnB and Uber have clearly showed us that the digital business model beats the traditional as well as the physical one. But how will the world’s largest educational institution look in the future? Will it have classrooms? Will it have teachers?


And if we are going to attempt at predicting or outline some of the emerging trends or so far as to say something about the future learning, I think there are a handful of other questions that are also essential to mention. Some of them being:

  1. What do we currently view as the purpose of learning?
  2. What motivates people to learn?
  3. Assuming that a part of the purpose for learning is entering the job market, What are the jobs of the future going to look like?
  4. Is the purpose of learning increasingly or decreasingly about getting a degree?
  5. What will be the interplay between virtual and physical learning spaces?
  6. What is the role of peer-to-peer learning? Can we, successfully, eliminate or minimize the role of teachers? Do we want to?
  7. How do we prevent 93 % of learners from dropping out of the online courses they sign up for, whether they are for credit or for recreational purposes?
  8. What kind of classes will emerge? Will they follow traditional subject lines, or will they differ in themes, methodology or purpose?
  9. What role will data and machine-learning play?
  10. Who will the content providers be, and who is the best content provider for a given situation, learner demographic or topic?


 I’m not going to answer all of these questions, but I am going to take a stab at some of them. Specifically I am going to explore:

  • What motivates (young) people to learn?
  • How do we prevent 93 % of learners from dropping out of the online courses they sign up for, whether for credit or for recreational purposes?
  • What kind of classes will emerge. Will they follow traditional subject lines, or will they differ in scope, methodology or purpose?
  • Who will the content providers be, and who is the best content provider for a given situation, learner demographic or topic?


But before I do that, I want to share a short anecdote with you. So almost 3 years ago, I taught my first class at university. I had facilitated a lot of interactive workshops before and I didn’t feel nervous about it at all when I accepted several modules. I taught and continue to teach lectures on International Politics, Immigration Policy, Qualitative Methodology and Policy Analysis. With the exception of policy analysis, I have never worked with any of the topics or problems I address in my classes. What I know is what I read in the assigned texts, the additional texts I read to ensure I don’t feel utterly unprepared and perhaps a few notes that have been passed down from the previous lecturer who was in charge for the course.

Simply being a few pages or chapters ahead of students is the reality for many new or young teachers. And for an even bigger group, the reality is that they have never worked with what they teach about – or they did so a very long time ago. While it may be a controversial statement, and particularly in this crowd, that is not the future of learning. In fact, at CanopyLAB we specifically bar teachers or career teachers from facilitating any class, unless they currently or very recently worked with the problem or topic they teach about – and not in a research capacity.

So let’s pull up the first question I am going to address here:


Who will the content providers be, and who is the best content provider for a given situation, learner demographic or topic?


So perhaps it is about time that I talk a little bit about CanopyLAB. When we founded CanopyLAB last year, our idea was to create an interactive eLearning platform that NGOs, activists, entrepreneurs and thought-leaders would use to engage with the global youth, through conversation-based, activism-driven eLearning experiences. Let’s dive a little further into what that means.

Very briefly, CanopyLAB is a learning space designed to supplement traditional schooling. We create courses targeted youth aged 14-30, but essentially everyone is welcome, or we don’t actively prevent anyone from participating. We have a B2B business model which makes all our courses free for learners, and allows us to make enough money to be a good, investible venture case.

Our conversation-based approach is a reference to that we host everything live, and that we place learners in Activity Hour Groups, where they carry out weekly challenges and activities we have developed.

Activism-driven is a reference to why get people together in the first place. Each course ends with a challenge, where learners are strongly encouraged to do something that addresses a challenge in their local communities. It can be something large or small.

Zoe from Australia started a recycling project in her community outside Sydney.

Berat and Tarik found funding to restore an abandoned school, and they now run a sustainability after-school program in Turkey, for kids aged 10-15.

And Malthe from Denmark started a bicycle club at his high school in Silkeborg, because he felt him and his classmates had gotten a bit lazy and were overly dependent on public transportation.

So we did extensive testing on this, over a two year period. And all of them were inspired by practitioners not teachers. People who come and tell the story of their life, their own project or the work they are doing through a particular NGO. The data here is clear. If we invite in a teacher in the more traditional sense, the talks are less popular, If you use a powerpoint, the talks are less popular. So we made a decision, that if we want to create an optimal supplement to classroom teaching, we should not have the same voices dominate our space.

If we look at the eLearning space in general, it is heavily dominated by academic institutions. We can take Coursera as an example. Out of 145 partners, only eight are not academic institutions:


Man skal være sig meget bevidst om, i hvilken fase af virksomhedens liv, man er. Og være sig bevidst om hvilke kompetencer, man har behov for og får fremadrettet.


  1. Commonwealth Education Trust
  2. The New Teacher Center
  3. Exploratorium
  4. World Bank Group,
  5. Math Teacher Residency
  6. MoMA
  7. American Museum of Natural History
  8. National Geographic Society


When we consider the important role that for example museums and NGOs play in encouraging societal debate and in the education of youth, I feel confident that it is simply due to a lack of resources that we don’t see more of these players in the eLearning space. And as more eLearning platforms, just like CanopyLAB, help make the eLearning space more affordable, we will se more diverse voices occupying it.

So our choice to “ban teachers” is tied very closely to our decision about the themes we invite organisations to address on our platform. That brings us to my second question.