Learning without Limits

Earlier this week I attended the “Learning without Limits” seminar, which is of course all about the planned Network for Learning (N4L).  While I already had a sound understanding of what this entailed, it would have been useful to the many educators who attended.  Just a few key points on the Network for Learning that I noted down.
  • The N4L is around twelve months away
  • There will likely be a soft start – which means not all schools will be on right from the beginning
  • There is currently an issue where some rural schools have been connected with fibre, but have no internet service across that fibre.  The N4L will provide this connection for schools, but not in the short term.  There are commercial providers around, but the cost is an issue and there is little point in getting into a long-term deal with an ISP when the N4L is not too far away.
  • The N4L will provide services and resources that will be accessed through this fibre.  Examples of what could be provided were: Student Management Systems, video and web conferencing, a national instance of an eportfolio platform, VLN course brokering, a parent portal and lots more.  All these services will be far faster and more efficient because they will be directly accessed through this fibre.
  • It is not a walled garden – you can get still get to anywhere on the internet you want

Three main discussion questions were brainstormed in groups?

  1. What opportunities will the N4L offer your school to support teaching and learning?
  2. What contents and services would you like to see the N4L company provide for learners in its first twelve months of operation?
  3. What is the essential change management you require in this area in the next twelve months or so?

The key question is the first, although I am also interested in what opportunities the N4L will offer the learner, rather than just the school.  Will any of this make any difference to teaching and learning?  What are the possibilities for networked learning across this infrastructure?  Where does the Virtual Learning Network sit in all this?  Why can’t the VLN provide the backbone for online teaching and learning across the N4L?  Surely that possibility exists, but in my opinion the VLN would have to change from its current fractal model.  So many questions and so few answers – which is probably indicative of the space we are in at the moment.  Hopefully the next five years will reveal more.

If you really want to consider this in a teaching and learning sense, you should read this – Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective.  It is well worth the time.



  1. Dave Thorp says:

    I attended the LWL conference as well, Darren, but unlike you, I went without much of an idea of what would be presented. I loved the idea of the N4L and I also thought about how it would affect teaching and learning in an everyday school like Timaru Boys’. The shared services idea (SMS, bulk bought programmes, etc) will be great – I do feel that will take years to sort out though. I suppose it has to bring a greater access to a range of courses and learning opportunities for students, and schools will drift towards blended learning in all its guises bit by bit. Will greater networking capacity lead to a general standardisation of curriculum delivery, a push for best practice, research based ‘blandilising’ of teaching? I hope not.

    That video on the Carpe Diem school you showed a few months ago made me feel ill. The ‘personalising’ of programmes just means some binary selectors running through a series of activities/tests/retests to find out what the kid hasn’t mastered yet. They were so proud of the fact that they don’t give lectures anymore. Hmmmm. I would want much more than this de-humanising, battery farming, conformity creating, load of bollocks for my children. It reminded me of a McDonalds corporate publication as do many of the ‘feel good’ snippets shown to us by CORE and all the rest.

    The article you recommend is an interesting one – I like Jane Gilbert. I agree with much of what they say but it does seem fluffy with plenty of assumptions (although, I’m sure that an article researched by 6 people must be based in fact). When they say “Twenty-first century ideas about knowledge and learning demand shifts in the traditional roles or “scripts” followed by learners and teachers. If the purpose of schools is not to transmit knowledge, then teachers’ roles must be reconceived,” I get a bit annoyed. Haven’t teachers’ roles already been ‘reconceived’? The NZ Curriculum demands that we get kids thinking. I feel that the best teachers do bring kids to greater understandings and they do challenge them – many do it with class-wide discussion; some do it by having the ability to ‘tell stories’ and pull the kids into responses. There needs to be room for a range of teaching techniques and even for a range of teacher ‘characters’ that can engage kids. I said this once to an adviser who replied that those unconventional teachers don’t actually suit everyone. She’s right but she is also wrongly supposing that any method, supported by years of dodgy research or not, will suit everyone. I don’t buy the ‘teacher as facilitator’ either, although I suppose it can have merit when done well. I tend to believe in teacher-led learning but we can perhaps place the relationship on a new footing and blended learning facilitated by something like the N4L (god I hate acronyms that use numbers) would be a good place to start – SFBB offering all sorts of opportunities without the clumsy apparatus we deal with now. They go on to say “The challenge is to move past seeing learning in terms of being “student-centred” or “teacher-driven”, and instead to think about how learners and teachers would work together in a “knowledge-building” learning environment. This is not about teachers ceding all the power and responsibility to students, or students and teachers being “equal” as learners. Rather, it is about structuring roles and relationships in ways that draw on the strengths and knowledge of each in order to best support learning” and I think that this will happen without even planning for it.

    Yes – the Learning without Limits seminars made me feel for the first time that change is coming, unstoppable change, and it will be interesting to see how schools respond.

  2. Thanks for the considered response Dave, much appreciated (burning the midnight oil it seems). You raise some interesting points, many of which I agree with. I don’t think greater networking capacity will lead to a standardisation of curriculum delivery, in fact probably the opposite, but I understand where you are coming from. I didn’t like the American example either, and for very similar reasons. I thought it would provoke some discussion though which it did. I believe that learning is a very organic, natural thing and I am absolutely dismayed by the mechanistic approach to education in some in some parts of the US.

    We will probably have to agree to disagree on the teacher driven front. While there are very good examples of this around the country, and there is no doubt that it works to some extent, it won’t develop the sort of self-managing learners we are after in the NZ curriculum. The world would be a boring place if all agreed on everything though.

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