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Views of knowledge

New ideas about knowledge have largely emerged in the world outside education, driven in large part by enormous economic, social, and technological changes. These “knowledge age” ideas – although complex – are extremely important for thinking about the design of a future-oriented curriculum.

Table 1: Views of knowledge and their implications for schooling
In the past Now
Knowledge was conceived of as something developed and known by experts, which could be passed on from teacher to student or manager to worker. Knowledge is dynamic and key to the process of creating new knowledge. It comes into being “just in time” to solve specific problems as they emerge.

A school’s job was to transmit knowledge, and the students’ job was to absorb it in preparation for their lives after school.

Curriculum development involved determining which knowledge students would need for their future roles and organising this knowledge into logical sequences of curriculum units that could be taught using step-by-step methods.

It is no longer possible to accurately predict exactly what knowledge people will need to draw on as they move through life. To support their ability to develop new knowledge, learners need opportunities to build their sense of identity – to become self-reliant, critical, and creative thinkers; to be team players; to learn to use initiative; and to engage in ongoing learning throughout their lives.
Education structures assumed a certain degree of stability and predictability in the kinds of jobs and social roles that people could move into once they left school. The jobs and social roles that people move into once they leave school are constantly evolving as a consequence of social, economic, and technological developments. In an increasingly globalised, interconnected, and interdependent world, people who are able to work with knowledge are seen as a key resource.

>Useful resources

Bolstad, R. and Gilbert, J., with McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., and Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting Future-oriented Learning and Teaching: A New Zealand Perspective. Wellington: Ministry of Education. 

Bull, A. and Gilbert, J. (2012). Swimming out of Our Depth? Leading Learning in 21st Century Schools. Wellington: NZCER. 

Egan, K. (2008). The Future of Schooling: Reimagining Our Schools from the Ground Up. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Leadbeater, C. (2011). Rethinking Innovation in Education: Opening Up the Debate. Melbourne: Centre for Strategic Innovation.

Guiding questions He pātai

  • Which of the six emerging themes are currently the most developed and which are currently the least developed in your school’s practice?
  • Which theme(s) could provide a focus for professional learning for your staff?
  • How does – or could – ICT contribute to practices in your school that build on these emerging themes?
  • What networks and collaborations could your school use to deepen your thinking and practice in relation to the emerging themes?

What we know about learning

A future-oriented education system must be learning centred. Research clearly shows that people do not learn well as spectators – good learning requires active engagement. Although many educational professionals understand the concepts in the table below, current approaches don’t always align with the concepts and consistently demonstrate them in practice.

Table 2: What research tells us about learning
Learning is much more than acquiring new knowledge and concepts. It involves thinking, but learners need knowledge and experiences to think with.
Learners need to be actively engaged in ways that allow them to process, interpret, and adapt an experience.
Learners have to want to learn. They have to see a purpose to learning and how it will allow them to contribute to something beyond themselves.
Learners have to feel in charge of their own learning and to get a sense of flow and progress, with the right amount of challenge and feedback along the way.
Learners need to develop in-depth knowledge in some areas to help them keep learning.
Learners need to be encouraged to search, not for the right answer (focusing on surface features) but for the right approach to solving a problem (deep structures).
Learning involves interaction – trying out and testing ideas with others.
Learning usually needs structure. For example, adults play an important role in young children’s development by structuring their experiences and directing their attention to certain aspects of those experiences.
Learning needs to take place in a wide variety of settings so that learners can transfer their learning and use it in new contexts.
Intelligence is not fixed but is expandable through learning experiences. Expanding people’s intellectual capacity – and ability to keep learning – should be the key function of a future-oriented education system.

Download the full print version: Issue 26: October 2012 (PDF, 1 MB)