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.


How to deliver a presentation… for your NCALNE (Voc) professional development


Delivering a short presentation is part of the coursework requirements if you are completing the NCALNE (Voc) training and you’ve been part of one of our groups around the country.

From 2015 it will also be something that all our distance and online students will need to do and upload to Pathways Awarua.

Read this overview of how to prepare and deliver your presentation.

What do I need to know?

You need to know how to:

  1. Gather the material that you need and prepare to present
  2. Structure your presentation
  3. Deliver your presentation

Prepare to present

Let’s assume that you’ve got your actual material… or at least the raw material ready because you’ve actually done the work before hand. From here you need to think about your audience, your purpose, and what visuals would be helpful.

Know your audience

You may be presenting to a group of your colleagues, in which case, you may already know quite a lot about them. However, there may also be other industry representatives present. In any case, you should make sure that your presentation is targeted to your audience. You’re also pitching your presentation to your trainer or assessor.

Have you considered any of these for your audience:

  • Subject knowledge
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Interest
  • Cultural heritage
  • Context
  • Expectations
  • Experience

As a rule of thumb, unless they’re in the same trade as you, you can probably assume that they don’t know what you know about your field, but that they are at least interested in what you’ve got to say and any wider application.

If you’re just recording your presentation, some of this won’t be relevant. But again, don’t assume detailed technical knowledge of your trade. But do assume an interested, nontechnical assessor as your audience.

Be clear on your purpose

The overall aim of this presentation is for you to showcase the work you have done around your Embedded LN Project. Your specific objectives in the talk should include:

  • An outline of your embedded LN project.
  • Connections between initial or diagnostic assessments you carried out, learning outcomes you designed, learning plans you created including specific learner needs and next steps, as well as the strategies, activities, and other assessment tasks you delivered.
  • A brief evaluation and reflection on what you did, especially in terms of what was effective and what you’d change in the future.

Have Some visuals

Either put together some slides in Keynote or Powerpoint. Or have a short handout or out some images to pass around to the group.

Develop any visual aids (e.g. handouts, power point slides) to help with comprehension of your presentation by the audience. Don’t overdo it, or read off your slides, but having some clear visuals will improve your delivery here.

Structure your presentation

Some guidelines:

  1. Your introduction should outline the purpose, context and direction of your talk.
  2. The body of your presentation should deliver the main information about your embedded project LN in a logical and coherent way. Cover the highlights from each of these:
    • What were your learners’ needs? E.g. outline your diagnostic assessment data.
    • What were your embedded LN interventions? E.g. Discuss the embedded LN teaching that you did including activities and resources.
    • What progress did you see? E.g. Discuss your post assessment data in relation to the diagnostic assessment.
    • What worked? Reflect on what worked and what didn’t and what you’d do to improve things.
  3. Your conclusion should encapsulate the key points from your talk.
  4. Your content should be structured to help make it easy for others to understand what you did within the time you have allocated.
  5. You should aim for smooth transitions between the main points of your talk.

Deliver your presentation

When you get up to give your presentation, make sure that…

  1. You stick to the timeframe that you’ve been allocated. Usually, 7 to 8 minutes is fine unless you’ve been told otherwise.
  2. You use language that is appropriate to the audience.
  3. You use your voice to establish rapport with the audience and maintain the audience’s interest. Pay attention to volume (how loud or soft you speak), pace (how fast you speak), pitch (Whether your voice is high or low), pauses (How you stop and start), and tone (what emotion your voice conveys, e.g. nervous, enthusiastic, conversational, formal)
  4. You use non-verbal communication to establish rapport, maintain interest, and help with comprehension of your talk by the audience. This means your posture, gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, and movement in general.
  5. Any visual aids are integrated with your delivery and your presentation conforms to specified time-frame.
  6. Your delivery demonstrates smooth transitions between main points.
  7. If you use notes that this does not distract the audience’s attention from your presentation.

UX + ED: Where does web-based user-experience (UX) design meet instructional design (ED)?


I work in education… but I’m interested in user experiences online. In fact, I’d love to do some work relating to more web-based user experience design.

User experience, or UX for short, is basically about the flow of a website. In fact, strictly speaking a UX specialist only cares about how a site functions, the flow of a site… making sure that the users can do what the site intended in the best, fastest, most efficient and logical way possible.

I don’t have references for this, but according to those in the know, some UX specialists are responsible for adding 30% profit to an eCommerce site purely by simplifying the flow.

Conversely, every time you add another layer of complication to an online shopping basket you drop 20% of sales.

So UX design and sales go hand in hand. Less clicks = more bucks.

But here’s an assumption that I can’t get out of my head:

  • Everyone in sales is actually in education.

What if UX design needs some better education spin… what if big corporates and others are currently failing to educate their users as well as they could through their current user experiences online.

What if there was some sweet spot between UX and ED, between designing an awesome online experience that gets you through the site to buy the product or service, but helps you learn what you need to know along the way without starting with unproven assumptions about what you already know (or don’t know)…

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

Latest Research from John Benseman on the Value of a National Adult Literacy & Numeracy Qualification (the NCALNE) just published

John Benseman

I know we’ve been waiting a while for this to come out… perhaps nearly a year, but here it is finally and it’s all online and available for free.

John Benseman surveyed as many graduates as he could get to respond from across a range of providers in New Zealand. There were some negatives, but on the whole their response was very positive.

This is independent research that should validate the need to continue providing Adult Literacy and Numeracy Education (ALNE) qualifications in New Zealand. It’s timely, because these qualifications are in the middle of the ongoing Targeted Review of Qualifications (TRoQ).

Specific providers aren’t identified (so feel free to make your own assumptions).

You can read the entire piece of research online here. And I’ve reproduced the abstract below for quick reference and easy digesting.

The underlining is mine below.

Benseman, J. 2014. Practitioners’ Perspectives on the Value of a National Adult Literacy and Numeracy Qualification. New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, Volume 11, Issue 1, 107-126, 2014


Adult literacy and numeracy practitioners are integral to the successful development of this emerging sector and yet there is little research about them as a professional group or their practices. This study of 217 enrollees in two
national adult literacy and numeracy certificates reviews their experiences undertaking these qualifications and explores the impact their participation has had on their practice. Overall, it shows that the respondents rate their
involvement in the certificates very positively and that they believe it has had a beneficial effect on their work.

Here’s a couple more excerpts:

Comments from the ‘highly influential group included:

Naming what they already do. Builds confidence and
professionalism. Using a wider range of literacy and numeracy strategies. Understanding the importance of research and how it contributes to good practice. More patience with learners, better targeted strategies. Knowing their learners better and the effects and challenges learners face including cultural diversity. Leads to more appropriate strategies and more flexible teaching and learning. Building their own understanding of basic maths. Building their own confidence to teach numeracy effectively. Wider ripples to helping their own children and Whānau.
Better understanding and use of the assessment tool and
other literacy and numeracy assessments. Using ILP’s
[Individual Learning Plans]. Knowing course demands,
knowing the learners and knowing how to bridge the gaps.
Connecting to the wider community of adult literacy and
numeracy. Many ex-students have moved on into other roles in the sector including research and development roles.

They are passing on the ‘torch’. Has built up the
professionalism in the sector. Knowing what to do next – using the Learning Progressions. I think it has really come of age in the last two years. I would point to [provider’s] work with [agency] as a case study in how trades tutors can change their practice in a large organisation.

Comments from the ‘moderately influential’ group included:

Trade tutors have adopted strategies learnt in the sessions and are using these in their classrooms: tutors using more hands-on activities to engage their learners, a greater emphasis on vocabulary, promotion and use of contextual language during practical sessions and developing understanding of underpinning knowledge and skill needing to be mastered by the learner –ultimately leading to success with course demands.

Staff have developed a better understanding of how to support their learners to improve their literacy and numeracy skills in order to meet the demands of the programme. Teaching practices have been enhanced as staff have been introduced to different strategies and approaches.

Great work… Thanks John.