What is Learning Futures?

Learning Futures is a series of four projects, based on student and staff feedback, that aim to improve your experience of studying here.

Future of Learning

One of the most visible aspects of the future is the rapidly changing way that people learn. This revolution has been occurring for centuries and began with the creation of universities in medieval times that formalized learning. Next, the invention of the printing press increased the availability of books and thus accelerated the spread of learning. It was not until the 1770’s, however, that today’s system of grade school public education began and secular universities began to evolve. What has dictated the shape of education until the present time has been books. With the invention of the internet and personal computers in the 1980’s, however, there has been a reshaping of the way that people learn. In terms of public education, this first manifested itself in the placement of computers in classrooms. Today, there are numerous other manifestations such as the proliferation of online universities and the creation of user-managed online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia. The way that information and education are physically delivered, however, are just one manifestation of the evolving nature of learning in the modern world. Just as important are the paradigm shifts in the way that we think. In this regard, one positive paradigm shift has been the recognition of the evils of racism and the benefits of diversity. A related positive paradigm shift has been the increasing acceptance in the belief in and support for fundamental, universal human rights. Finally, a third paradigm shift has been the empowerment of women to obtain an education, have a career outside of their home, and to make other fundamental choices about their lives. Unfortunately, despite the progress in achieving equal opportunity for women and most other minorities, the disabled – despite nominally being covered by civil rights laws – remain far behind essentially every other segment of society in terms of education, jobs and every other element relating to quality of life as too often the civil rights laws are not enforced for the benefit of the disabled. This is likely to be an even greater problem as the population ages and there are more disabled persons as a percentage of the overall population.

What did the Learning Futures schools do?


During the past two years, Learning Futures has worked with over forty schools in England, over a wide range of social and cultural contexts. Some schools were deemed ‘high performing’, others less so. What they had in common was a desire to increase engagement


We asked schools to situate their innovations within four approaches, underpinned by The 4 Ps of Engaging Activities (introduced in Section One of this pamphlet) and that we felt held particular promise in making a school more engaging:

• Project-based Learning

Students design, plan, and carry out extended projects that produce a publicly-exhibited output such as a product, publication, or presentation.

• Extended Learning Relationships

Taking account of (and utilising) every student’s extended learning relationships (peer-peer, student-teacher, involving parents or external mentors or businesses), so that learning is something that can happen at any time, in any place, and with a wider range of coaches, mentors, and experts.

• School as Basecamp

Treating school as a basecamp for learning, rather than as a final destination and sole source of knowledge.

• School as Learning Commons

Transforming school into a common ground for which teachers, students and the local community share responsibility, where they share authority, and from which they all benefit.

To detail each school’s innovations here would not be possible. Instead, we present some vignettes, to give a sense of the quest for engagement as experienced by schools, the challenges they faced, and the impact upon students. While the approaches are listed separately it’s worth stating that they are strongly inter-connected: building a learning commons culture inevitably extends the learning relationships therein; seeing school as a basecamp provides the platform for projects to launch from. Each reinforces the other, and extends the support available to students.

What d id the Learn ing Future s school s do? (cont inued)

Project-Based Learning Project-based

Learning is the most visible example of the pedagogical changes made by Learning Futures schools. Whilst educators will draw distinctions between project, enquiry (also known as inquiry), and problembased learning, in reality the differences are minor – particularly in comparison to more transmissive, lectureor worksheet-based forms of learning. Great projects grow from enquiries in order to solve problems. Students have found them highly engaging because they are conducting work that is meaningful, to them and their families or communities. They relish the opportunity to make adult-world connections, work across disciplines, and in extended blocks of time.

Learning Futures worked closely with our international partners – the High Tech High schools in San Diego, California – to apply rigour to the design and execution processes, jointly creating a teachers’ guide to projectbased learning10. Emerging from this partnership are three critical pedagogic elements that make the difference between student work that ticks the necessary boxes, and work that students take pride in because of its excellence11 :

Extended Learning Relationships

We have learned that one of the key factors in increasing engagement is the extent to which the student feels a sense of agency over their own learning – that they have a say in how, and by whom, their learning can best be supported. Extending the range of learning relationships is therefore of critical importance. The purpose of the Extended Learning Relationships approach was to recognise that the best learning is inherently social, and to see how the central teacher-student relationship could be complemented by a diverse group of ‘others’ interacting with the student.

School as Basecamp

The benefits of learning outside the classroom (highlighted in our previous pamphlet15) are well documented: according to Ofsted16, even when done badly student attainment rises and engagement is enhanced when learning is located beyond the school. If its effects are acknowledged, it begs the question – why do schools find it so hard to do?

Most Learning Futures schools have made the commitment to seeing school as the basecamp, not the destination, for learning – but they are still at an early stage of implementation. The imperative is clear, however, as the relevance and authenticity of learning out of school, working in real contexts alongside professionals, adds fresh energy to engagement. Building it into the curriculum as an entitlement, not a bolt-on, is now the challenge.

Schools as Learning Commons

So far we have described three strategic approaches for transforming the engagement of students, by creating an engaging school. However effectively these strategies are put into place, they must have a supportive school culture which grounds them, and allows them to be owned by students, staff, and parents alike. Without it, the innovations are bound for the file marked ‘we tried that, but it didn’t work’. As Michael Fullan has observed, the best intentions of school change efforts are overtaken by school culture by Wednesday19. What we have repeatedly seen, throughout the course of the Learning Futures programme, is that the reason why an innovation may succeed in one school but fail in another is not – as educational folklore would have it – because of the vision and commitment of the school’s leader. Instead, it’s because of its fit with ‘the way we do things around here’. That said, of course, the leadership of the school can play a transformative role in creating, or shifting, the culture of the school.

The metaphor we have used to describe the culture that provides the base for an Engaging School, is School as Learning Commons. What we mean by this is an open, curious, welcoming, democratic environment. A learning commons culture imports external ideas that challenge internal views and beliefs and, in turn, exports its students – and their assets – to the community it serves. It relentlessly questions what makes for great learning, and it shuns the professional jargon of learning so that parents can play a full part in these conversations. It sees membership in a professional learning community not as a personal opt-in, but as an essential driver for change – and it creates the necessary time and structure to support this community. A learning commons culture recognises the important part that students can play as peer enquirers / researchers, and welcomes their active involvement


  • Data management

    The skills and equipment used to organize, secure, store and retrieve information. Data management technology can refer to a wide range of techniques and database systems used for managing information use and allocating access both within a business and between entities.

  • Maker Movement

    The maker movement is a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that     are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded or broken electronic, plastic, silicon or virtually any raw material and/or product from a computer-related device.      

  • Thinking and Tweeting About Technology

    Twitter won't change your life, but it might make your job more fun                                 and a little easier.

  • Laptops or Tablets: The Great Debate

    In our tech-savvy world, choosing a laptop or a tablet has quickly cemented itself into one of the great debates.

  • Future-cation:learning With today's powerful technology tool

    With the tidal wave of new technology tools available for teachers and learners, the Powerful technology tools can help channel that flood into a manageable power source for student engagement and motivation in classroom!

  •  Learning Futures What does future of learning look like? What is going to change in the future of our education systems? What role will new media technologies play in the way you and I will share knowledge and skills in the near future?

  • Engaging and meaningful use of technologyThe methods of integrating technology in your lesson plans and courses that provide for an engaging experience for teachers and students.

  • Cloud Computing the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer.