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Future focused learning

Future-focused learning

Literature suggests we need to be future-oriented and adaptable, adopting a more complex view of knowledge, that incorporates knowing, doing, and being. Alongside this we need to rethink our ideas about how our learning systems are organised, resourced, and supported. 

The future-focused principle

“The curriculum encourages students to look to the future by exploring such significant future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation.”

The New Zealand Curriculum

Dr David Parsons, Associate Professor Massey University, explains the need to teach higher level thinking skills and develop key competencies using technology to prepare students for the 21st century.

Future focused learning is personalised

A future focused, personalised approach in the classroom allows akonga/students to take control of their own learning. Each akonga is unique and learns in different ways.

  • Personalising learning means students:
    • understand how they learn
    • own and drive their learning
    • are co-designers of the curriculum and their learning environment
  • Student learning needs, interests, and capability determine the pace of learning. In a personalised learning environment the learning objectives, content, method, and pace may all vary (so personalisation encompasses differentiation and individualisation). 
  • In this environment, the advantage of technology is that students can use the content and be the experts with their teacher. They can become experts on specific content areas and technology, and create content.
  • All the resources available for learning, including teachers, parents/whānau, peers, technology, time, and learning spaces, must be used flexibly to meet individual student learning needs.
  • Personalising learning challenges us to think about what new resources may be needed to support learning, and how learners can access these - including resources that have not traditionally been thought of as part of the schooling system.

What does being future focused mean for educators? 

"In deep expressions of practice, students' learning activities and the curriculum/knowledge content they engage with are shaped in ways that reflect the input and interests of students, as well as what teachers know to be important knowledge.1

  • Personalising the learning – how can you use technologies to build the school curriculum around the learner and more flexibly meet learners’ needs?
  • Building an inclusive learning environment – how do you use technologies to:
    • enage learners, family/whānau, and communities in co-shaping education to address students’ needs, strengths, interests and aspirations?
    • provide access to anywhere, anytime learning?
    • support assessment and evaluation processes so that these are dynamic and responsive to information about students?
  • Developing a school curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity – how can you use technologies to enable students to create and use new knowledge to solve problems and find solutions to challenges on a “just-in-time” basis?
  • Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles – how can you use technologies to create a “knowledge-building” learning environment where learners and teachers work together?
  • Building a culture of continuous learning for teachers and school leaders – what opportunities to participate in and build professional learning are afforded by technologies?
  • New kinds of partnerships and relationships - how can technologies be used to facilitate this?

Bolstad, R & Gilbert J, et al. (2012)2

Ministry of Education - statement of intent 2012–2017 (PDF 890KB)
Key elements of how the Ministry will contribute to the delivery of Government’s priorities for education. 


Bolstad R., (2011). Taking a "future focus" in education – what does it mean? SET

Bolstad, R & Gilbert J, et al., (2012).Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective

Digital technologies supporting learning

Student using ICTs

Digital technologies support future focused teaching and learning by offering new ways for students to:

  • represent their thinking
  • clarify ideas
  • make connections
  • identify patterns
  • reflect on their thinking across the curriculum. 

They provide students with greater capacity to:

  • save and build on previous work
  • use scaffolds and templates designed for particular learning outcomes
  • work collaboratively or individually in creative and innovative ways.

Thinking is about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas. These processes can be applied to purposes such as developing understanding, making decisions, shaping actions, or constructing knowledge. Intellectual curiosity is at the heart of this competency.

Students who are competent thinkers and problem-solvers actively seek, use, and create knowledge. They reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.

The New Zealand Curriculum, 2007

Supporting students to select and use tools for learning

The real learning process
International education consultant, Lane Clark talks about teaching children how to learn using thinking tools in this video on EDtalks. "It's not just teaching them how to learn, it's actually about the tools associated with the learning job so that they can do great thinking and great learning. Some of those tools are new technologies and some are old technologies. What's important is the kids can select the best tool and justify that thinking."

"The provision of a tool isn’t enough, if people don’t know what it’s for or how to use it, but having them available can precipitate more effective learning relationships."

OECD, 2005 cited in e-Learning and implications for New Zealand schools: a literature review, July 2010

Enabling students to develop their thinking and learning with digital technologies

Processing information

Digital technologies contribute to a rich and flexible learner-centred environment in which students can experiment and take risks when developing new understanding. Digital technologies that facilitate visual thinking allow ideas and information to be easily drafted, filtered, reorganised, refined, and systematically assessed in order to make meaning for students.

Students can:

  • use digital technologies to represent their thinking, clarify thoughts, identify patterns, and form relationships between new and existing knowledge.
  • use graphic organisers, simulations, and models to help structure their thinking processes and assist in constructing knowledge.
  • record their decisions and actions when solving problems and clarifying thoughts e.g on a blog or e-portfolio – they can monitor the changes in their thinking and evaluate their own and others’ thinking strategies.
  • manage their files so that content is secure and easily discoverable
  • locate information from a range of online resources to support their own learning, then create and publish their new knowledge

Creative thinking

By selecting and using appropriate technologies, techniques, and procedures, students learn to:

  • process data and information to create solutions to problems, 
  • Create and use products that demonstrate their knowledge and understandings of concepts, issues, relationships, and processes across the curriculum
  • plan and monitor the progress of extended tasks
  • capture, validate, and manipulate data to problem solve and present solutions
  • evaluate the usefulness of digital technologies for solving different types of problems and reflect on the effectiveness of their own use of technologies.

Communicating thinking

Students can use digital technologies to:

  • collaborate
  • inquire
  • integrate prior knowledge with new understandings 
  • support oral presentations to live and remote audiences
  • present their thinking in a variety of forms including: video, images, and text 
  • seek feedback from others
  • communicate with peers and experts to seek information, discuss alternative views, share knowledge, and express ideas.

School stories that show how you can use technologies to provide future focused learning experiences across the curriculum.

Filter by: Secondary Primary

Technology transforming education

Technology transforming education

Dr. David Parsons, Associate Professor Information Technology at Massey University explains the digital divide is not only about access but about how devices are used.

Teaching for 21st century learners

Teaching for 21st century learners

Dr David Parsons, Associate Professor Massey University, explains the need to teach higher level thinking skills and develop key competencies using technology to prepare students for the 21st century.

Using video conferencing to expand learning options

Using video conferencing to expand learning options

Southern Cross Campus student Shona Unasa takes economics via video conference.

The Portal Unity Project

The Portal Unity Project

Year 13 student Daniel Cowpertwait describes a "mod" he has developed for an online game Portal.

MCS TV - Using digital technologies to enhance literacy

MCS TV - Using digital technologies to enhance literacy

Principal, Helen Pearson and students discuss how they have used Mahurangi Christian School TV (MCS TV) to enhance literacy in their classroom.

Developing digital literacies using Google Apps

Developing digital literacies using Google Apps

The principal of Ruawai Primary School, explains how Google Apps are used to develop digital literacies, creative thinking, and communication skills in a collaborative environment. 

Developing key competencies through writing collaborations

Developing key competencies through writing collaborations

Students from Ruawai Primary School and their teacher talk about how they are developing key competencies through writing collaborations.

Students using Prezi

Using Prezi to collaborate

Nigel Mitchell, HOD English at Tawa College, and students in his class talk about the benefits of using Prezi to collaborate and take control of their own learning

Fraser High School curriculum integration project - students reflect

Fraser High School curriculum integration project - students reflect

Senior secondary students reflect on how their learning has changed at Fraser High School through curriculum integration and the use of authentic contexts as they produced the first issue of Passionfruit magazine.

Improving written and oral language with multimedia

Improving written and oral language with multimedia

Sally McDougall and her students explain their process for writing book reviews and creating QR codes to share them with the wider community.

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Key resource

Future-focused learning in connected communities (May 2014)

This report from Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye's 21st Century Learning Reference Group aims to help inform government planning around 21st century skills and digital competencies. It suggests ten strategic priorities, including the creation of modern learning environments that are vibrant and safe, investment in high-quality content and systems, and development of collaborative networks for teachers and leaders to share ideas. The report covers potential device policies and further professional development for teachers.


Michael Fullan: Technology, the new pedagogy and flipped teaching
Michael Fullan talks about how digital technologies give immediate access to information anytime, anywhere in this YouTube clip (2014). Whether it deepens the quality of learning depends on the teaching. One approach to integrating digital technologies is the "flipped classroom" where students engage with instructional content at home. This might be watching a video, a PowerPoint, or reading information. Followup activities are completed in class. In this way teachers become activators or change agents, students become partners in learning, and technologies fuel communication and collaboration.

Twenty first century learning
Professor Stephen Heppell talks about learning in the 21st century in this YouTube video. He explains learners need to be collaborative and seem themselves as global citizens in this "learning age". How can we be agile enough to keep up with new technologies and new ways of learning?

Ministry of Education resources

Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success: The Māori Education Strategy 2008-2012
The Ministry of Education's strategic approach to achieving educational success for and with Māori

Pasifika Education Plan 2013–2017
A plan for raising Pasifika learners’ participation, engagement and achievement from early learning through to tertiary education.

Tataiako: Cultural competencies for teachers of Māori learners
The competencies teachers need to develop to support Māori learners achieve educationally as Māori, explained. A guide to the development of cultural competence for teachers themselves, for their employers, and for Initial Teacher Education providers and providers of on-going teacher professional development.

Ministry of Education: Statement of intent 2012–2017 (PDF 890KB)
Key elements of how they Ministry will contribute to the delivery of Government’s priorities for education. A PDF of the Statement is available for download from this page on the Ministry of Education website.

Success for all – every school, every child
The Government’s vision and work programme to achieve a fully inclusive education system. This page on the Ministry of Education website has a downloadable PDFs Success for all fact sheet, and Success for all Q and A sheet

Special Education
Information about funding, services, support, and initiatives for children with special education needs.


Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective
Findings from new data and more than 10 years of research on current practice and futures-thinking in education. The report discusses some emerging principles for future learning, how these are currently expressed in New Zealand educational thinking and practice, and what they could look like in future practice.

Accelerating the progress of priority learners in primary schools (May 2013)
The findings of ERO’s evaluation of the extent to which primary schools are using effective strategies to improve outcomes for priority groups of learners.