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Learning beyond the classroom

Personalising learning

Use of digital technologies enables students to personalise their learning and extend that learning beyond the classroom.

Education is changing from being delivered either in a traditional face-to-face classroom or via distance learning to a more blended approach. Students' learning is personalised yet exists within a network, facilitated in part by digital technologies.

Learning Communities Online diagram.

Image credit: VLN school

Making connections

As a planned part of learning programmes, students can use digital technologies to make connections:

  • locally
  • nationally
  • internationally.

Use technologies to make connections by:

  • seeking feedback from others
  • communicating with peers and experts to seek information, discussing alternative views, sharing knowledge, and expressing ideas.

Local connections

Discover and connect with local individuals, businesses, communities and organisations by:

  • buddying with other teachers, students or classes in your school or kahui akō and using digital technologies to share resources, ideas or learning experiences
  • using email, Twitter, Facebook, or phone to contact and connect with people in local businesses or organisations to support a project or inquiry topic.

How to engage with local iwi or hapū networks

Connecting with local iwi and developing an ongoing relationship enables students to make a real connection to who they are and where they are from.

At Newmarket School, a teacher inquiry framed by students’ interest in science led to connections being made with active scientists. The use of social media tools such as Twitter and Skype enabled the students to contextualise science in the real world.

“The effectiveness of social media as a tool for learning in the classroom is largely
due to the decisions, actions, and attitude of the teacher.”
– Social Media Overview – The Education Hub

Miranda Makin, DP Albany Senior High School, describes how technologies have enabled students engaged in the Impact Project to take their learning beyond the school and engage with experts to find information and share their learning.

National connections

Digital technologies enable seamless connections for students and teachers to discover and connect with others in Aotearoa. For example:

  • LEARNZ virtual field trips are free, supported inquiry-based e-learning experiences that take students and teachers to places throughout New Zealand and beyond, where they link with experts to investigate and explore their world
  • invite guest speakers into your classroom through video conferencing
  • collaborate on projects with industry or interest groups or students in other schools
  • take virtual tours such as:

International connections

Discover and connect with people from overseas. For example:

  • ePals – Teachers register for free, use filters to connect with a specific country, age range, and subject choice to select from a range of connections.
  • Schools online – Teachers register and find partner schools to connect with.
  • Social media – Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to enable students to connect globally. Teachers must ensure this happens safely and meaningfully.
  • Blogging – Students can find an authentic, global audience to communicate their learning.
  • Learning Languages – Use technologies to connect and communicate with overseas students.
  • VLN Primary Global Connections – The Over the Back Fence Project makes connections with classrooms in India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Australia, Korea, Japan, and the Cook Islands.

Newmarket School teacher, Virginia Kung explains how they made connections with people across the world through Twitter and Skype.

Teacher, Nikki Fielder describes how Apiti School has set up their school website with links to student wikis and blogs. Students reflect on the benefits to their learning this provides, and share how having a YouTube channel supports learning and sharing.

Flexible timetabling

Distance learning options such as the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) Learning exchange , and NetNZ enable students to access areas of the curriculum that are not readily available within their school. Bring your device (BYOD) initiatives enable learning to extend and continue beyond the classroom.

Shona Unasa, a student at Southern Cross Campus, takes economics via video conference. She shares the benefits to her learning and her experience using this medium.

Olivia and Vlad, Ashburton College students, share their perspectives on using NetNZ for learning online. They describe the flexibility and the independence that it offers. 

Flipped Learning

Person working at laptop.

Flipped Learning is a framework that enables educators to reach every student. The flipped approach inverts the traditional classroom model by introducing course concepts before class, allowing educators to use class time to guide each student through active, practical, innovative applications of the course principles.
– Flipped Learning Global Initiative

Flipped Learning – takes a blended learning approach to learning. Instructional content is provided online and is accessible to learners prior to entering the classroom. In this learner-centred approach, in-class time is used for exploring learning in-depth and creating rich learning opportunities.

The flipped learning at Ashhurst School snapshot explores how teachers develop videos and provide students with resources to develop the specific knowledge they need prior to a group session with the teacher, which focuses on applying that knowledge.

Teacher Sara Lambert and her students at Ashhurst School talk about the benefits they have noticed from using flipped learning in their classroom and the flexibility that it allows.

Distance learning

Technology is a key enabler of distance learning but is only one aspect of ensuring students make progress in their distance learning. 

Technology supports:

  • self-directed or teacher-led learning
  • synchronous (live interactions) or asynchronous (elapsed interactions).

You can continue your learning programme when students are learning from home or another setting, such as when they are sick, in hospital, or during the COVID19 pandemic.

In this video, Simon Marshall, Principal Newbury School, describes how teachers and learners drew strength from school values during distance teaching and learning.

Visible learning effect sizes when schools are closed: What matters and what does not – John Hattie outlines key considerations for successful distance learning, you need to:

  • optimise the social interaction aspects (students do not want to be talked at, learn with them)
  • check for understanding (listen to the feedback from the students about their learning even more when you do not have the usual cues of the classrooms)
  • make sure there is a balance between the precious knowledge and the deep thinking (too often online favors the former over the latter)
  • understand what it means to be a learner online – when the usual peer interactions are often not as present, the teacher’s observational skills are different, and there is too often an over-emphasis on content and repetition
  • ensure distance learners engage in the optimal tasks not just busy tasks, not just projects that keep them entertained, not boring repetitive activities
  • build formative evaluation opportunities into the tasks.

Providing learning opportunities for students through a remote and digital environment is best implemented using a variety of elements, including:

  • learning environments that allow for rich educator and student collaboration and communication, that may also include collaboration with subject matter experts, instructional support personnel and peers
  • digital learning content and interactive learning experiences that engage students in reaching specific learning goals
  • the use of data and information to personalise learning and/or provide targeted instruction
  • a wide variety of computer-based formative and summative assessments.

ISTE | Online learning

According to Moore’s transactional distance theory , distance learners and teachers are not only separated by space and time but also separated cognitively. With separation there is a psychological and communications space to be crossed, a space of potential misunderstanding between teacher and learners.

Within online environments, connectedness between the learner and the learning environment occurs when the learner is able to ask questions and receive timely responses, when the learning pathway supports the learner’s goals and is clearly understood by the learner, and when the objectives of the course are clear and the content supports those objectives. Environments that facilitate low transactional distance include two-way video environments (Falloon, 2011), blended environments, such as flipped classrooms (Moffett & Mill, 2014), and well-organized discussion communities (Zhao, Ha, & Widdows, 2013). On the other hand, some environments do not facilitate connectedness, including environments without any means of communication between learners and others, content delivery that is unidirectional, and rigid learning structures.

– Alex Casteel | Moore’s theory of transactional distance

Learning at after school clubs

After-school clubs allow students to explore areas and subjects that they may not have access to in schools or at home.

Halswell School has started an after school Scratch coding club. Callum and his teacher, Fraser Malins, explain how Scratch supports student learning with creativity, logical thinking, and problem-solving.

Code club Aotearoa

A nationwide network of free volunteer-led after school coding clubs for kiwi kids.

Useful resources »

We need to view technology use like planning lessons and creating resources: It is the means and starting point, not the core, of teaching.
John Hattie

Begin by identifying student needs

Technology is an enabler of learning beyond the classroom but decisions about why and how to facilitate such learning should be driven by the needs of the students and sound pedagogy.

  • Start with what outcomes you want for your students by using technology for learning beyond the classroom.
  • Explore:
    • connections to more knowledgeable others
    • learning activities
    • technologies.

Connect with other educators

Connecting with other educators is useful to gain insights and ideas. Build your personal learning network (PLN) as a support.

  • NEX Kōtuitui Online Teachers Network is a “Network of Expertise” for those teaching online in New Zealand schools, who want to teach and collaborate online, and who support our online learners

Consider student safety through digital citizenship

Be mindful of safety whenever students are using digital technologies for learning. When students are using digital technologies away from school they won’t necessarily have the same technical and guardianship protections and protocols that exist within school.

More information icon
More information »
  • Digital citizenship  – Getting started with digital citizenship and school examples of their approach on Enabling e-Learning.
  • NetSafe Schools  – Netsafe Schools is a free programme designed to help New Zealand schools and kura establish, develop and promote online safety, citizenship and wellbeing in their school community.

Designing learning activities beyond the classroom

Consider the seven principles of learning as you design beyond the classroom learning activities for your students.

Preparing students to learn beyond the classroom could involve:

  • making connections with parents and whānau so learners are supported
  • regular communication with students and their parents, caregivers or whānau
  • providing easy access to digital content and resources
  • facilitating discussion and collaboration between students
  • being flexible with schedules and expectations
  • giving students choices & content alternatives
  • teaching the skills needed for the learning activities you design
  • using visual signposts & consistent formats in your learning design
  • providing breakdowns of tasks and content
  • providing content that is:
    • open
    • accessible
    • inclusive
    • editable
    • copyright safe
    • good quality.

The Five-Stage Model for online, distance learning

“For online learning to be successful and happy, participants need to be supported through a structured developmental process. The five-stage model provides a framework or scaffold for a structured and paced programme of e-tivities. The five-stage model offers essential support and development to participants at each stage as they build up expertise in learning online.”
– Gilly Salmon | The Five Stage Model

Learning Management Systems (LMSs)

Learning management systems (LMS) are interactive spaces where you can build activities, host group chats, and share a range of resources and materials to support learning and teaching.

A learning management system (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs.
Ellis, R. K. (2009). A field guide to learning management systems

LMSs might also be called virtual classrooms, virtual learning environments, or online learning environments.

LMSs commonly used in New Zealand schools

Google Classroom

Features most LMS components and integrates well with the other G Suite apps.

Microsoft Teams  

Features most LMS components and integrates well with the other Office 365 apps.


Has grown from being an e-portfolio platform to encompass many LMS features and functions.


An open-source LMS that can be run on a school server or hosted by a supplier in the cloud.


A fully-featured, cloud-based LMS.


A LMS designed by the Open Polytechnic.

An LMS should be more than just online filing cabinets for students to access materials or undertake interactive activities. Ideally, the LMS should be used for discourse and discussion and for students to share their learning, ideas and questions.

More information icon
More information »


Websites are a useful tool for storing and sharing learning materials that students can access beyond the classroom. They are easy to set up but maintaining them well to keep the content up to date typically requires time and effort.

Websites used in New Zealand schools:

Blogs, vlogs, and e-portfolios

Students can record, publish, and reflect on their learning through blogs , vlogs (video blogs) and e-portfolios

  • Flipgrid  – a platform that students can use to post videos of themselves talking about and reflecting upon their learning.
  • Impact projects  – Albany Senior High School students take their learning to the world using online tools to share their learning journies.

Wairakei School teacher, Kate Friedwald and student, Rosa, explain why blogging encourages students to write more, to write better, and to produce better quality work because it is being seen and commented on by an authentic audience.

Deputy Principal Miranda Makin explains the benefits of using e-portfolios for students participating in the Impact Projects at Albany Senior High School. They found e-portfolios showcase the richness of the learning through images, video, and audio. The e-portfolios provide a document for students to take with them when they leave school that demonstrates the kinds of key competencies they have developed.

Communication technologies

Teacher on a video call.

Communications technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet enable students to connect with each other, with their teachers or with others beyond the classroom.

Southern Cross Campus student Shona Unasa takes economics via video conference. She shares her learning experience using this medium.

Online learning platforms

Online learning platforms provide interactive lessons for students to follow. They use students’ performance in online activities or assessments to personalise the content to the needs of each student. These learning analytics  are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Online learning platforms typically use techniques to motivate learners.

Due to the time and expertise required to develop online learning platforms they tend to be paid subscriptions.

These snapshots are examples of how schools are using technologies to support learners, teachers, parents/caregivers, and whānau to connect and share learning.

Collaborating using Blogger

Students from Melville Intermediate School used Blogger to share their development of te reo Māori and receive feedback.

Tags: Distance learning, English, Learning languages, Blogging, Social media, Primary, Upper primary


Students from Melville Intermediate helped students from neighbouring Broadlands Primary School prepare and learn a short mihi using Skype.

Tags: Distance learning, English, Learning languages, Collaborative tools, Communication, Primary, Upper primary

A marae-based learning programme

Te Ika Unahi Nui is a marae-based wānanga (learning programme) that was developed and trialled with students from Coastal Taranaki School at Puniho Pā, Tarawainuku marae in Okato, Taranaki. 

Tags: Distance learning, Home-school partnership, Tikanga Māori, Primary

Distance teaching and learning at Newbury School

The COVID19 pandemic in 2020 meant that schools had to adapt quickly to students learning from home. At rural Newbury School, 5km from Palmerston North, this challenge presented new opportunities for teachers to engage with their students and community using technologies. 

Tags: Distance learning, Home-school partnership, Communication, Primary

Distance learning at Cobden School

Cobden School successfully used digital technologies to build on student learning during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown.

Tags: Distance learning, Home-school partnership, Communication, Primary

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MASAM supported by technology

MASAM supported by technology

Students and teachers at Motu School describe how the VLN Learning Exchange and digital technologies support Māori achieving success as Māori.

Seamless learning facilitated by BYOD

Seamless learning facilitated by BYOD

Connor Fitzgerald-Mansell, a student from Hillcrest High School, describes the benefits of bringing his own laptop to school.

Mobile devices at home

Mobile devices at home

Holy Cross School student, Coretti and her mother, Fiona Tuffs, discuss how using a mobile device makes access to schoolwork easier. Corretti explains how the iPad is changing the way she learns. 

Mentor with students at laptop.

Working with a mentor from the industry

David Fox, software developer, talks about his mentoring role with Frankley School.

Students looking at mobile device.

Students’ story: Making a documentary about eels

Students from years 6,7,8 at Mt Biggs School share how their writing improved through the process of making a documentary.

Screenshot of online lesson.

Teaching learners from a distance at Newbury School

Principal, Simon Marshall shares how distance learning provided teachers with opportunities to engage differently with their classes.

Diagram showing triangle school, home, learner.

Engaging with the community at Newbury School

School principal, Simon Marshall explains how distance teaching and learning helped shape connections between home, learner, and school.

Maximising technology to support learning between home and school

Maximising technology to support learning between home and school

Technology enables access to the Internet and removes communication barriers for Wadestown School student, Renée Patete.

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.

Teaching Samoan via video conference

Teaching Samoan via video conference

Lalaosalafai Tu’ua describes his experience of using video conferencing to teach Samoan at NCEA Level 3 at Southern Cross Campus in Mangere.

Student chiming glasses.

Distance learning activities at Newbury School

Principal, Simon Marshall describes how teachers and learners drew strength from school values during distance teaching and learning.

Student working at laptop.

Learning online with NetNZ

Anne Williams explains her role as e-Dean at Ashburton College. She explains how they utilise the online courses offered through NetNZ to support timetable flexibility and personalisation of learning for students.

Student working at laptop

Learning online – A student perspective

Ashburton College students, Olivia and Vlad describe the flexibility and the independence that NetNZ offers.

Building student relationships

Building student relationships

Ashburton College e-Learning teacher, Nicky Lewis explains the importance of building relationships with the students she works with online and how she does this.

Creating MASAM – Collaborating with the community

Creating MASAM – Collaborating with the community

Parents, BOT, and teachers from Motu School discuss their collaboration around whanaungatanga to create their Māori achieving success as Māori (MASAM framework).

Learning online – Teacher perspective

Learning online – Teacher perspective

Ashburton College e-Learning teacher, Nicky Lewis outlines the various online she uses to connect with her learners, in particular Moodle. Accessibility is important.

Parents engaging in student learning

Parents engaging in student learning

Motu School community talk about the positives of parents engaging in their children's learning.

Connecting with ICTs

Connecting with ICTs

e-Learning teacher Mervyn Cook and student Connor Fitzgerald-Mansell, from Hillcrest High School, discuss the benefits of being able to connect via ICTs during outside of scheduled class time.

Pedagogy underpinning BYOD

Pedagogy underpinning BYOD

Wellington High School Principal, Dominic Killalea explains the pedagogy behind their BYOD approach which supports lifelong learning.

Student working at computer.

Benefits of online learning

Anne Williams, e-Dean at Ashburton College, explains how online learning with NetNZ provides students with agency and independence.

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eTeaching 101 – be ready to teach online  

In this webinar recording from March 2020, e-Principal Rachel Whalley shares a presentation with practical advice for teachers preparing to work online. The presentation begins at 3:49mins into the video.

Research and readings

Keep them connected: Advice for taking learning online

Darren Sudlow shares some key points to consider when planning to take your face-to-face class or school fully online in this article, published March 2020.

Online learning guidelines for school leaders

This article gives guidelines on how school leaders can organise for successful online learning. e-Principal, Rachel Whalley outlines some key considerations that need to be taken into account when planning. Published March 2020.

Virtual learning in New Zealand – a research base

A collation of research and reports that focus on the policy and practice of online, flexible and distance learning in New Zealand schools. Published August 2019.

Virtual learning 25 years

The Virtual Learning Network Community has been in place in some form since 1994. Within this publication are many of the communities, stories, and shared vision that make up this rich community of schools.