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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.

Learning is personalised

A personalised approach in the classroom allows ākonga/students to take control of their own learning. Each ākonga 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."

– Bolstad (2011)

  • 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:
    • engage 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)


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

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

Connecting with the community

Teachers can use learning technologies and social media connections to collaborate with people and groups outside of the classroom. This provides access to specific kinds of expertise, knowledge, or learning opportunities.

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.

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Connecting with whānau

The use of technology and social media allows parents to participate more in their children's learning. 

Parents of Leamington School students talk about how technology allows them to be involved in their children's learning through the use of Facebook and blogs. Students in 1:1 classes can share their learning with parents and whānau when they take their iPads home.

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Building an equitable environment

Creating an equitable learning environment, where all students have access to digital technologies for learning is a focus for school leaders, teachers, and the Board of Trustees (BoT). Leamington School has worked to ensure that all students have the opportunities to develop digital fluency, not just those in a position to bring their own device.

To build the environment, school leaders, teachers, and the BoT have focused on:


Community image

fostering community involvement and teacher capability to think differently about learning

Flexible learning spaces image

creating flexible learning spaces and a robust infrastructure


Device strategy image

developing a device strategy considering equity, ease of use, portability, and platform.

Leamington School has explored community grants and lease-to-buy options to provide alternative ways for families to procure devices for the BYOD classes.

Parents and whānau at Leamington School have been consulted with about using digital technologies for learning. Parents are encouraged to attend evenings about the use of iPads so that learning can continue at home. 

Future-oriented school leaders need support to develop a more complex skill set in order to become strategic systems thinkers, change facilitators, and learning leaders who can support and sustain a culture of continuous professional learning.

– Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective, 2012

Professional learning at Leamington School

Key factors for successful professional learning and development (PLD) at Leamington School include:

  • identifying needs within the school
  • reviewing the research
  • visiting other schools
  • informed discussions within the school staff to agree a schoolwide approach.

The school has setup focus groups, which are tasked with growing areas of strategic importance to the school. This ensures: teacher ownership of solutions for improving practice that are linked to strategic goals. Teachers are encouraged to join PLD focus groups that relate to the professional interests. This video looks at the iPad PLD focus group and their process trialling iPads with a focus on students rather than the technology.

Teachers as inquirers

A culture of continuous professional learning can be built by encouraging teacher inquiries that are focused on identified student needs.

Teacher, Anna Speir's inquiry focused on using digital technologies with a small group of boys. Her inquiry resulted in enhanced engagement in writing and it increased her capability with the technologies. The positive impact on student outcomes was the evidence needed to make a strategic decision to implement 1:1 devices with that class.

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Connecting to share professional learning

Educational professionals need to collaboratively co-construct new approaches to meet changing needs. This requires an attitude of openness and intellectual curiosity and a willingness to see things in new ways.

Future-oriented views of knowledge and learning – NZC Update 26

TeachMeetNZ allowed teachers to make online connections outside of their own schools so they could collaborate and broaden their professional networks and knowledge.

Sonya van Schaijik, Newmarket School, explains how TeachMeet works, how she introduced it into New Zealand, and the benefits it provides for teachers to connect and share their practice. 

Once a term, teachers came together in a Google Hangout to share what they are doing in their classrooms. Sessions were live-streamed via YouTube allowing a global viewing audience. Participants can use Google Hangout’s question and answer tool and Twitter to interact. Presentations are archived so that they can be viewed at any time. 

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 p 12

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

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

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.

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.

Personalising learning calls for the system to be built around the learner, rather than the learner being required to fit with the system. This challenges us to think about how to deploy the resources for learning (teachers, time, spaces, technology) more flexibly to meet learners’ needs.

Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective

Teacher and student roles

Twenty-first century ideas about knowledge and learning demand shifts in the traditional roles of teachers and students. 

Teachers need to focus on recognising and working with students’ strengths, and thinking about how to support the development of every student's potential.

Leamington School teachers design learning tasks using digital technologies to create new learning opportunities for their students. Learning tasks are designed with all students' needs in mind from the outset, using the 6Cs – creativity, collaboration, communication, curiosity, connections, and consumers. Students collaborate and actively learn from each other. As a result, teachers have found improvements in the quality of students' work and the depth of their thinking. In particular, significant shifts in boys' engagement and writing. 

A University of Waikato study led by Dr Garry Falloon provides the school with valuable data about the impact of iPads on learning:

The 6Cs of a technologically capable learner at Leamington School

Technologically capable learner diagram


The 6Cs are a focus across the whole school community.

The Knowledge Age literature argues that reproducing existing knowledge can no longer be education’s core goal, because:

(a) it is no longer possible to determine exactly which knowledge people will need to store up in order to use it in their lives after school, and

(b) the “storing up for future use” model of knowledge is no longer useful or sufficient for thinking about how knowledge is developed and used in the 21st century.

Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective

Leamington School has developed the "Leamington Learner concept", that focuses on the dispositions needed to be an effective learner. This is the school's strategic focus and is represented by a set of inter-related "cogs" and virtues. The dispositions of each cog described in Leamington's 6Cs for being technologically capable – communicate, collaborate, create, connect, consume, and curiosity. The concept is owned by the entire school community. Understanding what it means to be technologically capable is integral to being a Leamington Learner.

Leamington School principal, Mike Malcolm explains how they incorporated the principles of Tātaiako: cultural competencies for teachers of Māori learners  into the school virtues for teachers of Māori learners. 

Examples of technologically capable learners at Leamington School putting the cogs into action

Treetops TV  – a senior school option where students create videos about Leamington School life. 

Treetops TV episodes

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

Filter by: Secondary Primary

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

The Portal Unity Project

The Portal Unity Project

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

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Hereora: Discussing future-focused collaboration

Hereora – A future-focused collaboration

Hereora leaders share how their cluster wide future-focused inquiry is providing students with opportunities to have agency over decisions around learning.

The Leamington learner

The Leamington learner

The Leamington Learner concept, or dispositions, is the school’s strategic focus and foundation for enhanced achievement. Owned by the school community, technological capability is an integral component.

Leamington School COGs and virtues

Principles of Tātaiako

Leamington School principal, Mike Malcolm explains the school virtues and how they include manaakitanga and whanaungatanga.

Treetops TV

Treetops TV

Treetops TV is Leamington School's television driven by the students. Technologically capable learners put the school's learner dispositions into action. 

Parent using iPad

Beyond the classroom whānau participating in their children’s learning

Leamington School parents talk about how technology allows them to be involved in their child’s learning through the use of Facebook and blogs.

Children using iPad

Developing the technologically capable learner

Students developing technological capabilities has changed learning and teaching at Leamington School.

Community consultation on the iPad initiative

Community consultation on the iPad Initiative

Parents of students at Leamington School explain how the school prepared parents and the wider community for BYOD implementation.

Teacher working with students

Inquiry into using digital tools to enhance literacy

Teacher inquiries at Newmarket School build on learner motivation and interests as a way of improving student outcomes. They focus on genuine problems of practice and aim to develop teacher capability.

Connecting to share professional learning


Sonya van Schaijik, Newmarket School, explains how TeachMeet works and the benefits it provides for teachers to connect and share their practice.

Children working

Digital connections for new learning opportunities

A teacher inquiry which utilised digital technologies for science.

Child using iPad

iPads and literacy

Teacher at Newmarket School, Reubina Irshad, talks about her inquiry to enhance student engagement using an iPad as a creative tool. Reubina explains how she ran the inquiry and what the outcomes were.

Child using iPad

Selecting apps

Teacher at Newmarket school explains the process she uses for selecting apps to use in her classroom.

Children Skyping

Making connections globally

Teacher at Newmarket school, Virginia Kung, talks about how they have made connections with people across the world through Twitter and Skype.

Applying SOLO taxonomy

Applying SOLO taxonomy

Teacher, Virginia Kung talks about how she applied SOLO taxonomy to her science lessons.

Children using iPads

Home school partnerships

Teacher, Reubina Irshad explains how they create home school partnerships by helping parents to support their child’s learning at home.



Students explain about how they learnt about electricity.



Newmarket School teacher, Reubina Irshad talks about how they connected with whānau during their Matariki celebrations.

Making bread

The science of bread

Teacher, Virginia Kung, explains why she chose to teach her students about the science of bread and how they got the community involved.

Student wearing VR goggles

Extending learning through virtual reality

Teachers at Pakuranga College explain their process for introducing virtual reality (VR) and how they are encouraging students to be comfortable with new technologies.

Teacher talking with students

Virtual reality supporting student learning

Students from Pakuranga College describe the VR game they created as a collaborative project, and the skills they developed through the process.

Student using VR equipment

Setting up virtual reality at Pakuranga College

Teachers at Pakuranga College talk about how they have introduced VR into their school and the equipment they use.

Students managing the zebra crossing outside the school

The flipped learning model – Purpose and pedagogy at Ashhurst School

Ashhurst School Principal, Heath Chittenden, speaks about the flipped learning global standards project and how they have created a standard so that flipped learning looks the same no matter where in the world you are based.

Teacher, Sara Lambert talking to students in her classroom

Flipped learning: Changes to teacher practice

Teachers, Sara and Emma, talk about the biggest changes they have seen in their teaching since they started using flipped learning. “I think for me the biggest changes that it’s had are it’s more individually centred and it’s changed my position within the classroom.”

Teacher, Emma Jensen working at a desk on an iPad

Planning a flipped session

Ashhurst School teachers, Sara and Emma, explain how they plan their lessons for a flipped classroom including how they make their instructional videos.

Two students sit at a desk with their iPads

Benefits of a flipped approach to student learning in a junior classroom

Teacher, Emma, talks about the independence children gain and how she gets more one-on-one time with students by using the flipped approach. One student shares how she uses the class site to share work with her parents.

Two students sit at a desk with their iPads

Benefits of a flipped classroom for student learning

A teacher and her students talk about the benefits they have noticed from using flipped learning in their classroom and the flexibility that it allows.

Principal, Heath Chittenden, looking at stats on his computer

Raising student achievement using a flipped model of learning

Staff from Ashhurst School talk about where they have seen achievement levels rise in their school and how they think flipped learning has attributed to that.

A student using a wall chart to show whether she needs help or is 'Good to go'

Inclusion in the flipped classroom

Teachers Sara Lambert and Emma Jensen explain how the flipped model allows them to tailor the learning to students' individual needs. 

Students with teacher.

Design thinking through creating mobile apps

Frankley School students design apps that work to solve problems in the community.

Student reviewing work at whiteboard.

Computational thinking and coding through app development

Frankley School students share their enthusiasm for coding.

Mentor with students at laptop.

Working with a mentor from the industry

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

Mentor working with two students.

Wireframing mobile apps

Students work with an industry mentor to plan their app design at Frankley School.

Students working at computers.

Collaborating like mini professionals

Brendon Anderson explains how Frankley School students bring real-world business roles into their classroom.

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Resources and readings

Ministry of Education resources

Ka Hikitia – Kā Hapaitia

Ka Hikitia – Kā Hapaitia is a cross-agency strategy for the education sector. It sets out how The Ministry of Education will work with education services to achieve system shifts in education and support Māori learners and their whānau, hapū and iwi to achieve excellent and equitable outcomes and provides an organising framework for actions.

Action Plan for Pacific Education

The Action Plan maps the Government’s commitment to transforming outcomes for Pacific learners and families and signals how early learning services, schools, and tertiary providers can achieve change for Pacific learners and their families. The Action Plan has resources and guidance including planning templates.

Tātaiako: 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 logo

Ministry of Education: Statement of intent

Key elements of how the Ministry will contribute to the delivery of the Government’s priorities for education. The latest Statement is available for download from this page on the Ministry of Education website.

Inclusive Education

Find out about inclusive education in New Zealand schools, including school's legal obligations. There are resources to help your school or early learning service support students with diverse needs.


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?


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.