Redesigning learning – why it’s hard

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Are those tasked with redesigning learning for the 21st Century too representative of the status quo to effect meaningful change? How long should people continue to learn and work if they routinely live to over 100 years old? What important trends are emerging as work and learning change? Will formal learning even be necessary in the future?

This week’s article looks at learning and some of the factors that may prove to be significant in how it evolves in schools over the coming decades. We start in New Zealand, where there is vigorous debate about the relevance and quality of its National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), which is the national school leaver / university entrance qualification. 

Proponents of change argue that NCEA can be ‘gamed’ by schools and students to gain credits at a level that may not reflect their true ability due to ‘easy’ credits and consistent assessment tasks that can be practised before taking tests. For example, it’s possible to leave school with NCEA Level 2 (the measure of success at secondary school) and still struggle with basic literacy, numeracy and learning habits.

The qualification is currently under review, with the aim of possibly designing a more modern and effective learning system and set of qualifications. However this article from an associate professor in New Zealand named Katie Fitzpatrick argues that the panel appointed to review the education system and repurpose it for the 21st Century is largely representative of the status quo, and therefore not well positioned to effect meaningful change. She suggests that without new thinking and involvement from more diverse groups within education and learning, a transformation is unlikely.

Is this a global phenomenon? Does this also apply in schools? Do teachers and other adults responsible for students’ learning display and live the competencies that students need? Are they collaborators, problem solvers and life-long learners themselves? Is it possible for these competencies to be taught during teacher education programmes? How might this be measured?

This fascinating article, huge in scale, unpacks Elon Musks’ Neuralink, the complex technical challenges the company faces and realisation of the vision it has set. It is a must-read, exploring how brain-machine interfaces might evolve and what this means for humanity, not only how we live and work but how we exist. The consequences for human existence and organisation are potentially vast.

What are the implications for learning? If Neuralink’s vision is realised, learning in all its forms will change so completely and fundamentally that nothing short of a ground-up re-examination and rebuild of every learning system will suffice. We may realise a future of seamless global collaboration and sharing of information between humans and between humans and machines, along with instant acquisition and understanding of any knowledge or concept.

Will formal learning even be necessary?

“A child born today in the USA has a 50:50 chance of reaching 104. Some will live much longer.”

With lifespans soon to routinely reach 100+ years, it is likely that people will continue to work and be productive well into their 80s and longer. Sourced via The Exponential View, this article examines research from Pearson and Oxford University that is based on one question: If a child were starting school today, what skills would he or she ideally learn in order to be ready for a possibly century-long career?

The conclusions will be familiar to readers of this website: deep knowledge balanced with a strong set of competencies, people skills, and a habit of life-long learning. And what do the researchers consider the basics for a standard, must-have education?

1. Learning strategies
2. Psychology
3. Instructing
4. Social perceptiveness
5. Sociology and anthropology
6. Education and training
7. Coordination
8. Originality
9. Fluency of ideas
10. Active learning

This does not represent a firm prediction, but are competencies that the researchers believe will most likely be necessary for future long-term success based on observed and predicted trends.

How many of these do we recognise in our classrooms and schools right now? Are students assessed or observed against any of them, and are they valued within learning communities? Has anything been missed?

“The new reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution forces us to think and act in a new way: we can’t solve new problems by applying old methodologies or outdated mindsets.”

From the World Economic Forum, a summary of trends likely to become more pronounced in the workforce as work is disrupted due to new forms of technology and automation. Broadly, these trends are:

1. Impermanence – most new jobs do not offer permanent contracts, but are temporary or freelance.
2. People are living longer, and will likely work longer. Continuous learning is a must.
3. New professions – new forms of technology means new jobs, and these tend to pay better than traditional professions.
4. The importance of women – women are still underpaid and marginalised in many professions, but skills that women typically possess such as empathy and listening will be absolutely necessary for success.

The article argues that a redesign of organisations is necessary, and that the people within them become empowered. If the trends described in this article are to be realised, a transformation of learning and how schools operate is also necessary, and we will not be able to achieve this by applying old learning or outdated mindsets.

Which brings us back to our first article. If technology and automation do indeed change how we live and work as dramatically as expected, will those tasked with redesigning learning for this new reality have the capability of doing so, given their potential interest in maintaining the status quo? What will happen if learning (especially at schools) largely persists in its present form?

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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