by Rose Bolognini
Communications and Publications Co-ordinator, Directorate for Education and Skills
What do innovative learning environments around the world look like? How might they be led and evaluated? What policy strategies stimulate and support them? For the past decade the OECD’s Centre for Education Research and Innovation (CERI) has addressed these and similar questions in an international study called Innovative Learning Environments.
Now drawing on their extensive research within this project – from the nature of learning, to innovative cases, to leadership and strategies – CERI has translated these findings into a practical handbook, aimed at educators, leaders and innovative policy-shapers. It gives a set of tools based on this extensive international knowledge source as well as succinct summaries of the research accessible to practitioners.
The handbook is divided into four chapters:
i) The principles of learning to design learning environments;
ii) The OECD “7+3” framework for innovative learning environments;
iii) Learning leadership and evaluative thinking; and
iv) Transformation and change in learning ecosystems.
Altogether, fourteen tools are included – some might be covered in a single workshop session while others ideally need a couple of years to work through (with most in between).
Take the first chapter on the learning principles. These principles emphasise flexibility and autonomy, placing learners at the centre and treat learning as collaborative where educators are highly attuned to learners’ emotions and what motivates them. It is an environment where diversity is embraced, the learner is challenged but not exhausted and overwhelmed, expectations are clear and formative feedback is encouraged. It is also an environment that urges learners to make connections across areas of knowledge and subjects as well as with the wider community.
There are four tools presented to help educators fully understand these fundamental principles. Let’s work through the first one to give a flavour of the handbook. It is called “How well do we embed the learning principles?”. There are five steps outlined, intended to push schools or networks or districts to think about whether they exemplify what makes young people learn best and to gather evidence to back up their answers. The steps range from “familiarisation with the principles” to “overviewing the existing situation” and “deciding on a course of action”. The last step invites schools to come back and review their progress after allowing some time to pass.
The handbook also provides tools for educators to focus on the changing landscape of leadership – no longer a one person job at the top but a shared, collaborative responsibility between teachers, learners and the wider community. And just as formative feedback is systematically integrated in the classroom so should leaders continuously question and evaluate the educational innovation taking place.
And what might these changing learning environments look like? Even though the handbook and previous research discuss how traditional environments can transform, it would be useful to be able to measure education systems’ development towards and implementation of innovative learning environments. Now in 2017, CERI has launched a new study on Innovative Pedagogies for Powerful Learning to take this initiative a step further – looking more in depth at teaching and learning. In this context, the OECD Handbook for Innovative Learning Environments is not the end point – but one resource in the rich mix of analyses and reflections that will inspire innovative change in the classroom.
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