Review of future-focused research on teaching and learning

Publication Details

This Review is based upon information retrieved from the world wide web about recently completed or on-going large-scale international research initiatives which are future-focused and specifically about teaching and learning. The Review has two parts - a report and an annotated bibliography. The report identifies, discusses and evaluates major themes and patterns to emerge from the material retrieved. It also discusses the state of the futures field in education, considers some key policy issues and suggests some areas for further research. The annotated bibliography contains 97 individual template entries organised by theme. The appendices provide a comprehensive listing of all major web-sites visited and the supplementary material reviewed. Indexes at the end organise the templates by major theme and by country or region.

Author(s): John Codd, Mark Brown, John Clark, Jan McPherson, Helen O'Neill, John O'Neill, Hine Waitere-Ang and Nick Zepke, Institute for Professional development and Educational Research Massey University College of Education.

Date Published: 2002

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Executive Summary

This Review identifies, records and evaluates recently completed or on-going large-scale research initiatives outside of New Zealand which are future-focused and specifically about teaching and learning. Each initiative is recorded in an Annotated Bibliography using templates detailing web-site sources, related documents, key themes, objectives, methodologies, policy implications, strategies for teaching and learning, and relevance for the New Zealand context. The Report also provides an integrated overview that analyses common methodological, theoretical and policy related threads, themes and trends within the projects and programmes reviewed.

In order to satisfy the brief for this Review all the projects recorded, analysed and discussed have been retrieved from the world wide web rather than from the conventional research literature. Thus, the information presented is limited to what is available from that source and to what could be retrieved within the time-frame for the Review. It should be noted also that evaluative comments are dependent on the accuracy, completeness and validity of the material retrieved from each web-site.

A range of search strategies and engines have been used to locate relevant web-sites and access the major international educational databases. Web-sites visited include governmental agencies, research organizations, academic institutions, and supranational organizations such as UNESCO, OECD and EU. In all, fourteen countries have been searched within a date range of 1995-2001.

Major themes and keywords provide the basis for a conceptual map used to organise the ninety-seven bibliographic templates into nine categories as follows: Curriculum Issues (21); Future Schools (9); Guiding Educational Principles (17); ICT (22); Knowledge Society/Economy (3); Learning/Teaching (7); Lifelong Learning (6); Partnerships (5); Teacher Education (7). These categories are, to some extent, overlapping and many templates span several categories. Decisions as to the appropriate principal category for these templates were therefore somewhat arbitrary.

The nature of `future-focused research' is interpreted broadly. It includes both forecasting approaches that assume a continuation of present trends, and foresighting approaches that assume transformational change and unforeseen events. It also includes both research conducted by experts and research that is participatory. Most of the projects reviewed are based on continuation assumptions involving experts. Some are participatory, but very few involve transformational change assumptions, or a reconceptualisation of education. Thus, in general terms, future-focused research assumes that future guiding educational principles, curriculum, schools, learning and teaching might all be improved rather than transformed, and this would be achieved, in the main, by incremental reforms, such as by expanding the use of ICT, by creating `lead' schools, or by increasing the capacities of teachers.

A major transformational vision is articulated within the 1996 report of the UNESCO International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, known as the Delors Report after the Chairman of the Commission. This Report presents a theoretical framework for lifelong education that recognizes the moral and cultural dimensions of education, as well as the contribution that education must make to economic and social well-being.

The OECD/CERI has identified six scenarios for schools of the future. An extrapolation of the status quo is represented in Scenario 1 (as a continuation of bureaucratic systems) and Scenario 2 (as an expansion of the market model). Reconceptualisation or re-schooling is represented in Scenario 3 (where schools become core social centres) and Scenario 4 (where schools become focused and flexible learning organizations). De-schooling is represented in Scenario 5 (with the growth of learner networks) and Scenario 6 (with the `meltdown' of school systems). These categories are applied, where appropriate, to each of the research templates.

Within future-focused research in teaching and learning there is evidence of several tensions (e.g. global vs local; tradition vs modernity; long-term vs short-term). This review also identifies an underpinning tension between a neoliberal discourse emphasizing the economy and human capital, and a liberal-democratic discourse emphasizing social justice and community.

Within the templates there is an assessment of the validity of each project for the New Zealand context. As expected, most projects have both construct and consequential validity because they have been carried out in countries that have obvious similarities to New Zealand. They are nearly all Western democracies with similar economies, political cultures and development aspirations to New Zealand. There are, however, significant differences in size, wealth and culture which have a bearing on the validity of some aspects of the research reviewed.

Most of the policy proposals emanating from the research assume the continuation of publicly provided compulsory school systems at state, federal and national levels. In many cases there is a gap between the normative policy rhetoric and specific initiatives for curriculum or pedagogical reform. A number of superordinate or transnational policy platforms or frameworks have influenced national, federal or state policies. This is most evident in the area of ICT.

While an emphasis on ICT is a feature of most future-focused initiatives, the form that it takes can vary widely. In some initiatives ICT is linked to centralised bureaucratic, international and/or commercial control and influence. In others, however, it is linked to responsive local initiatives which draw on community expertise and understandings.

The absence of indigenous viewpoints in future-focused research on teaching and learning, while in part a consequence of the nature of this review, raises concerns about the hegemony of Western views within the emerging global culture. Indigenous perspectives tend to involve more holistic, integrative views of the future in which teaching and learning are part of a wider political, social and environmental vision.

Different understandings of teaching and learning are reflected in five distinct discourses which to some extent mirror the OECD scenarios for schools of the future. The reproduction discourse emphasizes the role of education in economic and social reproduction. The re-schooling discourse promotes an outcomes model of teaching and learning with an emphasis on raising standards of achievement. The de-schooling discourse has a strong emphasis on e-learning and local initiatives involving partnerships and networks. The reconceptualist discourse promotes critical pedagogy and citizenship, with an emphasis on the fundamental purposes of education within a democratic networked society. Finally, the socio-cognitive discourse incorporates principles derived from contemporary scientific research on learning. It acts as a metadiscourse which infuses each of the other discourses. ICT features in different ways in each of these discourses. In the reproduction discourse, it is a taken-for-granted feature of the knowledge economy, whereas in the reconceptualist discourse it is understood as a social practice, potentially beneficial but requiring critical analysis and evaluation, some of which occurs within the socio-cognitive discourse.

While there are tensions between the various discourses, two common themes stand out about teaching and learning throughout the future-focused research reviewed: the crucial role of teachers; and the need to transform traditional conceptions of learning.

The future-focused initiatives reviewed fall into three main categories: policy platforms which present rationales and goals; policy frameworks which present specific change policies; and, research programmes focused on pedagogy and learning. Most of the policy platforms, frameworks and research programmes reviewed have adopted a conventional approach towards envisioning the future, generally reflecting a lack of foresight and imagination, an absence of non-Western views, a lack of critique of current trends, and an unquestioning endorsement of the status quo.

Throughout the policy frameworks and individual projects there is a mix of 'top-down' initiatives, where schools meet specific centrally determined requirements, and `bottom-up' developments of diverse networks or communities of practice within broad policy guidelines. In general, the former have an emphasis on lifelong learning to meet the economic demands of the knowledge economy for human capital, whereas the latter have an emphasis on lifelong education to meet the social needs of communities for cohesion, justice and the formation of social capital.

Amongst the recurring themes are a number of unresolved policy dilemmas or tensions relating to: future roles for teachers; the place of educational technologies; the future of informal and non-formal learning; responses to diversity; and, the social purposes of education. How policy makers respond to these issues will shape future scenarios for teaching and learning.


Based on the analysis of 97 major projects, suggested general areas in which further research could be pursued (see section 5.4) include:

  1. Reconceptualisation of the policy implementation process to achieve a balance between central policy formation and facilitation of local policy initiatives to create multiple pathways to agreed goals and multiple possible futures.
  2. Development of a policy platform for teaching and learning for the next decade through a process involving participation and collaboration, and combining expert-led and community-led initiatives.
  3. Encouraging partnerships for research on pedagogy by commissioning programmes of participatory action research to build educational capacity at the community level.
  4. Research on pedagogy that takes into account current trends and future projections regarding New Zealand's changing demography, for example, the rapidly increasing Māori and Pasifika school populations.
  5. Evaluating long-term changes in teaching and learning by developing 'process indicators' and measures of teacher-initiated, school-level improvements to complement various available 'outcome indicators'.
  6. Reconceptualisation of pedagogy to take account of wider conceptions of learning and achievement and to achieve a balance across all four of the pillars of learning defined by the UNESCO Delors Report: learning to know; learning to do; learning to live together; and, learning to be.

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