The past is easy to predict, the future not so much. As custodians of the built environment and designers of long-lasting infrastructure, WSP experts need to balance the needs of today with the possibility of the future. We asked our thought leaders what trends are likely to shape their area of expertise in 2020.


For today’s students, the future is characterised by change and uncertainty on a scale never experienced before. Underpinning this are emerging mega-trends of climate, society, resources and technology, where even conceiving the future implications can be fraught with uncertainty.

It’s not just change, but the rate of change which adds complexity for today’s students. They’re being educated for challenges, roles and responsibilities that don’t yet exist in a world that may be fundamentally different from today’s. Undoubtedly this will require new attributes and skill sets that contribute to demands for innovation, creativity and sustainable practices, as the world seeks mega-trend responses.

This is changing the role of the student as learner – the receiver of data and information – and the teacher as provider of largely static information and knowledge, pre-learned through established processes.

Technological advancements are resulting in the unpredictability of future workforce requirements and rapid advancements of automation. Student knowledge now comes from increasingly diverse sources and is transferred through a variety of mechanisms, both within and outside of formalised environments. It is increasingly global, where the concepts of seeing and experiencing now have a different meaning to physical presence.

As core elements of the teaching role become more standardised, so does the potential for commoditised and standardised delivery mechanisms. There is an additional requirement to shift from delivering information and knowledge to enabling learning. As opposed to standardisation, this requires learning experiences to be highly customised, and designed to meet the diverse and variable needs of individual learners to ensure the education experience is fully inclusive.

These factors redefine the core purpose of schools and the role of teachers. Increasingly, teachers must emphasise developing student capabilities such as; social skills and relationships, collaboration, communication, problem solving and critical thinking, and enhancing emotional as well as cognitive development. The role also involves being the managers of behaviour, expectations and wellbeing, as education becomes more learner centred, focusing on engagement, inquiry and active, flexible, deep learning.

The practice of working with a cohort of learners in isolation – single cell classrooms – is shifting to more team centric approaches, not only within the school environment but also virtually. This requires that collaborative practices evolve for students to develop trusting relationships with people they may have never met in person. This is akin to the project-based requirements of the working world. For teachers, this means a requirement to design learning activities with horizontal connectedness across multidisciplinary rather than silo topics.

As designers and engineers, we have a role to play in creating stimulating, collaborative and safe learning environments that foster these critical thinkers of the future.

Can we image a future where core data, information and knowledge are ‘uploaded’ and the purpose of education is to teach students to use cognitive strategies to translate this into wisdom?


Robert Lyall, Market Leader Education
robert.lyall@wsp.com