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Simulation Skills: This is Your Brain on the Future

Institute for the Future via Coursera


Do you want to learn how to simulate the future more creatively and more effectively? This course is for you.

Humans are the only living creatures with the ability to think about and make plans for the long- term future. Even so, our brains don’t always make it easy. Over the past decade, scientists have discovered a number of neurological “road blocks” to effective futures thinking. These glitches in the brain make it harder for us to accurately predict how we’ll feel and what we’re likely to do, when a particular future arrives. They lead us to make faulty assumptions about which futures are likely or unlikely to happen. And they convince us we have less power to shape and influence the future than we actually do – leaving us stuck in the present.

In this course, you’ll learn how to overcome these obstacles so you can think about the future more strategically and creatively. You’ll practice simulation techniques for “unsticking” the mind when it comes to seeing what’s possible in the future and accepting how things could be different. You’ll also learn how to lead others through “first-person future” simulations, which have been shown in scientific studies to improve strategy and increase motivation and hope for the future. Along the way, leading futurists from the Institute from the Future will share some of their most challenging forecasts to help you stretch your imagination and improve your simulation skills.

This course will ensure that you can put all of your new forecasting skills to the best possible use, by helping you nudge your brain toward more effective ways of simulating and preparing for the future.

Many thanks to the Enlight Foundation and the Enlight Collaborative, which provided a grant to support the creation of this course.


  • Introduction to Mental Simulation
    • Welcome to your future! This week, you'll learn the basics of mental simulation. How does the brain try to imagine the future, and what makes it so difficult? You'll practice three techniques for "unsticking" your mind, so you can think more creatively and spot opportunities for innovation faster. Get ready to get to know your brain better!
  • First-Person Futures
    • Who will YOU be in the future? It turns out that the most important part of futures thinking is to get to know your future self. What will YOU feel in the future? What will YOU do in the future? Simulating the next decade from YOUR unique point of view is the basis for improved creativity, strategy, and motivation. Let's go spend some time with your future self! (BONUS: The "First Person Creativity" lesson at the end of this module has been updated with an excerpt from Jane McGonigal's 2022 book IMAGINABLE and a new video describing the amazing results from a future pandemic simulation....find out how it accurately predicted hard-to-anticipate events in 2020 and why participants benefited from having imagined, a decade in advance, a future that actually happened.)
  • Alternative Futures
    • The best simulations of the future play with multiple possibilities. This week, you'll learn a powerful method for simulating four different versions of the future at the same time. You'll even experiment with simulating 100 different versions of the same future! Let's go stretch and flex your imagination.
  • Advanced Simulation Topics
    • You've learned all about mental simulation techniques. But what other kinds of simulation are coming next? This week, you'll explore some innovations in virtual reality, haptics (touch simulation), storytelling and immersive experience design. This is your close-up look at some advanced simulation topics!

Taught by

Jane McGonigal


4.8 rating at Coursera based on 358 ratings

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