What is this site for?
The term ’21st century learning’ is a kind of shorthand for what needs to be different in schools if young people are to be well prepared for life in the Knowledge Age.

This website provides ideas, tools, and resources for helping people make the shift from 20th century to 21st century ways of thinking about learning. It is a space for theory and practice to interact, for theory to inform practice, and practice to inform theory. Read more about this website and the team behind it.

Where should I begin?

This website is intended to be dynamic: it is constantly growing, changing, and evolving.  There is no “right” way to move through the site, and if you like exploring you are welcome to simply dive in to see what you discover! Here are some things you can do:

If you’d prefer a more structured approach to help you find your way around the site before you leap in,  here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Check out our sitemap
  • Read our blogs to find out what we’ve been thinking in relation to 21st century learning, and post your comments in response.
  • You can also use the tag cloud on the right to find blogpostings on topics that interest you!
  • Find out about the first  Shifting Thinking Conference, held in Wellington in November 2009 and the second Shifting Thinking Workshop, held in May 2012
  • You can  learn more about the theories that underpin our views on 21st century learning, or browse resources, such as thinking objects, we have developed to help people understand and apply 21st century learning ideas in practice.


If you have a question or some feedback regarding this web site, feel free to post your comment or question below.

  1. Lisa
    | #1

    I am hunting for info about the next Shifting Thinking Conference… I heard there was to be one…?? Can anyone direct me to the right place?

  2. | #2

    Quotes that made me THINK:

    “Imagination is more important than Knowledge” – Einstein

    “Because the five senses of the human body are the fastest, most efficient method of programming ever devised. Just imagine. Sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. You’ve got all that going for you instead of some guy sitting at a computer terminal punching keys.” – from the (1985) movie D.A.R.Y.L.

    “The progression from point (0-dimensional) to line (1-dimensional) to plane (2-dimensional) to space (3-dimensional) and beyond leads us to the question – if mapping from higher order dimensions to lower ones loses vital information (as we can readily observe with optical illusions resulting from third to second dimensional mapping), does our “fixation” with a 3-dimensional space introduce crucial distortions in our view of reality that a higher-dimensional perspective would not lead us to?” – ?

  3. Julie Evola
    | #3

    In effect this is all another thread in the Frankfurt School’s ‘Long March through the culture’. Strangely when I ‘critique’ critical theory itself, I find that notions of equality are hijacked and converted into altered notions of feminism (where female non-subscribers are signified as white males) in order to support ‘matriachy as a precursor to the state of anarchy required for us to seize control’ – us being the supporters of the progressive/cultural marxist bloc. Various supporting evidence can be obtained from your own schools. Who can forget the Beria-like ‘Greedies and Greenies’ module. As Alinsky said “education is not about educating the youth, it is about creating a power base”.

    Where have we gone wrong? Why is one set of notions to be replaced with it’s competitor set of notions? Why is the hard left more preferable to the soft right? If the hard right is (rightly) condemned why are we all so intent on instituting a permanent totalitarian thought-control paradigm designed to convert people into sheeple?

    It is time to wake up. Thankfully the entryist infiltrators have themselves now been infiltrated.

    PAX (not PrAXis)

  4. Mary
    | #4

    @Rachel Bolstad
    Oooooh! *squeals with excitement* Thanks Rachel! I shall go listen to it now.

  5. | #5

    @Mary, as you mentioned democratic schools, there was a radio programme about the democratic schooling movement that aired on RadioNZ National this weekend. Not sure how long the link stays up, but for now you can find it here, look for the heading “ideas” http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/sunday

  6. Janet Akhurst
    | #6

    PS I should have said that this is a huge challenge and, for many, a step into the unknown! The Neutral Zone!!!

  7. Janet Akhurst
    | #7

    I don’t think I disagree with anything you have said, the issue is around getting some school leaders to encourage/lead their students/teachers to go on that journey. They need to encourage their teachers to take that risk and have the confidence that the end results are just as good and hopefully better that at present. Many struggle with student engagement, or lack of, but they do not see that giving the students the opportunity to be self directed will probably lead to improvements. One of the biggest challenges is to step away from the formal timetable of prescribed subjects.

    I am lucky in that I have been teaching ICT in the Technology context and the students are very much directing their own learning. All I have to do is to make sure they meet the necessary criteria for E, M or A. They bring much of their own learning to the course, so much so that the technical aspects are often new to me!

  8. Mary
    | #8

    @Janet Akhurst
    Hi, Janet – yes, I think you are right to a large extent, although I would question more than the delivery.

    I think there is a fundamental question to be addressed about the nature of curriculum and its place in our education system. Yes, there is “most agree that there is base knowledge all students need”, but…

    - which people (or groups) are given the power to decide what that information is, is a political / ideiological issue as much as an educational one.

    - how that ‘core curriulum’ is defined carries a whole bundle of tacit assumtions about, for example, the value of “knowledge” as opposed to the value of “knowing”; the cultural approach to the value and validity of knowledge, where it comes from, how you validate it, etc

    - the competence of learners (and by extension any other “non-professionals” – i.e. non-teachers) to determine what is in their own best interests, and what they need and want to know to promote those best interests…

    Let me fly a kite here and ask: why are we so sure that students would be worse off if we let them genuinely direct their own learning theythan they are when we direct them arbitrarily to learn what we say is good for them and give them an illusion of choice as we do now? It seems to work okay in the democratic school model – and the students there typically cover the core currculum and more over the course of their schooling without being directed to do it.

    In fact, if we have the courage of our convictions about curriculum wouldn’t we argue that the core curriculum is essential knowledge therefore it will by definition be the content that learners would choose to study?

    This emergent / evolved curriculum would then be what is known as a “spontaneous order” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_order)

    Wouldn’t that potentially have the effect of wiping out all the issues with disengagement we struggle with under the forced curriculum model?

    (And yes, I know the revised NZC is incredibly flexible, and I like it a lot – as I say, I’m flying a kite here, testing the boundaries…)

  9. Janet Akhurst
    | #9


    Or is it just that with any new thinking we tend to go to extremes before finding the good space othe extremes? The talk is about not filling students up with knowledge but I think most agree that there is base knowledge all students need but it is the method of delivery that is being questioned.

  10. | #10

    Hi everyone! Thanks to our world visitor map plug-in I can see we’re being visited by quite a few people from outside New Zealand. I’d like to personally welcome all our international readers (and the domestic ones of course) and I invite you to sign up to our online community, or just post some comments to let us know what brings you here and what you find interesting on the site!

  11. Mary
    | #11

    Adam Smith :One criticism I do have of the seeming trend against ‘filling’ students up with knowledge in favour of making them ‘competent to find it’ is that an overwhelming number of my students have a debilitating lack of basic general knowledge. This in turn contributes to their difficulty in assessing the usefulness of knowledge they do ‘find’.

    Is this a trend or a transition do you think, Adam?

  12. Mary
    | #12

    I give up – either I leave out the name at teh top or the captcha code at the bottom – either way I lose the text. I should probably draft everything in Word & then C&P but you know that’s not going to happen.

    Sorry, Adam – would love to take you up on your comment but it will have to wait ’til I can be bothered reformatting my incredibly insightful and persuasive (or not) comments…

    Unless Hugh can fix it up so that the browser doesn’t erase teh comment when my window refreshes?

    Or maybe I should just stick to Twitter? (Will use this post as practice in copying comments before I try ot submit & see if I can re-train myself…*sigh!*)

  13. Diana-Grace
    | #13

    @Janet Akhurst
    Hey there Janet..you were a rocket in ourspace!!!!!!
    I have never seen anyone step up and step into The Wall as fast as you!!! I was inspired…………thankyous flying at you!!!!! Hey…do you have any VC gear at your school???? Call me at Te Papa Ed if you do… lets hook up… :) *dg

  14. | #14

    De nada, Billy! And remember, a half-formed idea is half an idea more than nothing :)

  15. Billy Matheson
    | #15

    Big gratitude to all the organisers and participants of Shifting Thinking. I have a whole lot of half formed ideas swimming around in my head. An odd sensation, but a good one!

  16. Janet Akhurst
    | #16

    Well home again and not too bad on the flight, not as wild as ‘The high Ride’ at Te Papa. If you have not taken it yet it is a must do, BUT eat lunch afterwards!!

    I have come away from ‘Shifting Thinking’ totally energised and with many ideas starting to come together. My thinking has not so much shifted as started to coalesce! The task of ‘selling’ some of these ideas is now the challenge. As a bit of a conference junkie may I congratulate NZCER for one of the best I have experienced. You took a risk and it came off!

  17. Juliette Hayes
    | #17

    Hi everyone
    I’m also terribly disappointed to be missing this awesome learning experience. I wish the NZCER team, the learning facilitators and the delegates all the best for the 2 days. I hope to follow as much as I can electronically.
    Cheers, Juliette

  18. | #18

    Hi Susan, we will certainly miss you at the conference! And what a GREAT question you have asked. Yes, we are definitely looking at ways we can include and involve people who can’t attend in the conference. If you check out this page you’ll see how we’re linking some of the conference streams with some of the existing material on shiftingthinking, so people can get involved during “Act 1″ (which is now!). We plan to add a lot more, through blogs, podcasts, maybe even some videocasts.

  19. Susan Sandretto
    | #19

    Hi Everyone,
    I wish that I could attend the conference, but alas, I cannot. Any thoughts on how to include people virtually? (Podcasting key notes… I noticed that there may be some live ‘tweets’…) I am particularly interested in the shifting literacies stream. Cheers, Susan

  20. | #20

    Hi Vicki, thanks for your question. I’ve drawn it to the attention of our Literacy team, Sue, Juliet, Jim, and Sarah – they will respond when they have a chance. In the meantime, have you checked out the shifting literacies blog thread? You might also be interested in some of our thinking objects too – such as the two Cinderella ones you’ll find at the bottom of this page

  21. VickiBaas
    | #21

    I am most interested in the shifting literacies ideas, although I am not quite sure what these entail. Does the definition of literacy that this discussion uses include multi literacies? In particular I am interested to see how information literacy is linked with inquiry learning for the primary class teacher.

  22. Maurice
    | #22

    In response to Mark & Ally re: “developmental cognitive sequence”

    Hi there

    Like Ally, I too get concerned when I read such phrases because to me they wave a flag saying: “linear thinking“.

    If it is not so, please explain …

    I prefer to think of Western “knowledge” as representing only the current dominant discourse in our schools. We could instead recognize this, and work to think, plan and teach more generatively (ref= Doll, W. E. (1993). Curriculum possibilities in a “post”-future. Journal of Curriculum Studies. 8(4), 277—92.)


  23. | #23

    If you are exploring the Thinking Objects section of this site (they are under resources) you will see that you can now make comments on the objects. Have a look at Miles Barker’s feedback on one of the Thinking Objects and join in the discussion about what interim steps teachers might be able to take to move their practice towards something more future focused. Maybe if we had some more concrete ideas about how to start we’d feel more confident about trying something different.

  24. Ally
    | #24

    Hi Mark, I’m really interested in your comments. I too think it is really important that we put some time into really thinking about what are the core “big ideas” that we need to be developing in the different learning areas and why these ideas are important? One of the challenges I see is getting the balance right between breaking things down into small enough pieces to be able to “get a handle” on what the idea involves but at the same time keeping a view of the big picture. I’m also interested in your idea of developing “a developmental cognitive sequence of understanding” and wonder whether the sequence is the same for all learners. Is there a fairly predicatable linear progression or is learning more idiosyncratic and networked? I am particularly interested in primary/junior secondary science education and will take you up on the offer to email you for a sample of the work you have been doing – thanks. It would also be good if you could contribute some of your thinking in this area to our “shifting schooling” blog thread. I raise some questions in a blog there called “How do we decide what to teach?” and would be really interested in your comments. Thanks.

  25. | #25

    I agree with Adams comment and this has been one of our focii in terms of developing a conception of what 21st C learning is. Unfortunately in the curricula documents there is very little definition around what achievement objectives actually are and this led to a vagueness around what content, contexts and concepts might or might not be valuable for learners to learn. In the recent project “Whatever Next?” We asked the question ” what are the concepts that underpin learning within the competencies and the learning areas. What we next did was to look at 20 international curiculum frameworks resulting in hundreds of concepts for each learning area and competency and then distil them down to the core ideas. Out of this distillation process we arrived at between 20 and 30 concepts for each of the curriculum areas and the competencies. The next stage was to then develop a a developmental cognitive sequence of understanding building up to the understanding of the concept framework. The subsequent process was to turn those concepts into learning intentions and then allow schools to choose their local contexts and this would define the content. We have now completed this project and if you wish me to send you a sample I can do that. Just e-mail me at mark@work.co.nz . In this way we are focusing on understanding rather than just learning random pieces of knowledge which may or may not be useful for the future. All the best with your work.

  26. | #26

    @Adam Smith
    Hi Adam, thanks for your comment! I think many people have similar concerns about question of knowledge and its place in 21st century learning. A short response to this is to say that 21st century learning (at least as we think about it) is not simply about focussing on the learning PROCESS at the expense of learning CONTENT, but rather moving ourselves towards a new way of thinking about the interactions and interconnections between learning as a process, and the “stuff” of learning. It does require us to rethink some of our conventional ideas about learning content, but it certainly doesn’t mean that knowledge isn’t still fundamentally important in learning. You might find it interesting to discuss this with Ally on her blogposting which asks “how do we decide what to teach?”. I’ll also see if we can get a blogthread going so we can all discuss your comment/criticism further!

  27. | #27

    One criticism I do have of the seeming trend against ‘filling’ students up with knowledge in favour of making them ‘competent to find it’ is that an overwhelming number of my students have a debilitating lack of basic general knowledge. This in turn contributes to their difficulty in assessing the usefulness of knowledge they do ‘find’.

  28. | #29

    You can read more about the Curriculum Conference series here: http://nzcer.org.nz/default.php?cPath=21_394_396

  29. Ally
    | #30

    At the recent NZCER Curriculum Conferences a whole lot of conversations were started about the new curriculum, 21st Century learning and what this means for schools. We are hoping these conversations can be continued here. If you get lost finding your way around the blogs or can’t decide where to put your comment or question, just post it here.

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