Educational Research and Innovation

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

2076-9679 (online)
2076-9660 (print)
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This series of books from the OECD's Centre for Educational Research and Innovations provides the results of OECD work on innovation in education.

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Innovative Learning Environments

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Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

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25 Sep 2013
9789264203488 (PDF) ;9789264203471(print)

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How to design a powerful learning environment so that learners can thrive in the 21st century? OECD’s Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) is an ambitious international study that responds to this challenging question. The study earlier released the influential publication The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice. This companion volume is based on 40 in-depth case studies of powerful 21st century learning environments that have taken the innovation journey.
Innovative Learning Environments presents a wealth of international material and features a new framework for understanding these learning environments, organised into eight chapters. Richly illustrated by the many local examples, it argues that a contemporary learning environment should:

  • Innovate the elements and dynamics of its "pedagogical core".
  • Become a "formative organisation" through strong design strategies with corresponding learning leadership, evaluation and feedback.
  • Open up to partnerships to grow social and professional capital, and to sustain renewal and dynamism.
  • Promote 21st century effectiveness through the application of the ILE learning principles.

In conclusion it offers pointers to how this can be achieved, including the role of technology, networking, and changing organisational cultures. This report will prove to be an invaluable resource for all those interested in schooling. It will be of particular interest to teachers, education leaders, parents, teacher educators, advisors and decision-makers, as well as the research community.

"Much has been written about learning environments, and about innovation but nowhere will you find such a deep and cogent portrayal of the key principles as in the OECD's report, Innovative Learning Environments. Learners, pedagogical core, learning environments, partnerships, sustainability - it's all captured in this remarkable volume."
(Michael Fullan, OC, Professor Emeritus, OISE, University of Toronto)

"Everyone in education is talking about innovation. What is different here is that the best of what we know about learning is at the centre and is richly illustrated with real cases to answer the question, ‘What will this look like?’"
(Helen Timperley, Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Auckland)

"From OECD's The Nature of Learning to Innovative Learning Environments, this second ILE volume inspires and guides all who are committed to creating , enacting and sustaining powerful learning. To know that this is possible - that we can and are creating ‘schooling for tomorrow’ today - is the gift of this book."
(Anthony Mackay: Co-Chair, Global Education Leaders Program; Chair, Innovation Unit UK)

"What impresses me about this work is the clarity about the links between complex goals, processes and outcomes through a focus on innovative learning environments across the globe. Innovative Learning Environments manages both to bring alive the lived realities of very different people at the same time as distilling principles and key messages."
(Philippa Cordingley, Chief Executive, Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE), UK)

"As societies experience unprecedented and unpredictable change, schools and education systems are at the nexus of hope for the future. OECD’s report Innovative Learning Environments documents how educators in a number of countries are engaging in bold and forward-thinking innovations to renew, re-imagine and re-invent contexts for teaching and learning, and, most importantly, provides inspiration to take the journey."
(Professor Lorna Earl, President 2011-2013, International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement)

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  • Foreword

    Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) is an international study carried out by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) of the OECD. It is focused on innovative ways of organising learning for young people with the view to positively influence the contemporary education reform agenda with forward-looking insights about learning and innovation. ILE began as an integral part of the OECD/CERI work on Schooling for Tomorrow but represented a substantial departure from it, with its focus on learning rather than schooling and on beginning first with the micro level of learning environments before extending the view to more systemic implications (rather than the other way around).

  • Executive summary

    Innovation is a key element of today’s societies and economies, and that includes how we learn. This report looks at inspiring cases of innovative learning environments from across the globe, as part of the OECD’s Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) project. The project has gathered 125 examples from more than 20 countries and carried out detailed case study research on 40 of them. These cases have been identified within their own system as significant departures from mainstream learning arrangements for younger children or older teenagers, while promising to meet the ambitious objectives needed for the 21st century.

  • Learning environments and innovative practice

    This chapter reiterates the "learning principles" from the learning research phase of the ILE project and how they should guide the design of all learning environments. The chapter reviews insights from both the school effectiveness and school improvement traditions: it observes both consistency of ILE work with important findings from these traditions and some problems they give rise to. Extending the focus more directly on learning, rather than schooling, two additional framing concepts are considered: "learning approach" and "learning environment". The chapter reviews two sets of learning approaches – those associated with alternative schooling and those described as "research-based innovation" – and outlines why "learning environment" is the main framing concept for this study. It gives the basic OECD/ILE formulation of "learning environment", to be built on in terms of environments that are particularly innovative, powerful and effective. The chapter ends with a discussion of innovation as exemplified in the project cases.

  • The learners in the case study learning environments

    In the innovative cases studied, some are set in affluent contexts but many are not, whether because they have mixed student profiles or because they are in disadvantaged communities. Some are selective in the sense of choosing those with particular abilities (e.g. interest in science). More often in this report, the entry criteria are set to include those that otherwise may be poorly catered for elsewhere – such as those with special needs or who are otherwise at risk. The learning environment may also exercise choice over such matters as the age of the students, though this may be set by systems according to established cycles. Several of the cases in our study have moved towards bringing together learners of different ages, in part to avoid disruption that can occur especially in the primary-to-secondary transition. There are many examples where parents are also learners.

  • Innovating the elements of the pedagogical core

    This chapter looks at how the Innovative Learning Environments have innovated the other basic ingredients in the pedagogical core besides learners: rethinking the content (the what?), the resources (with what?), and the teachers (with whom?) offers many ways of changing learning environments, as richly illustrated in this chapter. Innovations of the content of learning is looked at through two different lenses: first, many of the featured ILEs have sought deliberately to develop 21st century competences; second, there are many examples of innovating specific knowledge domains or subject areas such as interdisciplinary programmes, languages and multi-cultural focus, and sustainability. The innovations in resources refer to digital resources and technology, on the one hand, and facilities, infrastructure and learning spaces, on the other. The innovation can be extended by bringing in different experts, adults or peers to work with or act as teachers as is routine in many of the study innovative cases.

  • Innovating dynamics within learning environments

    This chapter analyses four dimensions of organisational dynamics that relate the core elements: regrouping educators, regrouping learners, rescheduling learning time, and changing pedagogical approaches and their mix. There are different rationales given for team teaching: collaborative working, opening up more pedagogical options, and to ensure attention to certain groups of learners. The learner groupings include departures from standard age-grade combinations, and smaller group units to create a greater sense of belonging or to allow parallel distinctive approaches. Many of the cases use time flexibly, which may mean individualised learning plans or using virtual settings that depart from the requirement of learning at fixed times. Regarding pedagogies, this chapter focuses especially on inquiry and collaborative work and tech-rich approaches (use of film is a prominent feature of many of the innovation sites). The chapter stresses how important are mixes of pedagogical approaches (including direct teaching), not single methods or single technologies.

  • Designing formative learning organisations

    This chapter looks at learning environments as directed eco-systems, and how they develop over time so as to maintain (ideally strengthen) learning as the central preoccupation and realise the ILE (Innovative Learning Environments) learning principles. In this continuous cycle, leadership is essential to ensure that particular learning designs are put in place. The learning leadership requires vision and it necessarily requires strategies to realise such vision to take it "off the drawing board". Teacher engagement and professional development are key aspects of the design process. Learners themselves are prominent partners in the learning environments ("learner voice"). For the learning environment to be formative, it needs to be highly informed about the learning taking place within it and it is "information rich" in this sense. For that rich information to inform further growth in the learning environment it must be fed back, reflected on and strategically used to "redesign" the learning environment.

  • Extending learning environments through partnerships

    Contemporary learning environments will not be sustained by working in isolation but instead need to be connected to diverse partners, networks and professional communities. When learning environments partner with higher education, they can benefit from the expertise on offer but the benefits can work both ways. Similarly, the cultural and social partnerships extend boundaries by offering access to cultural materials, experiences and different teaching expertise. Corporate partners include local or larger businesses, and also different foundations. Families and communities can become real partners, entering into the pedagogical core via community teachers, resources, and content, and through project-based pedagogies that depend on community engagement. Networking with other learning environments is critical, and mutually beneficial. Some will depend on technology to collaborate with others at a distance while others will rely on more direct forms of face-to-face dialogue and action. As exemplary, some become beacons and sources of professional learning for others.

  • The Nature of Learning principles revisited

    The innovative cases amply confirm what research tells us makes for effective, powerful learning and what in practice the learning principles actually mean. This chapter shows how the Innovative Learning Environments (ILE) case studies: 1) make learning central, encourage engagement, where learners come to understand themselves as learners; 2) ensure that learning is social and often collaborative; 3) are highly attuned to learners’ motivations and the importance of emotions; 4) are acutely sensitive to individual differences including in prior knowledge; 5) are demanding for each learner but without excessive overload; 6) use assessments consistent with its aims, with emphasis on formative feedback; and 7) promote horizontal connectedness across activities and subjects, in and out of school. Naturally, they are not realised everywhere in the same way and need to be interpreted in relation to their local context. Many of the practices address several principles at the same time.

  • Creating and sustaining innovative learning

    This chapter brings the different dimensions and insights about innovative learning environments together. It focuses on three components or layers – the "pedagogical core", the " formative cycle" within the organisation, and partnerships – as well as how the learning principles should be at the centre and permeate throughout. These provide the characteristics towards which contemporary innovative learning environments should aspire. The chapter looks at how some of the traditional fundamentals of schooling are being rethought in the innovations: the constraints of proximity and distance and the balance of the social and the individual. It revisits the four "pumps" of innovation of earlier OECD work as well as identified barriers to innovation. These give the key factors on which to focus in growing and sustaining innovative learning environments: evaluation and evidence, technology, organisational change, and system building and transformation.

  • The case study sites

    This Annex introduces the reader to the main ILE (Innovative Learning Environments) cases that have featured in this study through profile descriptions of each of the case study sites. These were selected for case study research (and referred to as the project "Inventory") from the larger pool of innovative learning environments (the project "Universe"). Not all the cases that are cited in the publication appear in the descriptions below, but only those for which case studies were undertaken. The following capsule descriptions help the reader to gain an overview of the case study set as a whole. Yet, they necessarily omit a great deal of the information about what makes each one innovative and inspiring. The main text above contains much more information about these sites albeit through extracts related to the specific topics in each chapter.

  • The Innovative Learning Environments "Universe" and the case study protocols in brief

    Having launched the "Learning Research" strand of the ILE (Innovative Learning Environments) project, we began work on the "Innovative Cases" strand. This resulted in the design of a reporting template for learning environments which was either used by the system co-ordinators in each participating system, or by individuals who completed the information and submitted their case separately. This is contained in the first section, next.

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