Log in

learning leading in a digital world

By Keir Whipp Comments (2)

Educators in New Zealand, and around the world, are working in exciting times.  We're on the brink of a revolution and no one is going to get hurt.  In fact, the digital revolution is possibly the only way education can break down barriers of inequity, provide young people the opportunity to really become 21st century learners, and allow them to learn in ways that meet their needs and learning styles.

And to achieve this, teachers are the key, not technology.  Technology will be a vital tool, but only teachers can bring about this change.  So it will be up to the leaders to lead their teachers in embracing a vision and implementing a strategy to give students a chance to learn anything, anytime, any way, anyhow, anywhere.  This truly is their generation.

In his book Stratosphere (2013), Michael Fullan proposes a tripartite model for future learning:  technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge.  He shows how these three forces converge and become inextricably linked, despite being quite independent of one another.  People drive technology, and teachers use pedagogy.  Leaders allow change to happen.  These three elements need to be captured in a school's vision and strategic plan if they are at all to be realised.

When we consider the history of education, it seems highly ironic that classrooms of fifty plus students once sat in rows awaiting instruction.  Clayton M. Christensen in Disrupting Class (2008) describes teaching in America before the industrialised model became the norm.  Classes with students of all ages were catered to by two, sometimes three teachers who would move from student to student providing one on one tuition.  It was the only way to manage such a class: personalised learning!  Of course, with the advent of industrialism, an industrial model was applied to education to replicate a workforce to suit the economy, and traditional non-discursive classrooms grew and thrived and still dominate today.  And this is the scary point.  We do not live in an industrialised economy anymore.  Our economy demands vastly different skills from our learners today, and I think it's fair to say these skills are encapsulated in our document, The New Zealand Curriculum (2007).  But visit any school and the chances are you will see traditional, industrial-economy teaching practices at the fore.

Our economy is changed forever, and we're probably living in a time of an ever changing economy; ubiquitous technology has raced ahead with its potential to change lives; and as for students, well, they're probably changing as fast as the technology.  Eric Sheninger in Digital Leadership (2014) explains how young people are 'wired differently' as a result of experiential learning that begins at a very early age, usually outside of the classroom, and often unsupervised by an adult.  How often do we marvel at the toddler who can use an app on an iPad?  Our understanding of educational psychology, of how young people learn, and of pedagogy has evolved with sophistication in a silent revolution over time, but the way we teach the bulk in schools has not adapted.

When we consider how the economy, technology and young people are light years transformed, it appears so obvious that schools must change - leaders must change, teachers must change, pedagogy must change, assessment regimes must change...and we can go on and on.  So let's equip ourselves and our students to survive and thrive in an ever-changing world.  We (teachers and students) need to learn how to learn; how to solve real-life problems; work in collaborations; deal with live feed-back and feed-forward loops; access our learning anytime and anywhere; and, present our learning to real-time audiences.  As learning leaders we need to role model this template for life-long learning.

But quite simply, if we were to change our pedagogy to take advantage of available technology, we're on the first step to much bigger things.  A simple change like that might only require simple change knowledge - a change in school policy to allow BYOD and student access to the Wi-Fi, or a teacher up-skilling using collaborative tools like on-line shared documents.

The future is here, and this change will happen whether we like it or not; the question is: how will it happen?  We can control the how.  It is an iterative process and the learning revolution rolls on.


Christensen, C., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C. W. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. NY: McGraw-Hill.

Fullan, M. (2013). Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge. Toronto, Canada: Pearson.

Scheninger, E. (2014). Digital Leadership:  Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


  • Tessa Gray

    This makes for great reading, thank you Keir for adding this thought-provoking post and adding the links to follow through on. Is there a way to access these via Wordpress?

    The opening lines about “…the digital revolution is possibly the only way education can break down barriers of inequity” is also a line of thought we pursued last year in, Food for thought...or maybe not? when we wondered if technology-based initiatives could actually help to close the economic gap for students. In a day and age of 25% children living in poverty, this is a 'wicked problem' needing further investigation.

    Very true about teachers needing to use sound pedagogical practices for students to achieve the most through e-learning, as well as the need for leaders to be able to make this to happen - at the organizational level.

    Your points about the current social, economic and technological influences are too important to ignore. CORE Education's Ten Trends 2015 also helps us to make connections between technological trends and changes in education. I especially like how you’ve put the challenge back on us as educators Keir – to embrace this change and make a difference to a generation of children who are not the same as they were 10 years ago. Given how complex this, where would be a good place to start do you think?

  • Keir Whipp

    Hi Tessa

    Thank you for your considered and helpful feed-back.  I think you can access my blog at: https://keirwhipp.wordpress.com/  Being my first blog, I hope to keep tending to it, but there's a challenge!

    The equity issue sure is a wicked problem.  And there seems to be no clear solutions.  There is a divide, and I think the government can play a part in assisting schools that have fewer resources, or lack the enthusiast teacher to get the 'ball rolling'.  A danger of relying on philanthropists or private partnerships is how we gain an equitable distribution of those resources.   Why should the resources go to the school with the better contacts, or with the enthused and competent pedagogue who knows what to ask for and who to ask for it?  

    In terms of resourcing an e-learning programme, I suppose we've got to start with what we've got.  Like motor cars, devices are everywhere, and they mostly do what we what them to do.  Any car gets us from A to Z.  It’s just how we get there, and the comfort of the ride that may be different.  Perhaps a school can survey its community and find out what devices are being used, where they're being used, how they're be used and for what are they being used.  That way a school can determine a base capacity.  

    I'm reading Understanding the digital generation (2010) by Ian Jukes, Ted McCain and Lee Crockett.  They describe the digital generation (people born mid-90s on) as having a totally different upbringing to any generation preceding them, to the extent that the change is so vast as never experienced before.  Our teachers had quite similar upbringings to ourselves (a war probably being the greatest difference), but our students have an upbringing vastly alien to our own.  Therein lies the rub.  This digital; generation is exponentially becoming more alien before as each new cohort arrives at our school.  So, although we may express frustration that young people may not do the things we valued as kids (play outside, communicate face to face, eat a shared meal with family, read a book for pleasure) we have to develop a greater understanding and empathy for what young people value in a world that, perhaps ironically from a non-digital teacher's point of view, we created.  So perhaps that is the place to start:  with what we've got, and with a conscious and effort to understand the digital student's world, and to develop empathy for them.  We need to see the world from their position.  Perhaps it has never been so vital that we try to understand their lives, because they are so dissimilar to our lives when we were their age.  And with the exponential rate of change, well, I can't imagine what it will be like in ten years' time.

    I think I've started another blog.





e-Learning: Leadership

e-Learning: Leadership

Exploring leadership for change, vision, policy and strategy that integrates ICTs into learning.