Future Focused Learning


The OECD has recently released a paper describing the skills and learning that students will need for 2030.

Education has a vital role to play in developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that enable people to contribute to and benefit from an inclusive and sustainable future. Learning to form clear and purposeful goals, work with others with different perspectives, find untapped opportunities and identify multiple solutions to big problems will be essential in the coming years. Education needs to aim to do more than prepare young people for the world of work; it needs to equip students with the skills they need to become active, responsible and engaged citizens.

The paper emphasizes the need for our students to be lifelong learners to be skilled in numeracy, literacy, data literacy, health literacy and digital literacy to enable them in a very different future world. Social and emotional skills will be what will make the difference for success and even now what employers are looking for to undertake the new world of work.

As industries are disrupted by the digital world and Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Robotics change the types of work that humans will be required to do many people will be released to participate in work that requires collaboration, empathy, creativity, communication and the capacity to acknowledge diversity and work across distance. It will be a world where understanding data will be critical to solve the problems, we can’t even imagine, underpinned by social responsibility and sustainability.

Even now large companies like Google have examined their HR practices over time using data analytics to improve their practices. Google has an extraordinary focus on increasing collaboration between employees from different functions. It has found that increased innovation comes from a combination of three factors: discovery (i.e. learning), collaboration, and fun. It consciously designs its workplaces to maximize learning, fun, and collaboration.

Key also to future success will be the capability of an individual to be a self-directed learner. Few jobs will remain static and with the pace of technological change it will be necessary to constantly learn to be successful in one’s work environment, to change to another role or start up one’s own business.

What then are the implications for educators? Many these ideas have been influencing curriculum design and teaching practice for some time. Since the beginning of this century teachers have been encouraged to teach 21st century skills which have been described as the 4C’s i.e. Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking. The Australian Curriculum includes Digital Technologies which encourages teachers to embed strategies, activities and projects into their school programs. This will ensure that our students are capable users of digital technologies and have time to be explorers and creators with the new and emerging technologies involved for instance in coding, robotics and drones.

The classroom itself has undertaken a revolution to enable this kind of teaching and learning. Once the internet became available in the classroom using interactive white boards, 16th century classrooms where the teacher was the font of all knowledge ceased to be the norm. The interactive white board made it possible to bring the world into the classroom at an instant. Teachers were able to answer the questions of their students by searching the net and displaying the results, they were able to show students accurate images to illustrate concepts. The teacher had the most sophisticated teacher’s aide at their side and no longer needed to be the font of knowledge writing notes on the board.

With the BYOD revolution students became the centre of their own learning. This has been a significant shift in terms of future focused learning, a disruption necessary to ensure that students become powerful learners, following their passions motivated to learn what is required to take next steps or perform the kind of roles that the future will throw at them. Students can now follow personalized learning programs, undertake research fields about which they are passionate, participate in virtual worlds with multiple people where they need to negotiate roles to solve problems.

Many classrooms have evolved to become a learning spaces. The front of the room may no longer exist as a fixture, rather there will be a device such as a mobile interactive flat panel used for modelling, sharing and collaboration and specific teaching moments. The students sit in a range of spaces and work in a range of modes standing at desks or in bean bags in clusters on the floor with devices that are mobile. Teachers now design for learning, developing units of work which are project based or enquiry based and require students to engage in authentic learning. They collaborate to solve real world problems and develop communications strategies to present their work and findings to and beyond the class.

Future focused learning is becoming evident in Australian classrooms. Our teachers are curious, inventive and focused on engaging their students. Across Australia teachers are confident users of the internet, creators of digital content and aware of the need to inspire their students to find their passions. In the Northern Territory we have seen Mother Terresa Catholic Primary school a brand-new purpose-built school designed to enable teachers to access a range of learning spaces with the latest technology enabling collaboration and communication, effectively from age 3.

In Queensland we have seen Sheldon College, where student create their own virtual museum displaying evidence of their learning pathway throughout their time at the school. In their senior years through the Link Centre they learn entrepreneurial skills, innovating with robotics, developing business plans, producing media and marketing collateral thus modelling real world practices.

In NSW we have seen Bondi Beach Public School lead the professional learning of teachers at their STEAM Punks Conference held at the Power House Museum where they had hands- on experiences with robotics, coding and the gamification of learning to support them implement Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

Australian students need their teachers to be creative in the learning activities they design, continually innovating in their practices and modelling lifelong learning. We see this in hundreds of schools around the country where teachers are learning to use their technology in new and exciting ways. Hundreds of teachers participate in MOOCS Massive Online Open Courses to improve their understanding of how to implement digital technologies in the classroom and how to incorporate the 4C’s. Many teachers are Microsoft Innovative Educators, or Apple Distinguished Educators, or Google Certified and SMART Exemplary Educators, who coach and support their colleagues.

Our research shows that the effective use of technology in the classroom depends on the quality of the teacher. Providing a device without effective training in how to use the technology for learning is a useless investment. It is not enough to show teachers the functionality of the device it is important for them to see how it impacts on learning, how it can enhance learning outcomes, align with curriculum and assessment.

The teaching philosophy of the teacher is also a significant condition for successful uptake of change. For instance, secondary teachers who are driven by high stakes assessment will be cautious in adopting technology unless there is clear evidence of benefits for their students. However, the flipped classroom enabling students to watch as per Mr. Woo videos of explanations at anytime, anywhere, the ability for courses to be contained in Learning Management Systems for review, for teachers to be able to screenshare content or quizzes at the point of learning need, has transformed high school instruction.

We need to ensure that teachers are provided with the best conditions to undertake future focused learning. They need learning spaces that are flexible which include technologies that enable a range of pedagogical practices. The technology needs to allow for personalized learning, as well as project-based learning where students are able to share and collaborate across many devices. Teachers need to be able to use these learning spaces more for collaboration and communication than knowledge transfer such as note taking as content can now be shared digitally.

Our research has shown student achievement is improved by providing software to teachers which is efficient, easy to use and device agnostic. Software that is designed for teaching with inbuilt capacity for developing numeracy, literacy skills and assessment tools for collecting data and which is fun! Coupled with quality displays that are interactive not just dumb screens, but which enable purposeful collaborative activities such as brainstorming, editing and the creation of high quality digital content which can be shared across the screens of the learning space and beyond.

With all these conditions in place the future will be bright for Australian students!

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Sue Beveridge
Sue Beveridge is an ANZ Education Advisor at SMART Technologies, a leading provider of technology solutions that enable inspired collaboration in schools and workplaces around the world by turning group work into a highly interactive, engaging and productive experience

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