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Planning and developing an innovative learning environment

Effective pedagogy underpins practice in an innovative learning environment.

What is an innovative learning environment?

An innovative environment (ILE) is one that is capable of evolving and adapting as educational practices evolve and change – thus remaining future focused.

Ministry of Education

In the past the term "Modern Learning Environments" (MLE) was used. "Innovative Learning Environments" (ILE) has greater international recognition, and is used by The Ministry of Education.

A learning environment includes the physical, social, and pedagogical context in which learning occurs. An ILE supports strengths-based teaching and learning. It offers students and teachers flexibility, agency, ubiquity, and connectedness.

Working in an ILE where teaching and learning is collaborative, reflections and inquiries are shared, and communities engaged leads to a more robust, continuously improving community of practice.

What is a flexible learning space?

Physical spaces are only a part of the contribution to an innovative learning environment.

A flexible learning space (FLS) has the right acoustics, lighting, technology, heating and air quality to support learning. The spaces can be easily configured and used in a number of different ways to support and enable a range of teaching and learning approaches on any given day or at any time of the day. They can support single teacher whole ‘class’ teaching practice, and can adapt to a broader range of teaching and learning practices and groupings as a school’s education practices evolve over time.

Ministry of Education

Key resources

Innovative Learning Environments

A definition, examples of ILEs, and an explanation of how to create these spaces.

Planning an innovative learning environment
An Inclusive Education guide providing strategies and suggestions for developing ILEs that work for all learners.

Enabling e-Learning resources

These pages contain school stories, snapshots of learning, and resources to support strengths-based teaching and learning in innovative learning environments.

Innovative teaching practices flourish when:

  1. Teacher collaboration focuses on supporting peers and sharing teaching practices.
  2. Professional development involves the active and direct engagement of teachers, particularly in practising and researching new teaching methods.
  3. The school culture offers a common vision of innovation, as well as consistent support that encourages new types of teaching.

Future-focused learning in connected communities, May 2014 The most important first step when developing an ILE is to focus on learning.

Articulating the why of change

In this video, Dr Julia Atkin explains the importance of articulating what is is you are trying to improve before beginning you planning. Ask: What can we do differently that will improve learning outcomes? How will we develop key competencies is in an innovative learning environment?

Key things to consider
  • Your school’s vision for learning. How are the school community involved in this vision?
  • Seven principles of learning (pp 6–7)  – How are these principles guiding your planning?
  • The design – what is needed to create an inclusive, future-proofed, multipurpose design that realises your school vision?
  • Professional learning – what is needed to support teachers and students to prepare for successful learning and teaching within an ILE?
  • Infrastructure and technologies – what is needed to support the learning and teaching in the space.
  • Resourcing and planning – your timeline, funding, and considerations needed for success.

Mark Osborne (CORE Education) explains, the first step to considering innovative learning environments is to start with learning. If we consider our school's vision for students, then identify the teaching strategies and environments that will help us make that vision a reality, it is a good solid first step.

"It’s not about buildings for us, it’s about what happens inside. So we are focused on learning and teaching first and the property comes second."

Graeme Barber, principal of Woodend School

Students should be at the centre of planning when developing an innovative learning environment. Build the environment around the learners' needs, rather than requiring the learner to fit within the system.

Innovative learning environments should provide more opportunities for students to organise themselves and engage in learning. ILEs enable you to shift from a one-size-fits-all approach to a flexible approach that can be customised and adjusted for individual needs. Plan your environment to provide support for learners that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual learner preferences, needs, and values. 

Involve students and their families in the decision-making about:

  • what is learned
  • how learning occurs
  • where learning takes place.
Key things to consider:
  • What professional learning is needed to support teachers and students to prepare for successful learning and teaching within an ILE?
  • The design – what is needed to create an inclusive, future-proofed, multipurpose space?
  • What infrastructure and are technologies needed to support the learning and teaching in the space.

Learner orientation

This video highlights schools who are designing learner-oriented envionments, placing the learner at the centre of all decision making, and providing support for learners that is respectful of and responsive to individual learner preferences, needs, and values. A learner oriented system requires reversing the “logic” of education systems so that they are built around the learner, rather than the learner being required to fit within the system.

When developing an innovative learning environment it is essential that the whole community – teachers, students, parents, and whānau – are involved in the journey.

Key things to consider:
  • How have you worked with your teachers, students, families, and communities to develop a shared understanding of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that students need for their future?
  • What elements have you put in place in your school and community to ensure a shared understanding and ownership of the development of an innovative learning environment?
  • Can you recognise opportunities to invite more community input?

Bruce Topham, principal of Halswell School, explains some of the key steps in planning, building, and creating an innovative learning environment. He emphasises the importance of investing lots of time engaging with, and consulting the community.

Hampden Street School have built a very successful partnership with parents and their local community. Parents share how the school’s open door approach as they planned and developed their innovative learning environment gave them confidence their children’s learning needs were being met.

Moving from a traditional learning environment to an innovative learning environment requires teachers to transform their practice. Robust, collaborative, and needs based professional learning will support teachers as they trial new ideas and approaches. There is not a "one size, fits all" model of professional development. Each school will need to shape their professional learning around the needs of teaching staff, their vision for learning, and their priorities for change. Professional learning programmes will need to address a variety of needs ranging from practical concerns about where to store resources, to deeper questions around pedagogy.

Dr Julia Atkin, talks about providing teachers and learners with permission to experiment as a part of change.

Gavin Burn and Cathie Zelas explain their process of moving from a traditional learning environment to an innovative learning environment at Halswell School. Key to their success was comprehensive and ongoing staff professional development.

Woodend School Deputy Principal, Adriene Simpson explains using the spiral of inquiry as a framework identify how to move forward with innovative learning practices and learning with digital technologies. She highlights the importance of their e-leaders in this process.

Buildings exist to support the activities that occur in them. When designing a building, careful thought should be given to making the building adaptable and agile enough to respond to both current and foreseeable future usage.

Innovative learning environments, Ministry of Education

Woodend School principal, Graeme Barber explains key aspects of preparing and planning for the development of an innovative learning environment. They have included their staff in design brief process and done a lot of research into what other schools are doing successfully to see what might work in their school. The e-leadership team supports and manages the change keeping the design focus on supporting learning and teaching.

  • Identify an architect whose design can reflect your vision.
  • Develop a brief for the architect based on your vision, underpinned by your research and the needs of your school community.
  • Keep the whole community involved as you progress.

The senior management team explain their process for planning and developing the learning spaces at Hingaia Peninsula School. A key part of their planning included research and visiting other schools. Their vision for students to be creative, collaborative, and agile has informed and influenced the development of learning spaces. Students will choose which learning spaces they want to work in to meet their learning needs. ICTs will support students to personalise their learning.

Modern Learning Environments – Hingaia Peninsula School

Hingaia Peninsula School

Two years after the Hingaia Peninsula School opened you can see the school in operation. The studios, shared by three teachers, are composed of a central space, which is surrounded by breakout spaces. A student working centrally in the hub has access to private study space, digital production space (including greenscreen), and group collaboration space. Teachers can combine classes and arrange learning according to student needs and interest.

School leaders describe planning for new innovative learning environments

Creating contemporary learning environments

Helen Otway is in the leadership team at a pre-primary to year 8 school in Melbourne where they have been investigating new learning environments.

In this EDtalk, Helen explains the three elements they considered in their investigation:

  • what do we want learning to look like
  • how can learning spaces be used
  • how will technologies be incorporated.

Chris Bradbeer: Learning spaces

Chris Bradbeer, from Stonefields School, explains the ideas behind the open learning spaces at his school in this EdTalk. He challenges us to think about how we can take down the walls in our schools, both metaphorically and physically.

Chris's blog, Open learning spaces – linking pedagogy and classroom design , provides his perspective on some innovative learning spaces in schools.

Modern Learning Environments channel
Videos showcasing modern learning environments in New Zealand schools from the EDtalks website. These videos demonstrate how the research into flexible, open learning spaces translates into action.

ICT leader, Fraser Malin describes how staff at Halswell School planned the infrastructure and incorporated technologies into their design for an innovative learning environment to support learning and teaching. They kept the focus on identifying how teachers planned to work together in the new space, then identified how they could use digital technologies to support the planned programmes.

Some key considerations included:

  • planning a consistent infrastructure within each of the learning teams, that allowed flexibility for their learning programmes to operate effectively
  • meeting the needs of the children and staff, while making sure that learning was supported
  • identifying pedagogical purpose of the learning with digital technologies and how these support the vision for learning
  • future-proofing as much as possible.  

Fraser Malin explains how they use sound fields at Halswell School. Sound fields enable teachers to talk to the 180 students spread across various spaces in their ILE. Teachers can talk to the whole block, or selected parts of the block, and every student gets the same message at the same volume. This helps students with hearing impairments as well as saving teacher's voices.

Culturally located learning spaces

Janelle Riki asks how can we make innovative learning environments culturally located for Māori students. Janelle believes schools should consider whether or not they provide spaces where Māori students are able to learn through their culture and about their culture. 

Modern learning through a Pasifika lens

Anthony Faitaua discusses 21st century Pasifika learners with regard to modern learning pedagogy in this EDtalk. He acknowledges the challenge: how to address the traditional Pasifika view of learners as respectful listeners, and encouraging them to engage and collaborate. Anthony advocates creating a safe environment, understanding the students’ culture and values, and working with key influential community members in order to build these vital learning relationships.

OECD logo
Key resource

The OECD handbook for innovative learning environments

This handbook provides practical tools for teachers and leaders to develop innovative learning environments. It focuses on: using the principles of learning to design learning environments, the 7+3 framework, evaluative thinking, and transformation and change in learning ecosystems.

Developing the infrastructure for new technologies

Developing the infrastructure for new technologies

Hingaia Penninsula School principal, Jane Danielson shares planning their technological infrastructure.

Developing learning spaces

Developing learning spaces

The senior management team at Hingaia Peninsula School describe how their vision to be creative, collaborative, and agile informed the development of learning spaces in their school.

Adapting single cell classrooms to create an innovative learning environment

Adapting single cell classrooms to create an innovative learning environment

Team leader, Lucy Fong explains how her team used their existing spaces to develop an innovative learning environment at Woodend School.

Learning design – How the people-based design process works

Learning design – How the people-based design process works

Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) explains learning design must begin with the people that you are designing it for, a shared vision and values.

Learning spaces – Different spaces and their purposes

Learning spaces – Different spaces and their purposes

Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre of Innovation in Learning) explains Professor David Thornburg's cave, campfire and watering hole and how they can be utilised in both a physical and virtual learning environment.

What is a flexible learning environment?

What is a flexible learning environment?

Stephen Collis (Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) answers the question, "What is a flexible learning environment?" He talks about the physical, virtual, and cultural layers that are involved and how they work together to create this environment. 

Planning for change

Planning for change

Graeme Barber, Principal at Woodend School, discusses the importance of having a shared vision as your prepare for change. When planning their new build, the community was involved.

Developing a collaborative learning environment in partnership with students

Developing a collaborative learning environment

Teachers from South New Brighton School describe how they constructed a collaborative space from a traditional classroom with their students. 

Students inquire into innovative learning environments

Students inquire into innovative learning environments

Team leader, Caroline Marris and year 7-8 students explain how they worked together to design their innovative learning environment.

Engaging with parents

Engaging with parents

Parents from Hampden Street School share how the school’s open door approach gave them confidence that their children’s learning needs were being met in an innovative learning environment.

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Developing the pedagogy and practice for an innovative learning environment

Woodend School Deputy Principal, Adrienne Simpson explains using the spiral of inquiry as a framework identify how to move forward with innovative learning practices and learning with digital technologies.

Innovative learning  in year 0–2

Innovative learning in year 0–2

Eilish Moran, teacher at Halswell School, explains the importance of encouraging students to be self-directed learners. Establish good learning routines which allow for student choice. 

Fraser Malin

Planning infrastructure to support learning

ICT leader, Fraser Malin describes how staff at Halswell School planned the infrastructure and incorporated technologies into their design for an innovative learning environment to support learning and teaching.

Fraser Malin using sound fields

Using sound fields

ICT leader, Fraser Malin explains how sound fields enable teachers to talk to students across a large and distant spaces at Halswell School.  

Pedagogy underpins practice in an innovative learning environment

Pedagogy underpins practice in an innovative learning environment

Gavin Burn and Cathie Zelas explain their process of moving from a traditional learning environment to an innovative learning environment at Halswell School.

Planning the new build, a school and community partnership

Planning the new build, a school and community partnership

Halswell School principal, Bruce Topham explains key steps in planning and building an innovative learning environment that is part of the community.

Collaborative teaching in a year 7–8 innovative learning environment

Collaborative teaching in a year 7–8 innovative learning environment

Team leader, Lisa Dovey discusses the benefits of collaborative teaching at Halswell School. 

Student agency in an innovative learning environment

Student agency in an innovative learning environment

Year 7-8 students, Ruby and Harriet explain how their innovative learning environment allows them to have control of their learning at Halswell School.

Collaborative teaching in a year 5–6 innovative learning environment

Collaborative teaching in a year 5–6 innovative learning environment

Anita Head, leader at Halswell School, discusses the enablers of student success within their innovative learning environment.

Year 5–6 Learning in an innovative learning environment

Year 5–6 learning in an innovative learning environment

Anita Head, team leader at Halswell School, explains how drawing on the individual strengths of her team allows them to provide a more refined programme for their students.

Year 3-4 Learning in an innovative learning environment

Year 3–4 learning in an innovative learning environment

Gabrielle Nuthall, teacher at Halswell School, explains how their innovative learning environment allows teachers to better meet the needs of their students.

Transition to an innovative learning environment

Transition to an innovative learning environment

Gabrielle Nuthall, teacher at Halswell School, talks about the preparation that took place before they transitioned into their ILE. 

NE–Y1: Creating a connected and innovative learning environment

NE–Y1: Creating a connected and innovative learning environment

Eilish Moran, teacher at Halswell School, explains how their innovative learning environment collaborative operates and connections with parents. 

An ILE supports learning

An ILE supports learning

Tamaki College teacher, Noelene Dunn describes how she changed her classroom into a flexible learning space and the innovative practices she uses to support learning.

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Resources to support school leaders and teachers transitioning into innovative learning environments.

Key resources

Flexible learning spaces
This section of the Ministry of Education's website provides information and readings on developing modern learning environments.

Planning an innovative learning environment
An Inclusive Education guide providing strategies and suggestions for developing ILEs that work for all leaners.

The OECD handbook for innovative learning environments

This handbook provides practical tools for teachers and leaders to develop innovative learning environments. It focuses on: using the principles of learning to design learning environments, the 7+3 framework, evaluative thinking, and transformation and change in learning ecosystems.

Future learning environments conference
Recordings of key speakers from the conference in Auckland, August 2014.

Innovative learning environments
New Zealand teachers and school leaders describe and explain their modern learning spaces, their vision, and the pedgagogy that underpins their design and practice in this Ministry of Education website.

Edorigami
A resource looking at possibilities for 21st Century learning spaces.

e-Learning ICT showcases: Learning places and spaces
This section on the Victoria (Australia) Department of Education and Early Childhood Development's website provides information and practical examples of how schools design, maintain, and update IT infrastructure, learning places, spaces, and resources, to maximise learning opportunities.

Does a MLE suit all learners?
A 2015 blog post by Derek Wenmoth discussesing what an innovative learning space is and the pedagogy and practice within that space.

Making the shift to Innovative Learning Environments…what’s the risk?
A 2015 blog post by Tamara Jones suggests that acknowledging teachers’ perceptions of risk in shifting to an ILE may open up avenues of support.

EDtalks
Find a range of interviews, discussions, and presentations on innovative learning environments.

Key resource

Modern learning environments
This CORE Education white paper provides an overview of what a modern learning environment is. It describes features of a modern learning environment and how student and teacher learning can be supported in the environment. There are some useful reflective questions for discussion as schools look at changing their learning environments.

Schooling redesigned: Towards innovative learning systems
What does redesigning schools and schooling through innovation mean in practice? How might it be brought about? These questions have inspired an international reflection on “Innovative Learning Environments” (ILE) led by the OECD.

Government responds on digital literacy
Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye tabled the Government's response to the Inquiry into 21st Century learning environments and digital literacy report in April 2013. A PDF with Questions and answers on the government's digital literacy initiatives is available from this page on the Beehive.govt.nz website. It provides more information about the digital literacy reference group, Government investment into 21st Century learning environments and digital literacy, and the recommendations Government has progressed.

How can 20th century classrooms be modified to accommodate the needs of 21st century learners?
Helen Malcolm's sabbatical report provides research into learning environments that enable successful 21st century learning. She focuses on what can be done to modify existing classrooms to make them effective 21st century learning environments; how ICTs have been incorporated into learning environments to maximise their use as learning tools and to support current pedagogy; how ICTs have been incorporated across the school – the rationale behind the big picture, and what has been done to increase the teacher's ability to meet student learning needs.

Learning spaces and effective pedagogy: What does our space "say"?
This document supports school leaders to facilitate dialogue on the design of learning spaces, both physical and virtual. The focus is on providing an environment that supports using technologies in a collaborative way for learning.

Learning spaces
This e-book explores the design of learning spaces in secondary schools. The focus is on planning for the use of technology to ensure learner success. This site also offers case studies including links to examples of innovative learning spaces.

Enabling e-Learning community
Join discussion groups in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) to share ideas, find out what others are doing, and ask questions.

Key resource

Modern learning environments group
Join this group focused on designing spaces for student-centred, 21st century learning and discuss the intersection of pedagogy, curriculum, technology, and space.

Personalised learning and flexible learning spaces – a discussion in the Enabling e-Learning teaching community .

MLEs: That's just a classroom with a beanbag isn't it? – a discussion in the Enabling e-Learning leadership community .

New entrant and Year 1 modern learning environments group
Discussion focused on building knowledge about MLE pedagogy and technologies at new entrant and year 1 level. A crowd sourced resource Modern learning environments in the junior school is being developed in this group.

Science education and modern learning environments
Discussions for those considering what the role of the science laboratory in a secondary school as they build new teaching spaces.

e-Learning community discussions

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