Are We There Yet? Peter Drucker, 2020 and the BOT

In 1959, Peter Drucker, a well-known and an influential thinker, coined the term “knowledge worker” and predicted the emergence of the information society with its necessity of lifelong learning. In many ways, his vision of lifelong learning forecast the rise of online learning and instructional design.

In a 1992 essay for the Harvard Business Review, Drucker observed,

Every few hundred years throughout Western history, a sharp transformation has occurred. In a matter of decades, society altogether rearranges itself – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions. Fifty years later a new world exists. And the people born into that world cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. Our age is such a period of transformation.

I see 1990 as the beginning of Drucker’s sharp transformation. The World Wide Web was introduced in 1989. As Drucker predicted, in a matter of decades “society altogether rearranged itself” and the information society with its “knowledge worker” appeared. Even those of us who remember life before 1990 marvel how we navigated the pre-iPhone and pre-Google world.

2020 Vision: Asking the Right Question

Before Drucker passed away in 2005, he predicted the great transformation of the Information Age would be completed by 2020. In the 2014 Harvard Business Review article, “What Peter Drucker Knew About 2020,” Rick Wartzman, the executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, felt “… the clock is running out” on Drucker’s 2020 forecast. He notes “… even in a hyper-connected world where endless amounts of data are literally at our fingertips, many rely on the producers of the data … to serve up the numbers they believe are most relevant. And these folks don’t necessarily have a clue” (2014).

Drucker understood information enables knowledge workers to do their jobs—and getting the necessary information depends on asking the correct questions. Yet Warren observes that to ask the right question presupposes that we know what information we need.

Overwhelmed by Big Data

We are experiencing many of the same concerns in instructional design:

  1. We struggle to identify discernable signals in the static created by large volumes of data, commonly known as Big Data.
  2. So, we try to “serve up the numbers” we believe most relevant to the instructor. Yet we find the incorrect variables measured or the provided data doesn’t make sense to the instructor.

As instructional designers we have expertise in designing student-centered learning environments, but it’s the instructors who deal with the day-to-day interactions of what we create. If only we had a way to empower teachers—to allow IDs to not only create student-centered learning environments but at same time create instructor-centered learning environments?

BOT We May Have the Answer

What is a bot? Put simply, bots are computer programs you interact with through natural language. We interact with a wide array of high-powered bots such as Apple’s Siri, IBM’s Watson, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. These bots represent today’s cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) programming.

But if we learned one thing from Drucker, today’s cutting-edge is common stuff tomorrow.

Imagine embedding Siri/Alexa/Watson/Cortana-type bot into the design of a course. This bot would allow an instructor using natural language in real-time to transcend human limits and use the power of the computer to distill the Big Data to give them the exact information they need at the moment they need it in way that is meaningful.

We are not that far from having an “Instructional Bot Markup Language” (IBML). We have all the pieces. The more interactions bots have with the users the better they get. It will require developer research to develop quality assurance and analytics models for supporting the continuous improvement of an IBML.

With an estimated 6 million students enrolled in online courses, many of those taking multiple courses—deep learning will change instructional design. It’s a huge market for an IBML.

We are on the threshold of a sharp transformation in instructional design—we need to incorporate a new generation of learning design. How are you integrating new technologies in your course design? Let us know.


Grush, M. (2019, June 10). Are we there yet? Impactful technologies and the power to influence change.

Wartzman, R. (2014, October 16). What Peter Drucker knew about 2020.

Author: Gary Tucker, Executive Director of eLearning

An early adopter in online education, Gary helped develop and deliver one of the first fully online Masters degrees in Educational Technology. Still an early adopter, he now depends on the expertise of his dynamic eLearning team. When off-the-clock, he reads and rides his bicycle.

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