Curricula historically required students to learn to read, write, solve math problems and remember the content presented by the teacher based on thematic-based topics that made up the subjects such as social studies, science etc. This content was acquired, written down, remembered, and eventually recalled in a test by the student. The student’s intelligence and future were both gauged via their marks in those tests, based mostly on rote recall of processes or content.

Somewhere in the late 1990s and through the early 21st century, that descriptor of schooling started morphing and is still doing so today with increasing momentum in some countries, while others battle the very notion of changing school.

Meanwhile a second underlying change was happening. The simple know-remember-recall learning process changed without education systems realizing it was happening! Thus began an unheralded but somewhat dramatic transformation of the learning process from a very simple process to a far more complex one. The end point of learning was no longer knowing-remembering-recalling information, but rather the endpoint suddenly became, and is still morphing to become … deep understanding that enables an endgame of innovation and ingenuity via our learner’s creative display of entrepreneurship.

Concurrently, the workplace was changing, with factories giving way to entrepreneurship, micro-businesses seeking venture capital, small businesses thriving/collapsing, leveraging their owner’s passions and interests… and those working within companies were/are being asked to work collaboratively and continuously being required to upskill so they can manage teams and keep up with emerging technologies and consumer trends. These teams are tasked with endlessly looking for new needs and opportunities to exploit and leverage into new opportunities for new businesses.

But quietly … the type and depth of that learning have been increasingly becoming more sophisticated. Initially schools mostly missed that change in the learning process as we were busy meeting ever-increasing curriculum demands based on reading, writing and primarily rote-learned mathematics, that was then tested to see if they improved! No, they didn’t because they can’t (within standard distribution expectations); more on this later.

This revised learning process involved far more than merely knowing-remembering-recalling. The ability to be innovative and ingenious is increasingly in demand, requiring knowledge to be interrogated and questioned, sometimes resulting in entirely new ideas/concepts being developed.

These new/existing ideas/concepts could then be applied to a range of different contexts to create new concepts. Our brain then links these new concepts to existing concepts, that may be already resident within our mind, to form entirely new conceptual frameworks. By leveraging our imagination and our capacity for creativity, we can apply those concepts and conceptual frameworks to be innovative and ingenious, developing new products, systems, environments and media via our capacity for daydreaming!

This scale of this transition in what we expect from the process of learning is stunning, and most educators are not fully aware of this event, as it flew under our ‘traditional school’ radar. The entire landscape of schooling is now shifting dramatically from a simple, knowledge-based, learning architecture to one where the end game is about being innovative and ingenious. The shift to this new endgame is due to the expectations of our communities and society, that now require 80% of people to be living and working in far more complex learning spaces, compared to the 10-20% that was required last century. Suddenly the 20% of university-trained leaders, telling the 80% what to do, has become 80% learners needing those top-end skills of learning and competency, and that may not necessarily involve attending traditional university courses!

Learners now need to develop an entirely new set of capabilities to become independent lifelong learners, within an increasingly complex, technological and a far less stereotyped social/relational world that values creativity driving innovation/ingenuity.

Facilitating effective learning in schools requires creating a curriculum that is focused on both this new endpoint of conceptual understanding and is founded on the critical role of the Learning Process and the underlying competencies, enabling our young people to successfully work and play in these new, and far more complex learning-focused social/workplace environments.

It is the purpose of schools, in conjunction with parents/caregivers, to prepare our young people for the increasingly complex world they will enter. Unfortunately, many parents/caregivers are reducing their role in this deal of preparing our young people for this complexity. The result of this is a significant shift in the equilibrium between parental/caregiver support in the development of these more complex skills and capabilities, to the point where the majority of that responsibility has now been left at the ‘doorstep’ of schools. This subtle but very significant shift is going almost entirely unnoticed by the general public.

Schools are increasingly being lent on to become surrogate parents to the learners in their care. The fact that educators are now engaging with learners to build their competence, is partly due to some parents/caregivers abdicating one of their primary roles, due in part to their own ‘busy-ness’ and in part this also reflects the complexity of both the social place and workplaces that parents/caregivers and learners are all now living within.

Curricula needs to shift its emphasis dramatically if it is to remain even remotely relevant in preparing young people for the complexity of their world. This is a global phenomenon that we need to draw attention to. This series of articles unpacks these quantum shifts in how we organise and design school curricula and learning environments. We also need to urgently attend to the now-significant upskilling our educators urgently require to make these shifts in practice. Educators, along with parents/caregivers, need to prepare our young people for the complexities of the world they will enter.

Sadly, I do not believe that our communities will recognise the extraordinary dilemma that is now enveloping the world of education. These multiple shifts in education culture are affecting everyone, and we will need to engage and invite our parents/ caregivers to share this responsibility with us. If governments and educators fail to prepare our young people adequately, via significant shifts in the design of what is learned, our learners will leave school perfectly prepared for … the 20th century.

The rationale follows here:

At the heart of a high functioning team are conscious, self-aware individuals. They are open to learning; they continue to learn and to further their own learning for the betterment of self and the learners they serve. They are constantly growing and evolving their self-awareness through reflection, self-questioning and a drive to self-improve. Mental models are evaluated as learning continues. The outlook of an individual who contributes constructively in a team is one of a growth mind-set; they are optimistic, open and reflect on what can be learnt, changed, adapted in challenging times. These dispositions are critical when transitioning from an ‘I’ space to a ‘we’ space.[1] Sarah Martin; (Stonefields School)

[1] Martin, S. (2016), Creating Collaborative Consciousness in an Organisation. Stonefields School, Auckland, New Zealand.

There are currently 2-3 places open to schools in New Zealand and Australia that would be  interested in working with Mark in an ongoing project working through the implementation of the competencies, the learning process and the conceptual curriculum over a three-year timeframe. Email Mark for details of this process and what is involved.


  1. The 21st century students we have in schools are radically different to 20th century students. They expect to do all learning in-school so they do not expect that they need personal engagement at home where they need to function socially and digitally. At school the change in assessment systems has resulted in minimal detailing of the learning required and the minimalisation of the learning process. In the past students needed to engage in the greater extent of developing detailed notes, problem solving and written explanations and essays, followed by more rigorous memory work. Today’s students seem to expect that teachers will provide answers and notes so that they are not required to participate in extensive learning and memory work. Further, teachers are being placed under assessment pressures to ensure the maximised achievement outcomes yet teachers are not continuing to build the Learning Effort pyramid that requires students to exhibit their engagement and participation through assignments, problem solving, development of study skills and strategic learning capabilities.
    The complexities of developing conceptual, procedural and capabilities has largely been lost as teachers have been provided with fewer curriculum and prescription supports.
    Minimal support has resulted in minimal learning and assessment structures.


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