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Learner Needs

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Last updated by Derek Wenmoth


Carry out a learning needs analysis to identify the range of learning opportunities required.


The primary purpose of an LCO should be to improve the learning outcomes and extend the learning opportunities for their students. Schools therefore need to identify the needs of their students that may not be currently met within their own system. Once an understanding of student needs is gained then schools can begin to explore how collaborations through an LCO can be developed to help meet those needs.

For some schools these needs may be very obvious such as in the senior secondary area where students are not able to study the subjects they wish through lack of specialist teachers, timetable clashes, or limited resourcing for small classes.

These factors can be just as important in other areas of the schooling sector such as primary where, for example, schools are challenged to meet the needs of a new language curriculum area for Year 7 and 8s, in Wharekura, or where more support is sometimes needed in the Year 9 and 10 curricula. There may be a range of other student learning needs that can be supported through an LCO that are not so obvious (as previously mentioned) and will be unique to different schools.

These could be Gifted and Talented Programmes, ESOL, literacy and numeracy support, cultural connections, opportunities to collaborate across the curriculum, shared opportunities for‘virtual field trips’or‘digital conversations’.

A scan of the internal and external learning environment of a school and cluster would identify where there are gaps and where there are opportunities. What are the things we could be doing that are not so immediately obvious? As some schools have gaps in how they can best meet the needs of their students, so too do they have strengths - this provides the basis for successful collaborations between schools.

It is also important to remember that all members of a school community are learners. What learning opportunities can be made available for teachers, Principals, BOTs, school staff and the community through an LCO?


  • Carry out a ‘learning needs audit’ of students to identify the range of learning opportunities, learning areas and levels required.
  • Consult with the wider school community, teachers and students as to what learning opportunities they would like to have access to.

Supporting Resources

Addressing Learner Needs: An Example from the VLN Primary

With the introduction of the learning languages curriculum at the primary level, many primary schools were not equipped witha teacher on staff who had the ability to, or even spoke, a foreign language. As many VLN clusters had already begun to venture into the lower secondary, and even primary levels, the creation of a nation-wide VLN Primary program seemed like a natural extension to address these needs. Rachel Roberts, the ePrincipal for the VLN Primary describes this focus.

Rachel Roberts - ePrincipal, VLN Primary

Notice how the original intent of the VLN Primary program was to specifically address learners needs in the foreign languages. From an administrative point of view, the principal of Auroa School in Manaia had this to say about the impact of the VLN on addressing learner needs at that school.

Children are really enthralled in it because anytime you provide technology for them to learn through they are really interested in and excited about it. They feel a sense that it is really unique that they get to speak with a specialist in the area, because I think -especially those senior end children - they understand whether the teacher has the capability themselves. Whether they actually are knowledgeable in the area or whether they are trying to look in a text while they are trying to figure it out, and languages is one of those in particular that aren’t the types of curriculum areas that we are trained in our preset skills. To have opportunities to be actually taught be fluent speaking people is, they can see the genuine context that is provided and they are really enthralled and engaged in it... I think another area could be that students could become more interactive, especially in smaller schools, they could be more interactive in presenting to each other about their learning and working with like minded peers across the sector. Which can be quite difficult, especially the smaller the school, you’ve got a couple of children with particular strengths or passions, and they are sort of left alone and isolated, by bringing them on the network together, across the schools, workings together, I mean that could strengthen their education as well.

This principal is able to see the potential of the VLN to serve additional needs for their students, beyond the immediate languages program that is currently offered.

With much the same message, Rick Whalley of Matapu School describes what participation in the VLN Primary has meant for Matapu.

Rick Whalley - Principal, Matapu School (Hawera)

It is important to note that while the VLN Primary has been able to address learner needs in the languages, the introduction of the video conferencing equipment has provided a wealth of additional opportunities for the students at Matapu School (although some of those opportunities have been limited by the bandwidth available to or that can be afforded by the school). It is also important to remember that while the foreign languages were a starting point for the VLN Primary courses, the opportunities available to students aren't limited to just that curricular areas.

When a selection of students at Auroa School were asked what they liked about their online courses, they responded:



Student A: I don’t know, just getting to learn another language and stuff.

Student B: Same thing

Student C: I would like to be able to travel to those places and actually speak those languages.

Student D: And understand it.

Student E: Learning something that I wouldn’t usually learn.

Similarly, when asked what they liked about their online courses the students at Makahu School (a one room school with just two teachers) indicated:

Student A: That I’ll be able to learn, that I’ll be able to go to the country and understand what they are saying.

Student B: Yeah, understand what they are saying.

Student C: And when I go to high school next year, like I’ll be ahead of some other people who are doing French.

In addition to providing opportunities to meet the needs of our students, participation in the VLN has also provided opportunities for teachers as well. For example, when asked what he liked about teaching online, a Maori teacher, also from Auroa School, reported,

Well, first it’s a different challenge to teaching inside of the classroom, so that appealed to me. A challenge of not only teaching Maori online, but also to students from around our country. That was a good challenge for me and I found it interesting. And also, for me, it’s developing my own language of Te Reo as well. If I didn’t have that opportunity, my development of the Maori language probably wouldn’t be as good as it has been.

As this illustrates, there are a variety of ways that the VLN has addressed the learner needs for both students and teachers.