Critical Thinking in the Age of Disruption: Executive Education at the University of Auckland


One of my goals this year has been to try and put together a kind of DIY MBA for myself.

Not really a proper MBA, mind you… who’s got time for that? I like my marriage.

What I mean is more of a collection of training and inputs from sources outside of what I would normally have access to on my own. Things to help me think differently.

My first step was to take a course in Service Design Thinking through the Exec Education programme at Auckland Uni.

The university has changed a lot over the nearly 20 years since I studied and worked there, but it still feels very familiar to me.

I like it there and I really enjoyed engaging with the Service Design content. I had done a little bit of reading beforehand, but much of it was new to me.

Professionally, those two days have laid the groundwork for a methodology that I can implement over the next couple of big projects I’m hoping to be involved with.

Because the first course was such a buzz, I enrolled in a second one in March. This time the focus was Critical Thinking.

My relationship to critical thinking is different to service design, however. Service design was a new subject area for me personally.

Critical thinking though is something that I’ve been reading about and working on for a long time. At least since my studies at Auckland as an undergraduate.

One of the things that really resonated with me with regards to this course was what provoked it. This was two things according to the course facilitator:

  1. The requirement for you (i.e. me) to change.
  2. To enable you (i.e me) to influence, lead and coach others.

This pretty much sums up where I’m at right now.

I’m aware of the need to foster a kind of radical open-mindedness about what I need to be working on. This applies personally and professionally.

As Bob Dylan almost said: “The times they are a-changin’ and in fact accelerating more rapidly everyday…”

For me, this means I need critical thinking skills more than ever. So the course seemed a good opportunity to brush up on things I thought I knew but also expose myself to some new thinking about thinking.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the course spent a lot of time defining critical thinking. So I’m not going go over that ground here apart from to say there are some really great definitions out there and lots of frameworks that people can tap into.

What I want to get to is some of the key takeaways for me that made the two days really worthwhile.

Here’s one: The connection of critical thinking to the age of disruption in which we live right now. Here’s an illustration:

The largest taxi company has no taxis – UBER.

The largest accommodation company has no real estate – AIRBNB.

The largest telephone company has no infrastructure – SKYPE.

The largest retailer has no inventory – ALIBABA.

The largest movie theatre has no movie theatres – NETFLIX

Eric Schmidt – Executive Chairman

Alphabet Inc



If you don’t recognise where the reference is from, Alphabet Inc is the company that owns Google.

Here’s another below. This relates to the need for all of us to become better critical thinkers:

As we enter what has been termed the 4th industrial revolution (a period of rapid and fundamental change brough about by the convergence to the internet and technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics) there are a few skills that are becoming more valuable over time.

The 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Future of Jobs Report

World Economic Forum 2016

I looked up this report… Here are there conclusions in summary form, by 2020:

  • Over one third (35%) of skills that are considered important in today’s workforce will have changed.
  • Advanced robotics, autonomous transport, artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced materials, biotech and genomics will transform the way we live and work.
  • Some jobs will disappear altogether, others will grow and there will be jobs that don’t exist today that will be commonplace.

Based on their compared the top 10 skills needed by global employers in 2015 when the survey was done, to their predictions. Here’s what you get:

In 2015

In 2020

1. Complex problem solving 1. Complex problem solving (no change)
2. Coordinating with others 2. Critical thinking (+2)
3. People management 3. Creativity (+7)
4. Critical thinking 4. People management (-1)
5. Negotiation 5. Coordinating with others (-3)
6. Quality control 6. Emotional intelligence (new)
7. Service orientation 7. Judgement and decision making (+1)
8. Judgement and decision making 8. Service orientation (-1)
9. Active listening 9. Negotiation (-4)
10. Creativity 10. Cognitive flexibility (new)

Keep in mind these are just predictions, but it’s interesting for lots of reasons. One is that the need for critical thinking isn’t going away. It’s just going to increase.

Another thing is that this need for critical thinkers is going to be coupled with a need for the same people to be highly creative and good a solving complex problems.

Things that disappeared off the list for 2020 include quality control, judgement and decision making and active listening.

I don’t think that these are going away anywhere. But some of this will simply be automated and overshadowed by the need for a different skillset.

Also, new to the 2020 list is emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.

Food for thought: I’m writing this right now in 2018. This means we’re somewhere in the middle of these two lists.

  • How well prepared are you? Not for the next 20 years, but for the next two years?

If you want to brush up on your critical thinking skills there are plenty of great books and online materials.

However, if you’re after something more “hands on” that can set things in motion for you, you’ll find it hard to go past the Critical Thinking in the Age of Disruption short course at the University of Auckland.


Four Tools For Building Cool Stuff Online: Or How To Start Thinking Outside The Box


I went to the Supercharge conference the other day in Wellington. This was a business conference… nothing to do with literacy, numeracy or even education (I know… thank goodness right…?)

Lots of cool stuff. The coolest though was the 40-minute presentation by Justin Wilcox of Customer Development Labs.

At the start of his presentation, he said that in the 40 minutes that he had to speak he was going to do the following:

  1. Come up with a product idea.
  2. Get some customer feedback.
  3. Build a website
  4. Launch the product

Considering that by the time he had said all this he only had about 35 minutes left I think we were all rather skeptical.

But he pulled it off. And these were the tools that he used:

1. Customer Discovery Ninja

Just this on its own was very cool to see in action. The Customer Discovery Ninja is a tool that allows you to connect to potential customers in North America. They sign up because they have time on their hands and get a small reward for participating.

Justin had decided that he wanted to create some kind of Fitness Tracking App, so he had selected various categories and subcategories in the Customer Discovery Ninja. And ended up with something relating to fitness, weight loss, and diet as the key areas.

From there, he opened the phone line and waited for the call. 10 minutes later someone connected and we listened to him interview a guy in New York who was struggling with diet and weight loss issues.

After a few minutes, it was clear that what this guy needed was not a fitness tracking app, but some kind of product that allowed him to track what was working when it came to diet.

So based on the dialogue, Justin switched away from his initial idea to the diet tracking idea. And then he had about 10 minutes left to do everything else.

2. Instapage

And this is mostly what he used: Instapage. Within about 2 minutes, he had built two landing pages for his new product. Instapage allows you to create web pages via drag and drop.

And then he  created an alternate version of the page so that you could do A/B testing. Instapage makes this really easy. I haven’t tried any of this yet, but based on the demo I think it’s all doable.

3. Powtoon

From here, Justin wanted to jazz up the landing page a bit with a short animated video. For this he used Powtoon. Powtoon advertises itself as an alternative to Powerpoint. It;s drag and drop like Powerpoint or Keynote, but you end up with a animation at the end.

So another 2 minutes to create a short animation. And then he imported this into the Instapage landing pages.

4. Celery

Finally, he wanted a button on the landing page to take pre-orders for the product. So he used Celery for this. Celery is very simple. It’s just a button for taking credit card information for pre-orders. Buyers don’t get charged until your product launches.

And then he launched it.

So Justin didn’t actually create the product, but he did something that was in line with the lean startup method: Come up with a minimal viable product idea and then see if anyone would buy it.

From here, he would be able to take pre-orders to fund the development of the actual product.

It was fast and dirty. But it was impressive.

Justin practises what he preaches as well. And you can have a look at his series of books on how to implement this kind of thinking at his website here: The Focus Framework.

This stuff is cool. I wish I knew this when I started in business. Talking to Justin afterwards, he said that everyone wishes the same thing. And that we all come to these conclusions late.

In my field, we tend to be good at what we do. But this is only in terms of our technical skills. We get professional development and training in these areas.

But we are often rubbish at the skills we need to use our technical skills to build and run a sustainable business. We don’t know how to make a buck… to put it in crude terms.

Most of all, I think we need this kind of thinking in education: Customer validation, lean startup methodology, designing a minimum viable product, product testing.

And then quickly pivoting when it’s obvious that something isn’t working. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment (both TEC and NZQA) act in ways that run counter to this kind of thinking.

This is not their fault. But it’s time to start thinking outside the box.

Really thinking outside the box.

Using teaching strategies (also known as instructional strategies) with embedded literacy and numeracy teaching


Sometimes people in the education world talk about using teaching strategies… or in slightly fancier language, instructional strategies.

This terminology can be confusing for a couple of reasons. One is that if you google the terms (most people’s first port of call these days), you’re likely to find everything from cooperative learning to discussion-based activities to shared reading to using social media.

When you talk about instructional strategies or teaching strategies you sometimes also refer to the kinds of strategies that you also want your learners to use when they’re learning.

In other words, different people use this terminology to refer to different things and often don’t seem to agree.

So… let’s simplify things. I’m going to follow the lead of the Tertiary Education Commission in the Learning Progressions for Adult Literacy and Numeracy here.

For our purposes, there are six main teaching strategies. And I’m fine with using “teaching strategies” and “instructional strategies” interchangeably at this point. And I’m just talking about what you – as the trainer or tutor – might be doing.

Six strategies

Below is a list of six instructional or teaching strategies.

  1. Discussing
  2. Prompting
  3. Questioning
  4. Explaining
  5. Giving feedback
  6. Modelling

Here’s an example from a practical horticulture training course for adults

The tutor’s intended learning outcome is to get the students to:

  • Estimate and then measure out a raised planting bed for vegetables in the context of their horticulture course.

The relevant numeracy in this case relates to estimation and measurement in metres and millimetres as well as working out area in m2.

Here’s some possibilities for the kinds of teaching strategies that the tutor might use:

  1. Discussing what participants already know about measuring out a rectangle or other area for building a raised vegetable planting bed.
  2. Prompting learners to make links to work they did previously with her using a tape measure to measure length in metres and millimetres.
  3. Questioning learners about what they needed to know in order to use the tape and actually do the measuring.
  4. Explaining how to use the tape measure, as well as how to develop a personal benchmark for estimating and measuring length, such as your stride or the length of your boot.
  5. Giving feedback on the group’s ideas on the best way to estimate and then measure out the planting bed.
  6. Modelling how to work out an area calculation on the whiteboard.

Now put it into action

OK… here’s your part if you want to understand this by applying it to something relevant.

  1. Pick an example of some specific content area from your training where there is clear embedded literacy or numeracy.
  2. Discuss or write down how you used any of these strategies across your different activities
  3. Note any particular qualities that relate to how you used the strategy. Have a look at the examples below for an idea of what to do. You might not need to discuss every strategy

Here are your prompts

  1. Discussing
  2. Prompting learners to make links to their prior knowledge by…
  3. Questioning learners about what they needed to know in order to…
  4. Explaining how to…
  5. Giving feedback on…
  6. Modelling how to…

There’s a handy graphic in the support guides that come with the Learning Progressions. And I’ve reproduced this for you below. It’s a bit small, but you should be able to click on it to enlarge. It’s also on page 25 of Teaching Adults to Read with Understanding

Learning Strategies

How do I get started on Assessment 5 of the NCALNE (Voc) and demonstrating that I’m actually embedding literacy and numeracy into my training?

embedding 02

If you’re up to this stage, you’re actually about, or even over, half way. This section is a big chunk… but it’s also the teaching component of the qualification.

Basically, after having mapped the literacy and numeracy demands, and diagnosed your learners literacy and numeracy needs, you actually need to get out there and do some embedded literacy and numeracy teaching.

These are your interventions, in other words. You have to come up with embedded literacy and numeracy focused learning outcomes, activities, and strategies. We’ve got a very specific format for doing this, so make sure you pay attention to what’s in your Assessment Guide or in Pathways Awarua in Assessment Module 5.

Here’s a list of various links and articles that might support you through this part of the training:

  1. As always, if you haven’t already, all of our course content is available for free in interactive modules on the Pathways Awarua literacy and numeracy learning platform. You can find the instructions on how to register here if you haven’t already. We have a unique ALEC join code so email us for it if you need it (
  2. I know I said it already, but don’t forget to check what’s already in your ALEC Study Guide and Assessment Guide for this part of the course.
  3. We’ve also got a great one-page handout that summarises the connections between assessments 4, 5, 6 – email us for a copy if you haven’t got it already.
  4. You can listen to an audio-only podcast of me talking through Assessment 5 here if you need a refresh on the requirements.
  5. There are video clips on Section 5 of the NCALNE (Voc) here on our Youtube channel.
  6. If you need ideas for activities for reading, writing, listening, speaking, and numeracy there is a wealth of material including teaching points, guided learning sequences, and resources in your ALEC Study Pack in the Learning Progressions support guides. Much of that is also online here if you want to go in and find it.
    • Unfortunately, this great content tends to be buried inside the other content so you have to click through a sequence like this to find an activity: Go to website >> Click Explore the learning progressions for Make Sense of Number to Solve Problems >> this takes you to a page from the learning progressions for multiplicative strategies where you can click on an activity like Multiplication Strategies where you get the actual activity or can download it as a PDF. The alternative is just to turn to page 39 in the Teaching Adults to Make Sense of Number book. I’m going to have a go a progressively dealing with this issue and liberating this material, but it might have to wait until another time.
  7. As well as the massive amount of content and ideas provided in the support materials to the Learning Progressions there is also a wealth of information on LN activities online. For this reason, I haven’t focused so much on the activities on my blog or in the ALEC Study Guide. However, I have posted a few bits and pieces here that are useful. First though you need to make sure that you understand how to write really focused embedded literacy and numeracy learning outcomes. If you need them, please refer to:
  8. Here are a few numeracy activities that, while they aren’t particularly contextualised, they are fun and they work:
  9. I did also start looking at some ideas for designing independent reading activities based on literacy unit standards 26622 and 26624 here if that’s of interest. There’s a downloadable cover sheet that you could adapt or cannibalise in any way you like here. Just a caution though, if you’re just doing a couple of embedded reading activities for your NCALNE (Voc) and you don’t care about US 26622 and 26624, you’d be well advised to strip back my suggestions to only what you think you really need.
  10. In terms of writing, I also started developing some ideas for a writing workshop here which I did flesh out in a bit more detail here. But again, just pick and choose what you want. If you’re just doing a couple of embedded writing activities for the NCALNE (Voc) you can be very selective here.
  11. Lastly:
    • Don’t forget to collect actual evidence of your learners actually doing the learning that you’ve designed. Think about using the digital camera on your phone. Scan copies of their completed work or drafts. Take a photo of what on the whiteboard at different stages. And send all of this together with your write up of Assessment 5 and copies of the activities that you used.
    • Don’t forget to make at least one of your embedded LN teaching interventions some kind of independent learning activity, i.e. where your learners do it without you (whether at home, in class, or wherever).
    • Don’t forget to think about where and when you will re-assess your learners using the contextualised LN tools you used earlier. You’ll need this for Assessment 6.
    • Don’t forget to build in some kind of evaluation component. You’ll need this for Assessment 7.
  12. If you’re working on this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, your employer will need to have paid your course fee in order to unlock assessment modules (3 – 7)
  13. And if you’re a paid up student and you’re not completing this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, you can email us ( for the latest version of the template for assessment Task 5.
  14. Otherwise, give us a call to discuss (0800-ALEC-1-2) or email us anyway ( and we’ll be in touch to help explain or clarify.

How do I get started on Literacy and Numeracy Diagnostic Assessment – and Assessment 4 of the NCALNE (Voc)


If you’re like a lot of people doing the NCALNE (Voc) literacy and numeracy professional development, you realise there’s a bit of what I call “heavy lifting” to do when you get to this stage.

This not because literacy and numeracy diagnostic assessment is any harder than any other part (well… it might be), but the main thing is that you’ve got to start working with a couple of learners that you need to track through the test-teach-test format of Assessments 4, 5, and 6.

For Assessment 4 on LN Diagnostic you need to actually go and do a bunch of things including using the TEC assessment tool as well as a couple of more contextualised assessments of your own.

This is also the point where you need to start thinking about learning plans as well, so there’s quite a lot going on.

With this in mind, I’ve tried to compile a collection of various links and resources that might help if you need them.

  1. As always, if you haven’t already, all of our course content is available for free in interactive modules on the Pathways Awarua literacy and numeracy learning platform. You can find the instructions on how to register here if you haven’t already. We have a unique ALEC join code so email us for it if you need it (
  2. Don’t forget to check what’s already in your ALEC Study Guide and Assessment Guide for this part of the course.
  3. We’ve also got a great one-page handout that summarises the connections between assessments 4, 5, 6 – email us for a copy if you haven’t got it already.
  4. If you need a refresh on what’s required, I’ve got a short audio-only podcast of me talking through the assessment requirements here.
  5. There are video clips on diagnostic assessment and Assessment 4 of the NCALNE (Voc) that you can watch on our Youtube channel.
  6. And then there are various resources relating to diagnostic assessment on this blog including:
  7. If you’re working on this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, your employer will need to have paid your course fee in order to unlock the assessment module.
  8. And if you’re a paid up student and you’re not completing this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, you can email us ( for the latest version of the template for assessment Task 4.
  9. Otherwise, give us a call to discuss (0800-ALEC-1-2) or email us anyway ( and we’ll be in touch to help explain or clarify.

How do I get started on Assessment 3 of the NCALNE (Voc) including Mapping with the Learning Progressions?

Lit Strand

If you need a hand getting cracking on your Assessment 3, which involves doing an analysis of the literacy and numeracy demands of your course, there are several resources online that might be useful:

  • If you haven’t seen it already, all of our course content is now online in interactive modules as part of the Pathways Awarua NCALNE. There are instructions here on how to register if you haven’t already. It’s free. We also have a unique ALEC join code, so email ( us for that if you want it.
  • If you need a refresh on what’s required, I’ve got a short audio-only podcast of me talking through the assessment requirements here.
  • I’ve also got a short post here on my blog on how to get started mapping literacy and numeracy demands.
  • And then there are the video clips available here on our Youtube Channel related to mapping and assessment 3.
  • If you’re working on this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC your employer will need to have paid your course fee in order to unlock the assessment module.
  • And if you’re a paid up student and you’re not completing this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, you can email us ( for the latest version of the template for assessment Task 3.
Otherwise, give us a call to discuss (0800-ALEC-1-2) or email us ( and we’ll be in touch to help explain or clarify.
Num Strand

Concepts from Te Ao Maori we use in Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Aotearoa New Zealand


The purpose of the following is to provide you with a framework for adult literacy and numeracy using Māori concepts. These concepts are often holistic and can apply to many aspects of life including education.

Definitions, too, can vary among different groups. These definitions were taken from a number of sources including the latest available version unit standard 21204.

If effective LN teaching is a two story house, think of these concepts as the foundations that you might need to lay before you can build a delivery of effective LN teaching on top.


Whakapapa refers to genealogy, history, stages of development.

Knowledge about who you are (identity) and where you come (background) from are integral to Māori literacy and numeracy. Whakapapa helps connect people to knowledge about the world through stories and narrative. Whakapapa also means that the learners are central to the learning.

For Māori, whakapapa is always the starting place. Learning to whakapapa opens up the whole person and helps create relationship and connections. Also, everything has a whakapapa, not just people. Everything comes from somewhere. The story of where something or someone comes from is whakapapa.


Whanaungatanga comes from the word whanau or family and refers to nation, society, community, relationships. The family or extended family forms the basic unit of Māori society into which an individual was born and socialised. A simple way to understand whanaungatanga is that it is all about relationship. Sometimes it’s described as a process of getting to know each other.

Sometimes it’s used to describe the relationship ‘glue’ that holds people together in any whanau-type relationship. Just think of a rugby team, forestry gang, or similar arrangement where people work, play, and often socialise together.

In tough times, it’s the relationship-glue of whanaungatanga that causes the whanau to gather round, provide support, and put the needs of the group before the needs of individuals.


Kaitiakitanga refers to the practical doing; and rules and tikanga of adult literacy and numeracy education (or other field); the tutor is a kaitiaki (caregiver) of the learner’s knowledge so that the student can practise according to their needs/wants.

The term comes from Kaitiaki. Traditionally, a Kaitiaki was a guardian of the sky, the sea, and the land. The process and practices of protecting and looking after the environment are referred to as kaitiakitanga. The term kaitiaki is also increasingly used for broader roles of trusteeship or guardianship, and education as noted in the definition above.

Update: There’s more on Kaitiakitanga here.

Mana atua

Mana atua refers to spirit/spirituality, well-being, sacred power of the ‘Gods’.
Literally, mana atua means the mana, or sacred power and authority, of God (or gods). In education Mana Atua has come to refer to well-being.

The concept of well-being encompasses the physical, mental and emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions of health. This concept is recognised by the World Health Organisation.

Mana whenua

Mana whenua refers to the power of the land, importance, beliefs, belonging.
Literally, mana whenua means the mana or power that comes from the land. Traditionally, this refers to Māori territorial rights, power associated with possession and occupation of tribal land. The tribe’s history and legends are based in the lands they have occupied over generations and the land provides the sustenance for the people and to provide hospitality for guests.

In education, mana whenua has come to represent the concept of belonging. Learners should feel a sense of belonging – that they literally and metaphorically have a place to stand. The education setting should be secure and safe, a place where each person is respected and accepted for who they are.

Mana tangata

Mana tangata refers to identity; individual cultures; the power an individual gains through their abilities, efforts, and taking advantage of all opportunities, and contributing to others.

Literally, the mana of people, mana tangata refers to the power and status gained through one’s leadership talents, strength of character, from basic human rights, or by birthright. In education, mana tangata refers to an individual’s contribution to the learning process – a process where opportunities for learning should be equitable and each learner’s contribution is valued.

The idea is that learning and development occurs through active participation in activities and through collaboration with others in a programme that builds on individual strengths and allows others to “make their mark” as well as develop satisfying relationships. This involves interactions with others, learning to take another’s point of view, empathising with others, to ask for help, see themselves as a help for others, and discussing their ideas.

Mana reo

Communication. Mana reo refers to the power or authority of language, as the life force of mana Māori, communication.

Mana ao turoa

Mana ao tūroa refers to strengthening abilities; manipulating the environment to suit personal strengths and situations; exploration.

Te mana ao turoa translates literally as the mana of the wider world around us, of nature, or the earth. In education, mana ao turoa refers to the concept of learning through an exploration of the environment. All aspects of the environment – the natural, social, physical, and material worlds – are part of the context of learning.

Tino rangatiratanga

Tino rangatiratanga refers to determination by Māori of issues that impact on Māori; the learners’ right to define their powers of decision-making, leading to their independence

Taken literally, rangatira means chief and the suffix -tanga implies the quality or attributes of chieftainship. The addition of intensifier tino in this context means the phrase can be translated as ‘absolute/unqualified chieftainship’. Its closest English translation is self-determination.


Ako refers to the traditional Māori thinking about the transfer and absorption of skills, knowledge, wisdom, experience, much of which has traditionally occurred in the course of everyday activities. It implies ‘learn’ and ‘instruct’ at the same time.

In English we use two words – learn and teach. This is not the case in Māori . Rather the word ako is simply used for both learn as well as teach. In the Māori world it is acceptable practise for the learner to shift roles and become the teacher and for the teacher to become the learner.

The simplest way to understand ako is that it means: sometimes learner, sometimes teacher. The concept of ako allows for an alternative to traditional Western methods of teaching. Consider the following two different models of teaching and learning. The arrows indicate the transmission of knowledge.


Tuakana-teina refers to the relationship between an older (tuakana) person and a younger (teina) person, and is specific to teaching and learning in the context of Māori. Within teaching and learning this can take a variety of forms:

  • Peer-to-peer – teina teaches teina, tuakana teaches tuakana
  • Younger to older – the teina has some skills in an area that the tuakana does not   and is able to teach the tuakana.
  • Older to younger – the tuakana has the knowledge and content to pass on to the     teina
  • Able to less able – the learner may not be as able in an area, and someone more     skilled can teach what is required.

Tuakana-teina is a mentoring approach where typically the mentors (tuakana) share their experiences, and their knowledge as well as provide information. The tuakana is a support person and adviser for the teina and the teina gives the tuakana a chance to learn new things and meet new people. This is ako in action.

Kōrero, titiro, whakarongo

Kōrero refers to speaking. Titiro refers to, looking, observing. Whakarongo refers to listening.