Key Points:

Ask someone to describe educational TV and chances are they'll mention kids stuck in front of a screen.

It doesn't need to be so, says Gordon Dryden, and these days it is increasingly likely the kids themselves will be creating the content. In some New Zealand schools, even new entrants are given digital camcorders to record their experiences, giving them a chance to be multimedia journalists from a very young age.

It's an example of what Dryden believes is the key to encouraging lifelong learning: ensuring children get outside the classroom and learn through practice, rather than theory. Instead of studying subjects at the whim of a bell, he believes, students should be encouraged to see the world as a fascinating, complex web of relationships.

His latest project, a website that will soon be multilingual, is based on what he claims is a simple notion: that all our major problems, including the problems of education and learning, have already been solved somewhere, and that the first nation to put together the best solutions and make them happen will lead the world in the most important challenge of all - to develop a truly learning and creative society.

The Web 2.0 revolution is a disruptive technology that is going to change everything, he warns.

"And I suppose that almost brings me back to my real passion, which is that I don't think most people in New Zealand realise that the decentralisation of school systems here in the early 90s, which coincided with the birth of the worldwide web, has really put us into a box seat. The best primary schools in New Zealand lead the world, bar none, in that."

Even in 1972, when battling for a second television channel, Dryden argued that the Government was asking the wrong question - it shouldn't be working out how to deliver a single network to millions of people, but how to deliver millions of individual networks "which, of course, is exactly what's going on now".

He finds it hard to get excited about who owns what in broadcasting these days, believing YouTube and other user-generated sites have made broadcast television and radio as we currently know them almost irrelevant.

While he admires the work the BBC is doing to digitise its entire archive and make it available for educational use, he believes TVNZ has yet to fully exploit its own potential. He despairs that politicians don't seem to regard it as an important issue, and haven't yet committed to doing a major study into the future of electronic communication.

But in the meantime, he is excited about his new book with Jeannette Vos, Unlimited: The New Learning Revolution and the Seven Keys to Unlock It, which will be published next month.

Combined with his various speaking engagements, and educational interests, it is keeping him pretty busy, and he still does a fair bit of travel.

While he acknowledges that education officials have invited him to speak to the occasional conference, it hasn't escaped his notice that most of the demand on his time these days comes from overseas.

Dryden has quite a bit to do with what he maintains are two of the best schools in the world: in Singapore and Mexico.

The Overseas Family School in Singapore was founded by a Kiwi, David Perry, an ex-Apple agent in the Bay of Plenty who was once a National Party candidate against David Lange in Mangere. The school's computer network was designed by New Zealand open-source software pioneer Michael Clark, and co-ordinates personalised learning plans for each of the school's 3500 students from more than 70 countries.

In Mexico, the Thomas Jefferson Institute has won the school of the year award for the past two years - an award open to all schools in the Spanish-speaking world.

"I get much more acceptance in Singapore and Mexico than I do in New Zealand," he notes cheerily.

The same is true in the book industry, he says. He has never been asked to address an authors' conference, despite knowing a few things about how to write - and sell - books.

Nor has any politician sought his advice. Yet businesspeople can't get enough of it. He has presented at seminars alongside Edward de Bono, Stephen Covey and Tony Buzan, and has developed a corporate training game to encourage enterprise and innovation that he has been asked to share all over the world.

He is on first-name terms with Charles Vest, president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has friends in Silicon Valley.

The venture capitalists shared with him their three basic criteria for assessing a successful company: how big is it; how big is the market; and how simple is it?

Simple, he agrees, is good. One day the academics and the snobs might work that out.

Sample online
The first 34 pages of Unlimited: The New Learning Revolution are available free at Dryden's earlier book, The Learning Revolution, is also freely available online.